The Beauty of Interfaith Dialogue

By Justine Carlson

When engaging in interfaith dialogue, there are important steps that one takes in order for it to be respectful and purposeful. There are a couple of guides and practices that work for certain groups, and other approaches that work for others. Two books that are helpful when initiating an interfaith dialogue is Interfaith Leadership: A Primer by Eboo Patel and God is Not One by Stephen Prothero.  These books cover two components of interfaith dialogue that can be very helpful; learning the basic backgrounds of the religions/worldviews that are present in the conversation, and taking the knowledge and experiences and translating it into interfaith leadership.

What perspectives must a person take in such dialogues?

Those entering an interfaith dialogue must be aware of the biases and prejudices that each of us carries and are embedded in us, whether we know it or not. Everyone participating in the dialogue will most likely not have the same background as you or anyone else in the room, so taking a look at each person’s identity beyond their religious identity is extremely important. For example, recognizing that someone may be muslin, a woman, and a liberal is obviously going to have a different perspective than the reformed-Jewish man. Each piece of our identity comes into play in interfaith dialogues.

What techniques go into interfaith dialogues?

There are no set techniques or approaches to interfaith dialogue, other than having an open mind and allowing yourself to learn something new. Interfaith dialogues can have a set agenda of specific topics that may be covered, or they can be fluid and topics may vary within the conversation. One important point to remember is depending on the size of the dialogue, is allowing for everyone present in the dialogue to be given the opportunity to share. Another important technique to remember is using “I” statements. One cannot speak on behalf of an entire religion or worldview, so it is advised to speak on personal experiences.

What can be accomplished from interfaith dialogues?

Interfaith dialogues can have multiple purposes. One accomplishment could be that several religious groups are working together to solve a larger social issue (example: environmental justice) Another accomplishment could be tearing down stereotypes and assumptions about a particular religious group. Often times it is when having a personal conversation with someone that does not share a similar worldview or religious background as you can foster the best learning exchanges.

Interfaith Dialogue from a Personal Perspective?

Being involved in interfaith work for a couple of years now has opened up so many doors for me that I didn’t know were possible. I met some of the intelligent and inspiring leaders that are peers and friends of mine through interfaith dialogues. I have learned more about faith traditions from these personal encounters through dialogue, and they were much more fruitful than just reading about a particular religion. Interfaith dialogue is one step in hoping to create a more just and peaceful world.