Interfaith dialogue

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(left to right) George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury (1991–2002), Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi (UK), Mustafa Cerić, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Jim Wallis, Sojourners, USA. 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The term interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., "faiths") and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions or beliefs to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs. Some interfaith dialogues have more recently adopted the name interbelief dialogue,[1][2][3] while other proponents have proposed the term interpath dialogue, to avoid implicitly excluding atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no religious faith but with ethical or philosophical beliefs, as well as to be more accurate concerning many world religions that do not place the same emphasis on "faith" as do some Western religions. Similarly, pluralistic rationalist groups have hosted public reasoning dialogues to transcend all worldviews (whether religious, cultural or political), termed transbelief dialogue.[4]

Throughout the world there are local, regional, national and international interfaith initiatives; many are formally or informally linked and constitute larger networks or federations. The often quoted [5] "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions" was formulated by Dr Hans Küng, a Professor of Ecumenical Theology and President of the Global Ethic Foundation.

The United States Institute of Peace published works on interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding[6][7] including a Special Report on Evaluating Interfaith Dialogue[8] Interfaith dialogue forms a major role in the study of religion and peacebuilding.

To some, the term interreligious dialogue has the same meaning as interfaith dialogue. Neither are the same as Nondenominational Christianity. The World Council of Churches, though. distinguishes between 'interfaith' and 'interrreligious.' To the WCC, 'interreligious' refers to action between different Christian denominations. So, 'interfaith' refers to interaction between different faith groups such as Muslim and Christian or Hindu and Jew for example.[9]


The history of interfaith dialogue is as ancient as religion itself. When not at war with their neighbours, human beings have made an effort to understand them (not least because understanding is a strategy for defense, but also because for as long as there is dialogue wars are delayed). History records many examples of interfaith initiatives and dialogue throughout the ages.

While the Disputation may have been a great achievement for Paulus Christiani in his innovative use of rabbinic sources in Christian missionary efforts, for Naḥmanides it represented an additional example of the wise and courageous leadership which he offered his people.[13] [14] [15] [16]

Policies of religions to interfaith dialogue[edit]

Bahá'í Faith[edit]

Interfaith and multi-faith interactivity is integral to the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. Its founder Bahá'u'lláh enjoined his followers to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship."[23] Bahá'ís are often at the forefront of local inter-faith activities and efforts. Through the Bahá'í International Community agency, the Bahá'ís also participate at a global level in inter-religious dialogue both through and outside of the United Nations processes.

In 2002 the Universal House of Justice, the global governing body of the Bahá'ís, issued a letter to the religious leadership of all faiths in which it identified religious prejudice as one of the last remaining "isms" to be overcome, enjoining such leaders to unite in an effort to root out extreme and divisive religious intolerance.[24]


Buddhism has historically been open to other religions.[25] As Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda has stated:

Buddhism is a religion which teaches people to 'live and let live'. In the history of the world, there is no evidence to show that Buddhists have interfered or done any damage to any other religion in any part of the world for the purpose of introducing their religion. Buddhists do not regard the existence of other religions as a hindrance to worldly progress and peace.[26]

The 14th century Zen master Gasan Joseki indicated that the Gospels were written by an enlightened being:

"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man." [27]

The 14th Dalai Lama has done a great deal of interfaith work throughout his life. He believes that the "common aim of all religions, an aim that everyone must try to find, is to foster tolerance, altruism and love".[28] He met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and also later in 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, and 2003. During 1990, he met in Dharamsala with a delegation of Jewish teachers for an extensive interfaith dialogue.[29] He has since visited Israel three times and met during 2006 with the Chief Rabbi of Israel. In 2006, he met privately with Pope Benedict XVI. He has also met the late Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Robert Runcie, and other leaders of the Anglican Church in London, Gordon B. Hinckley, late President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), as well as senior Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh officials.

In 2010, the Dalai Lama was joined by Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, and Islamic scholar Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University when Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion hosted a "Summit on Happiness".[30]


Traditional Christian doctrine is Christocentric, meaning that Christ is held to be the sole full and true revelation of the will of God for humanity. In a Christocentric view, the elements of truth in other religions are understood in relation to the fullness of truth found in Christ. God is nevertheless understood to be free of human constructions. Therefore, God the Holy Spirit is understood as the power who guides non-Christians in their search for truth, which is held to be a search for the mind of Christ, even if "anonymously," in the phrase of Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. For those who support this view, anonymous Christians belong to Christ now and forever and lead a life fit for Jesus' commandment to love, even though they never explicitly understand the meaning of their life in Christian terms.

While the conciliar document Nostra Aetate has fostered widespread dialogue, the declaration Dominus Iesus nevertheless reaffirms the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ in the spiritual and cultural identity of Christians, rejecting various forms of syncretism.

Pope John Paul II was a major advocate of interfaith dialogue, promoting meetings in Assisi in the 1980s. Pope Benedict XVI took a more moderate and cautious approach, stressing the need for intercultural dialogue, but reasserting Christian theological identity in the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth in a book published with Marcello Pera in 2004. In 2013, Pope Francis became the first Catholic leader to call for "sincere and rigorous" interbelief dialogue with atheists, both to counter the assertion that Christianity is necessarily an "expression of darkness of superstition that is opposed to the light of reason," and to assert that "dialogue is not a secondary accessory of the existence of the believer" but instead is a "profound and indispensable expression ... [of] faith [that] is not intransigent, but grows in coexistence that respects the other."[31][32]

In traditional Christian doctrine, the value of inter-religious dialogue had been confined to acts of love and understanding toward others either as anonymous Christians or as potential converts.

In mainline liberal Protestant traditions, however, as well as in the emerging church, these doctrinal constraints have largely been cast off. Many theologians, pastors, and lay people from these traditions do not hold to uniquely Christocentric understandings of how God was in Christ. They engage deeply in interfaith dialogue as learners, not converters, and desire to celebrate as fully as possible the many paths to God.

Much focus in Christian interfaith dialogue has been put on Christian–Jewish reconciliation. One of the oldest successful dialogues between Jews and Christians has been taking place in Mobile, Alabama. It began in the wake of the call of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) of the Roman Catholic Church for increased understanding between Christians and Jews. The organization has recently moved its center of activity to Spring Hill College, a Catholic, Jesuit institution of higher learning located in Mobile. Reconciliation has been successful on many levels, but has been somewhat complicated by the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, where a significant minority of Arabs are Christian.


The Modern Orthodox movement allows narrow exchanges on social issues, while warning to be cautious in discussion of doctrine.[33] Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism and Conservative Judaism encourage interfaith dialogue.


Islam has long encouraged dialogue to reach truth. Dialogue is particularly encouraged amongst the People of the Book (Jews, Christians and Muslims) as Qur'an states, "Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah ." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]."[3:64][34]". Islam also stressed that the supreme law of the land should be Islam and that Islam regulates all life affairs and therefore regulates how non Muslim and Muslims live under an Islamic state, with historical examples coming from Muslim Spain, Mughal India, and even starting as far back as Muhammad's time, where people of the Abrahamic Faiths lived in harmony.

Many traditional and religious texts and customs of the faith have encouraged this, including specific verses in the Quran, such as: "O people! Behold, we have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware." [Qur'an 49:13]

In recent times, Muslim theologians have advocated inter-faith dialogue on a large scale, something which is new in a political sense. The declaration A Common Word of 2007 was a public first in Christian-Islam relations, trying to work out a moral common ground on many social issues.

Relations between Muslims and Jews remain quite difficult, exacerbated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are inter-Muslim issues in between Sunnis and Shiites that are very much unresolved in the Middle East. Also, relations between Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan could theoretically be much better if interfaith efforts were more successful.


According to the Ahmadiyya understanding, interfaith dialogues are an integral part of developing inter-religious peace and the establishment of peace. The Ahmadiyya Community has been organising interfaith events locally and nationally in various parts of the world in order to develop a better atmosphere of love and understanding between faiths. Various speakers are invited to deliver a talk on how peace can be established from their own or religious perspectives.[35]


Zoroastrianism has long encouraged interfaith, all the way from Cyrus the Great's speech in Babylon, which permitted the population to keep following their own religion and keep speaking their own language. Cyrus did not enforce the state religion unto the people. As well, Cyrus freed all the Jewish slaves from Babylon, which earned him a place in the Jewish scriptures. Zoroastrians believe that all religions are equal, and that their religion is not superior to other religions. They believed that the Prophet Zoroaster implied the religion unto them, and did not convert each of them. Therefore, they do not even accept converts into their religion[citation needed]. All adherents must be born into the religion[citation needed].

Interfaith organisations[edit]

United Nations support[edit]

On December 2, 2008, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury said:

The first week of February, every year, has been declared a UN World Interfaith Harmony Week. The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre released a document which summarises the key events leading up to the UN resolution as well as documenting some Letters of Support and Events held in honour of the week.[40]

Criticism of interfaith dialogue[edit]

The group Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects the concept of interfaith dialogue, stating that it is a western tool to enforce non-Islamic policies in the Islamic world.[41]

Many Traditionalist Catholics, not merely Sedevacantists or the Society of St. Pius X, are critical of interfaith dialogue as a harmful novelty arising after the Second Vatican Council, which is said to have altered the previous notion of the Catholic Church's supremacy over other religious groups or bodies, as well as demoted traditional practices associated with traditional Roman Catholicism. In addition, these Catholics contend that, for the sake of collegial peace, tolerance and mutual understanding, interreligious dialogue devalues the divinity of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the Triune God by placing Christianity on the same footing as other religions that worship other deities.

In the case of Hinduism, it has been shown that the so-called interfaith "dialogue ... has [in fact] become the harbinger of violence. This is not because ‘outsiders’ have studied Hinduism or because the Hindu participants are religious ‘fundamentalists’ but because of the logical requirements of such a dialogue." With a detailed analysis of "two examples from Hinduism studies", S.N. Balagangadhara and Sarah Claerhout argue that, "in certain dialogical situations, the requirements of reason conflict with the requirements of morality".[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Morning Buzz," Public Religion Research Institute, July 10, 2014. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  2. ^ "Minnesota Interfaith Group Changes Its Name to Become More Inclusive of Atheists," Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, July 9, 2014. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  3. ^ "St. Paul's atheists are coming out of the closet," Bob Shaw, St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 4, 2014. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  4. ^ "Promising Practice: Finding Common Ground Through Difference," Harvard Pluralism Project. Retrieved November 02, 2012.
  5. ^ Musser, D & Sunderland, D., War or Words: Interreligious Dialogue as an Instrument of Peace Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, (2005) 1.
  6. ^ Smock, D. (ed), (2002)Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press
  7. ^ Abu Nimer, M., et al, (2007) Unity in Diversity: Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press
  8. ^ Renee Garfinkel,What Works: Evaluating Interfaith Dialogue, United State Institute of Peace, Special Report #123, (2004)
  9. ^ "Interreligious Dialogue". World Council of Chruches. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  10. ^ Progressive Scottish Muslims: Learning Interfaith from the Mughals: Akbar the Great (1556-1605)
  11. ^ Strabo, xv, 1, on the immolation of the Sramana in Athens (Paragraph 73).
  12. ^ Dio Cassius, liv, 9.
  13. ^ Jewish Virtual Library
  14. ^ A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, Volume 1 ISBN 978-1-5904-5112-0
  15. ^ Gleanings : Essays in Jewish History, Letters, and Art by Cecil Roth. Published by Hermon Press for Bloch Publishing Company, 1967
  16. ^ REFLECTIONS ON THE TEXT AND CONTEXT OF THE DISPUTATION OF BARCELONA, [M.A. Cohen, Article Hebrew Union College Annual Vol. 35, (1964), pp. 157-192].
  17. ^
  18. ^ Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Antiwar Movement ISBN 978-0-8156-2559-9
  19. ^ Saudi Embassy - Saudi King Abdullah Commences Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Madrid, Spain
  20. ^ Saudi Gazette - Let concord replace conflict – Abdullah
  21. ^ Dalai Lama inaugurates 6-day world religions meet at Mahua
  22. ^ Dalai Lama to inaugurate inter-faith conference
  23. ^ Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, page 22, Bahá'u'lláh, From the "Bishárát" (Glad-Tidings).
  24. ^ Catharine Cookson, ed. (2003). Encyclopedia of religious freedom. Taylor & Francis. p. 9. 
  25. ^ The Buddhist View toward Other Religions
  26. ^ The Buddhist Attitude Towards Other Religions
  27. ^ 101 Zen Stories; #16
  28. ^ Tibetan Buddhism
  29. ^ Kamenetz,Rodger (1994)The Jew in the Lotus Harper Collins: 1994.
  30. ^ Top 10 Things Religious Leaders Say about Happiness
  31. ^ "Pope urges dialogue with nonbelievers in letter to high profile atheist," Francis X. Rocca, Catholic Herald, September 12, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  32. ^ "Pope Francis' Letter to the Founder of 'La Repubblica' Italian Newspaper," Vatican City, September 11, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  33. ^ A Modern Orthodox Approach to Interfaith Dialogue
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to hold Peace Conference in Malta". Ahmadiyya times. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  36. ^ [1]
  37. ^ [2]
  38. ^ About the Meeting
  39. ^ How It Began
  40. ^ The First UN World Interfaith Harmony Week Booklet
  41. ^ The Inevitability of Clash of Civilisation
  42. ^ Balagangadhara, S.N; Claerhout, Sarah (2008). "Are Dialogues Antidotes to Violence? Two Recent Examples from Hinduism Studies". Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 7 (9): 118–143. 

Further reading[edit]

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