Interfaith dialogue

(Redirected from Interfaith)

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.

The Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs defines "the difference between ecumenical, interfaith, and interreligious relations", as follows:

Some interfaith dialogues have more recently adopted the name interbelief dialogue,[2][3][4] 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.[5] 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 distinguishes between 'interfaith' and 'interreligious'. 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 Jew for example.[6]

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[7] "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 Hans Küng, a Professor of Ecumenical Theology and President of the Global Ethic Foundation. Interfaith dialogue forms a major role in the study of religion and peacebuilding.



History records examples of interfaith initiatives throughout the ages, with varying levels of success in establishing one of three types of "dialogue" to engender, as recently described, either understanding, teamwork, or tolerance:[8]

  1. "In the dialogue of the head, we mentally reach out to the other to learn from those who think differently from us."
  2. "In the dialogue of the hands, we all work together to make the world a better place in which we must all live together."
  3. "In the dialogue of the heart, we share the experience of the emotions of those different from us."

The historical effectiveness of interfaith dialogue is an issue of debate. Friar James L. Heft, in a lecture on "The Necessity of Inter-Faith Diplomacy," spoke about the conflicts among practitioners of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Noting that except for the Convivencia in the 14th and 15th centuries, believers in these religions have either kept their distance or have been in conflict, Heft maintains, "there has been very little genuine dialogue" between them. "The sad reality has been that most of the time Jews, Muslims and Christians have remained ignorant about each other, or worse, especially in the case of Christians and Muslims, attacked each other."[9]

In contrast, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University[10] says, "Every religious tradition has grown through the ages in dialogue and historical interaction with others. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have been part of one another's histories, have shared not only villages and cities, but ideas of God and divine revelation."[11]

The importance of Abrahamic interfaith dialogue in the present has been bluntly presented: "We human beings today face a stark choice: dialogue or death!"[8]

More broadly, interfaith dialogue and action have occurred over many centuries:

"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."[16][17][18][19]

19th-century initiatives

20th-century initiatives

External video
MLK: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
External video
What is Minhaj ul Quran?
  1. "It conferred legitimacy to Christian initiatives in interreligious dialogues."
  2. "It was seen as an event of theological significance."
  3. "Assisi was recognized as an act of dialogue in the highest degree."
  4. "It emphasized the religious nature of peace."
However, Samartha added, two points caused "disquiet" to people of faiths other than Christian:[37]
  1. The Pope's insistence on Christ as the only source of peace.
  2. For the prayers Christians were taken to one place and people of other faiths to another place.
Besides, the disquiet caused by the Pope's day of prayer, there is an ongoing "suspicion" by "neighbors of other faiths" that "dialogues may be used for purposes of Christian mission".[38]

C*In 1993, on the centennial of its first conference, the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions hosted a conference in Chicago with 8,000 participants from faith backgrounds around the world. "The Parliament is the oldest, the largest, and the most inclusive gathering of people of all faith and traditions." The organization hosts meetings around the world every few years. Its 2015 conference decided to hold meetings every two years.[21]

External video
[1] IWJ History with Kim Bobo
External video
[2] ICNY: Connecting Faith and Society
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[3] Dr Hussain Qadri's address at the "Peace on Earth" Seminar
External video
RUMI a Voice for Our Times

21st-century initiatives

External video
Imagine Two People in Interfaith Dialogue

The United States Institute of Peace published works on interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding[84][85] including a Special Report on Evaluating Interfaith Dialogue[86]

Religious intolerance persists
The above section recounts a "long history of interfaith dialogue". However, a 2014 article in The Huffington Post said that "religious intolerance is still a concern that threatens to undermine the hard work of devoted activists over the decades". Nevertheless, the article expressed hope that continuing "interfaith dialogue can change this".[21]

Policies of religions

A PhD thesis Dialogue Between Christians, Jews and Muslims argues that "the paramount need is for barriers against non-defensive dialogue conversations between Christians, Jews, and Muslims to be dismantled to facilitate development of common understandings on matters that are deeply divisive". As of 2012, the thesis says that this has not been done.[87]

Baháʼí Faith

Interfaith and multi-faith interactivity is integral to the teachings of the Baháʼí Faith. Its founder Bahá'u'lláh enjoined his followers to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship".[88] Baháʼís are often at the forefront of local inter-faith activities and efforts. Through the Baháʼí International Community agency, the Baháʼís 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 Baháʼís, 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.[89]


Buddhism has historically been open to other religions.[90] 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.[91]

The fourteenth 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."[92]

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".[93] 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.[94] 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".[95]


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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Pope John Paul II was a major advocate of interfaith dialogue, promoting meetings in Assisi in the 1980s.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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."[96][97]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Much focus in Christian interfaith dialogue has been put on Christian–Jewish reconciliation.[citation needed] One of the oldest successful dialogues[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The organization has recently moved its center of activity to Spring Hill College, a Catholic Jesuit institution of higher learning located in Mobile.[citation needed] 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.[98]


The Modern Orthodox movement allows narrow exchanges on social issues, while warning to be cautious in discussion of doctrine.[99] Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism and Conservative Judaism encourage interfaith dialogue.

Building positive relations between Jews and members of other religious communities has been an integral component of Reform Judaism's "DNA" since the movement was founded in Germany during the early 19th century, according to Rabbi A. James Rudin. It began with Israel Jacobson, a layman and pioneer in the development of what emerged as Reform Judaism, who established an innovative religious school in Sessen, Germany in 1801 that initially had 40 Jewish and 20 Christian students. "Jacobson's innovation of a 'mixed' student body reflected his hopes for a radiant future between Jews and Christians."[100]

Moravian born Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who founded the Reform movement in the United States, sought close relations with Christian church leaders. To that end, he published a series of lectures in 1883 entitled "Judaism and Christianity: Their Agreements and Disagreements". Wise emphasized what he believed linked the two religions in an inextricable theological and human bond: the biblical "Sinaitic revelation" as "... the acknowledged law of God".[101] Rabbi Leo Baeck, the leader of the German Jewish community who survived his incarceration in the Terezin concentration camp, offered these words in his 1949 presidential address to the World Union for Progressive Judaism in London: " in a great period of the Middle Ages, [Jews and Muslims] are ...almost compelled to face each other... not only in the sphere of policy [the State of Israel in the Middle East], but also in the sphere of religion; there is the great hope... they will each other on joint roads, in joint tasks, in joint confidences in the future. There is the great hope that Judaism can thus become the builder of a bridge, the 'pontifex' between East and West."[102]

In the 1950s and 60s, as interfaith civic partnerships between Jews and Christians in the United States became more numerous, especially in the suburbs,[citation needed] the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism, URJ) created a department mainly to promote positive Christian-Jewish relations and civic partnerships. Interfaith relations have since been expanded to include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and members of other faith communities.[citation needed]

In 2013, Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali coauthored a book Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.[103] Schneier and Ali write about the importance of civil interfaith discussions. Based on their experience, Schneier and Ali believe that other "Jews and Muslims can realize that they are actually more united than divided in their core beliefs".[104]

Interests in interfaith relations require an awareness of the range of Jewish views on such subjects as mission[105] and the holy land.[106]


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].[107]

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].[108]

In recent times, Muslim theologians have advocated inter-faith dialogue on a large scale, something which is new in a political sense.[citation needed] The declaration A Common Word of 2007 was a public first[citation needed] in Christian-Islam relations, trying to work out a moral common ground on many social issues. This common ground was stated as "part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour". The declaration asserted that "these principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity".[62]

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 have included tension.[109]

Interfaith dialogue integral to Islam

A 2003 book called Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism contains a chapter by Amir Hussain on "Muslims, Pluralism, and Interfaith Dialogue" in which he shows how interfaith dialogue has been an integral part of Islam from its beginning. Hussain writes that "Islam would not have developed if it had not been for interfaith dialogue". From his "first revelation" for the rest of his life, Muhammad was "engaged in interfaith dialogue" and "pluralism and interfaith dialogue" have always been important to Islam. For example, when some of Muhammad's followers suffered "physical persecution" in Mecca, he sent them to Abyssinia, a Christian nation, where they were "welcomed and accepted" by the Christian king. Another example is Córdoba, Andalusia in Muslim Spain, in the ninth and tenth centuries. Córdoba was "one of the most important cities in the history of the world". In it, "Christians and Jews were involved in the Royal Court and the intellectual life of the city". Thus, there is "a history of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other religious traditions living together in a pluralistic society".[110] Turning to the present, Hussain writes that in spite of Islam's history of "pluralism and interfaith dialogue", Muslims now face the challenge of conflicting passages in the Qur'an some of which support interfaith "bridge-building", but others can be used "justify mutual exclusion".[111]

In October 2010, as a representative of Shia Islam, Ayatollah Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, professor at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran, addressed the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Catholic Bishops. In the address he spoke about "the rapport between Islam and Christianity" that has existed throughout the history of Islam as one of "friendship, respect and mutual understanding".[112]

Book about Jewish–Muslim dialogue

In 2013, Rabbi Marc Schneier (Jewish) and Imam Shamsi Ali (Muslim) coauthored a book Sons of Abraham with the subtitle A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims. As Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali show, "by reaching a fuller understanding of one another's faith traditions, Jews and Muslims can realize that they are actually more united than divided in their core beliefs". By their fuller understanding, they became "defenders of each other's religion, denouncing the twin threats of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and promoting interfaith cooperation".[113] In the book, regarding the state of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, although Rabbi Schneier acknowledges a "tremendous growth", he does not think that "we are where we want to be".[114]


The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in 1889. Its members "exceeding tens of millions" live in 206 countries. It rejects "terrorism in any form". It broadcasts its "message of peace and tolerance" over a satellite television channel MTA International Live Streaming,[115] on its internet website,[116] and by its Islam International Publications.[117][118] A 2010 story in the BBC News[119] said that the Ahmadi "is regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical", The story also reported persecution and violent attacks against the Ahmadi.[120]

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.[121]


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]


In her 2008 book The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue, Catherine Cornille outlines her preconditions for "constructive and enriching dialogue between religions".[122] In summary, they include "doctrinal humility, commitment to a particular religion, interconnection, empathy, and hospitality". In full, they include the following:[123]

Breaking down the walls that divides faiths while respecting the uniqueness of each tradition requires the courageous embrace of all these preconditions.[124]

External video
The President Speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore
External video
The President Speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast

In 2016, President Obama made two speeches that outlined preconditions for meaningful interfaith dialogue: On February 3, 2016, he spoke at the Islamic Society of Baltimore and on February 4, 2016, at the National Prayer Breakfast.[125] The eight principles of interfaith relations as outlined by Obama were as follows:[125]

  1. Relationship building requires visiting each other.
  2. Relationship requires learning about the others' history.
  3. Relationship requires an appreciation of the other.
  4. Relationship requires telling the truth.
  5. Relationships depend on living up to our core theological principles and values.
  6. Relationships offer a clear-headed understanding of our enemies.
  7. Relationships help us overcome fear.
  8. Relationship requires solidarity.

United Nations support

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is an initiative to prevent violence and support social cohesion by promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue. The UNAOC was proposed by the President of the Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[citation needed]

In 2008, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury said: "Interfaith dialogue is absolutely essential, relevant, and necessary. ... If 2009 is to truly be the Year of Interfaith Cooperation, the U.N. urgently needs to appoint an interfaith representative at a senior level in the Secretariat."[126][citation needed]

The Republic of the Philippines will host a Special Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development from March 16 to 18 in Manila. During the meeting, to be attended by ministers of foreign affairs of the NAM member countries, a declaration in support of interfaith dialogue initiatives will be adopted. An accompanying event will involve civil society activities.[127][citation needed]

In 2010, HM King Abdullah II addressed the 65th UN General Assembly and proposed the idea for a 'World Interfaith Harmony Week' to further broaden his goals of faith-driven world harmony by extending his call beyond the Muslim and Christian community to include people of all beliefs, those with no set religious beliefs as well. A few weeks later, HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad presented the proposal to the UN General Assembly, where it was adopted unanimously as a UN Observance Event.[128] 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.[129]


The Islamist 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.[130]

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. Evangelical Christians also critical for dialogues with Catholics.

Religious sociologist Peter L. Berger argued that one can reject interfaith dialogue on moral grounds in certain cases. The example he gave was that of a dialogue with imams who legitimate ISIS, saying such discussions ought to be avoided so as not to legitimate a morally repugnant theology.[131]

In the case of Hinduism, it has been argued 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".[132]

The theological foundations of interreligious dialogue have also been critiqued on the grounds that any interpretation of another faith tradition will be predicated on a particular cultural, historical and anthropological perspective[133]

Some critics of interfaith dialogue may not object to dialogue itself, but instead are critical of specific events claiming to carry on the dialogue. For example, the French Algerian prelate Pierre Claverie was at times critical of formal inter-religious conferences between Christians and Muslims which he felt remained too basic and surface-level. He shunned those meetings since he believed them to be generators of slogans and for the glossing over of theological differences.[134][135] However, he had such an excellent knowledge of Islam that the people of Oran called him "the Bishop of the Muslims" which was a title that must have pleased him since he had dreamed of establishing true dialogue among all believers irrespective of faith or creed. Claverie also believed that the Islamic faith was authentic in practice focusing on people rather than on theories.[134] He said that: "dialogue is a work to which we must return without pause: it alone lets us disarm the fanaticism; both our own and that of the other". He also said that "Islam knows how to be tolerant". In 1974 he joined a branch of Cimade which was a French NGO dedicated to aiding the oppressed and minorities.[136]

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Further reading

External links

Categories: Interfaith dialogue

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