What is Interreligous Dialogue?
If a statement is necessary to define interreligous dialogue, it might go something like this : “A conversation between persons of different minds, where the dialogue-parners cmoe to learn from the other, to witness to the other, as well as to convert the other.”
Interreligous dialogue is therefore a conversation, a two-day communication between two or morepersons holding significantly different views as a result of each person’s own religio-cultural history and upbringing. It is not to be likened to debate nor should it be merely a reinforcement of like-minds either. The motivition to engage in dialogue comes about as a result of a whole new way of thinking, seeing and reflecting upon the world and its meaning. A prerequisite for dialogue is that the parners come with an open mind which appreciates differences and pluralism. All forms of exclusiveness has to be shed. Implicit, therefore, is an end of exclusivistic and triumphalistic attitudes, the sense of superiority and “chosenness,” and the notion that one’s own religion is the one and only which deserves absolute and final status.
It can be said that the primary purpose of dialogue is for both parties to mutually learn about each other and especially about the religious values, beliefs, and systems of the dialogue partner. In the process of learning about the other, one will also learn much about one’s own religion. This is because as one begins to view the other more closely, one inevitably has to re-view one’s own religious convictions obtained from the other. Thus, intereligious dialogue is a process where one learns not only about the other but also about oneself and one’s own religion.
In order for the other to learn, one also has to be committed to witnessing to one’s own religious experiences and convictions. Not only does this demand adequate knowledge of the truth and essence of one’s own religious tradition, a certain amount of courage and authenticity is also needed in order for one to witness to this truth. While being respectful of the dialogue partner, one must also be honest in witnessing to even those elements which may sound disconcerting to the other. In witnessing to this truth, one hopes that the other will be able to understand, respect and even come to an appreciation of these truths. However, just as one comes to the dialogue table to witness to the other, one must also come ready to be witnessed to by the other.
The ultimate goal of dialogue is the conversion of the dialogue partner. Anything short of conversion implies a lack of change of heart and thus failure in the dialogue efforts. However, by “conversion,” one is not so much referring to a “winning over” as in a “sharing with.” In other words, the dialogue parners hope the other would eventually come to see and truly appreciate whatever is one’s fundamental religious conviction. Put another way, one would have converted the other to one’s own worldview and perceptions. Likewise, just as one hopes to concert the other, one is also open to being converted by the other. Therefore, interreligious dialogue serves as a platform where one a comes to convert the other as well as be converted by the other. It is mutural conversion, characterised more by authentic transformation of hearts, and not so much by change in religious affiliation. It is a “win-win” conversion where both sides go away with broadened perspectives about life and religion in general.
Edmund Chia, fsc
Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Federation of Asian bishop’s conferences
DIALOGUE?, Resource manual for CATHOLICS IN ASIA,
Editor Edmund Chia, FSC, 2001, p.181.