Why should Engage in Dialogue?

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Because many get the impression that intereligious dialogue in confined to formal dialogue sessions which take place amongst elites in conference halls, it is important that the various types and categories of dialogue be spelled out. While these are different categories, nowhere is it suggested that any one category is better or superior to another. Suffice to say, they are different and each person’s context will determone what types of dialogues/he can engage in.

Dialigue of Discourse

This is the dialogue which often takes place on the formal level amonst trained scholars, religious leaders, and theologians of religion. It is academic dialogue which sometimes looks at the scriptural texts, beliefs, theologies, stories, myths, and histories of the various religious traditions. Principally, it serves as the platform where experts come together to discern , it serves as the platform where experts come together to discern points of convergences and areas of divergences. They also serve to correct misinformation or distorted views believers have about other religions. Many of these dialogue sessions end with some form of statement, resolution, proposal or recommendation. From the conference halls and seminar rooms, the effects of these dialogues should triskle down to the masses and the ordinary believers on the streets. The dialogue of discourse, no doubt, has its value and function, but is not the only form of interreligious dialogue.

Dialogue of Religious Experience

Also referred to as the dialogue of spirituality, this is the spiritual dimension of dialogue. How we pray? Why we pray? Who is God for us? What motivates us to live virtuously? Are some of the questions addressed in this kind of dialogue. Our experiences in pilgrimages, a spiritual insight, a religious vision or a prayer image are some of the contents of this dialogue. It demands a high level of trust and mutural respect since many of these questions touch upon the deepest aspects of one’s faith. The sharings are engaged in with a trust that no one will reidicule or belittle another for whatever has been shared around the dialogue table. Because the dialogue is around personal experiences, this form of dialogue is most often between persons deeply involved in religious practices. While monks, nuns, mystics, sufis and saddhus play a significant role, this dialogue is open to all, even those with little theological training.

Dialogue of Action

When religionists come together to address common social concerns, they are engaged in this form of dialogue. Problems posed by the AIDS epidemic, globalisation, consumerism, drug addiction, gangsterism, illiteracy, exploitation of peoples, and ecological rape are some of the issues which the dialogue of action handles. Not only does it provide a forum for believers of various religious traditions to work together for the common good of society, it also allows them to discern the common elements which undergird the religions. Religions, therefore, are seen as institutions not so much for the service of each own religious community as for the service of life and society in general. Social workers, community organisers, human rights activists, and many non-governmental organisations are often at the forefront of this type of dialogue.

Dialogue of Life

This is the dialogue which happens at the market-place amongst the common persons on the streets. It is the dialogue where believers of different religions bear witness to their religious values and convictions in their everyday life, in their homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods. In other words, this dialogue is taking place when spiritual and human values shape the day-to-day interactions of peoples with their neighbours of other faiths. Hence, it is a dialogue that could be carried out by all persons from all walks of life. It could be as simple as a mother teaching her children to love persons of other religions or a taxi-driver going out of her/his way to return lost baggage to a passenger of another fatih. It is also manifested when a teacher shows love, dedication and attention to students irrespective of their religious affiliation or a resident being considerate and helpful to a neighbour of another religion. This, therefore, is the most important type of interreligious dialogue and ideally, all other forms of dialogue should lead to the dialogue of life. In other words, the dialogue of life should become a way of life for all persons of religion.


Edmund Chia, fsc (Malaysia) 

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. 184.