Interfaith Dialogue for a Better World
A number of initiatives are on track in South Asia and the U.S. to promote interfaith harmony between different religions and work towards a pluralistic society.
Fear of the ‘ religious other’ is not a new phenomenon. One finds a number of accounts of conflicts with religious dimensions in which this ‘religious other’ is demonized. Whether we look to the Crusades, European colonialism, or the aftermath of 9/11, it is clear that fear and ignorance continue to dominate public perceptions and portrayals of them. Yet, throughout history, there have also been attempts to engage and understand them, whether due to intellectual curiosity, the desire to consolidate an empire, or simply to promote mutual understanding towards the goal of peaceful coexistence and, sometimes, cooperation.
History is witness to the fact that religious groups always tend to view other religions in terms of incorrect beliefs or practices, theological errors, blasphemy and inequality. This was derived from the belief, especially among the monotheistic religions, that one’s own tradition possesses the one and only truth.
On the other hand, for any interfaith interaction to succeed, it is imperative to increase mutual awareness, understanding and respect. The purpose of interfaith harmony is to correct stereotypes and misinformation and to find ways to work together to solve problems of mutual concern, including social, political, economic, and environmental issues.
Interfaith initiatives are not a new concept. In the late 19th century, a series of missionary and faith conferences helped to spur interest in formal person-to-person encounters with religious others at the theological level. Later the changing global scenario, with the commencement of the globalization process, resulted in a rising number of interfaith encounters at the informal level, due to the rapid and farreaching migration of both people and ideas. It has brought increased global access to diverse knowledge systems, whether religious, cultural, linguistic or ethnic, in daily and working life.
The United States of America being the most powerful country and yet one which has been most discussed and criticized due to its various foreign policy engagements, has another side to share with the world. Given the pluralist nature of the American society, a number of initiatives have been taken by the U.S. civil society, think-tanks and universities to provide a platform to many religious communities in the U.S. to live in mutual peace and harmony.
The opponents of the idea of interfaith dialogue tend to express concern that engaging in dialogue weakens or