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.

Southasia - - Cover Story - By Ar­shi Saleem Hashmi

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

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