“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.” (Dr Hans Küng)
If you are living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you may be aware that Inter Faith Week 2013 has arrived, running from Sunday 17th to Saturday 23rd November (in Scotland it will be Sunday 24th November to 1st December). This week of events and initiatives is relatively new in the UK, but as we will see, inter faith dialogue and action has taken place across the world for many centuries.
So what is ‘interfaith dialogue’? This term refers to the positive, cooperative and constructive interaction between people of different faiths and/or people of humanistic or spiritual belief systems. It is interesting to note that the use of the term “spirituality” has changed throughout the ages, and is in modern times often separated from Abrahamic religions.
Dialogue plays a key role in encouraging people of different backgrounds to enhance their understanding of different religions, in order to increase their acceptance of other people, and share (and often celebrate) the commonalities that exist between each other. It is not concerned with changing people’s religious beliefs, but is instead focused on promoting a theme of co-existence and peace within local, national and international communities. Throughout the world there are many local, regional, national and international interfaith initiatives, however examples of interfaith dialogue and action can be identified from across the centuries. For example:
The Emperor Akbar the Great encouraged religious tolerance in Mughal India, a diverse nation with people following many religions including Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity.
Since the first World’s Parliament of Religions meeting in 1893 (the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths), there have been a number of similar meetings often referred to as the ‘Parliament of the World’s Religions’.
Throughout the 1900’s the inter faith movement gained more widespread interest, and different religious representative bodies began publically working more collaboratively.
After the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th 2001, inter faith work was given more prominence in the media and many bodies began engaging in inter faith activity with more urgency.
(Congress of Parliament of the World’s Religions, Chicago, 1893)
In July 2008, the UK Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government published a report titled ‘Face to Face and Side by Side – a Framework for Partnership in our Multi Faith Society’. This document was a presentation of the Government’s strategy for further developing inter faith activity in England, encouraging faith communities, the Government and groups from wider society to bring people of different cultures and religions together. As a part of the consultative process, the Inter Faith Network for the UK proposed that there should be a national Inter Faith Week, based on a similar type already held in Scotland, and the first official Inter Faith Week took place in 2009. This has been an annual event ever since.
According to The Inter Faith Network for the UK, inter faith activities “highlight the good work done by local faith, inter faith and faith-based groups and organisations; draw new people into inter faith learning and cooperation; enable greater interaction between people of different backgrounds; help develop integrated and neighbourly communities; celebrate diversity and commonality; and open new possibilities for partnership”.
This type of initiative can help to improve the level understanding between people that have religious or non-religious beliefs, increase awareness about different cultural and faith traditions, strengthen community relations and helps to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions that lead to segregation and isolation within the community.
So in the days that follow, take a look for inter faith activities in your area, or simply make an effort to have a conversation with someone new. It may be your work colleague, neighbour or even a stranger on the street! No matter who it is, give it a go, and you may just learn something new, make a new friend, and make a difference to the world.