We know that it's not debate; debate implies argumentative or, before cable news, persuasive action. Dialogue is also not a simple recounting of current events with superficial commentary. Allow me to elucidate how I see the concept of dialogue. State of Formation has a number of actual scholars onboard, so I invite their corrections to the following assertion, but here we go:
The Greek word(s) for dialogue: dialogos, dialegomai, dialegesthai, etc. are built on the union of two important words, one a concept and the other a preposition. The first syllable in the word "dialogue" is not "two", as might perhaps be expected, since dialogue is often between people. "Di" is "two". No, we're dealing here with "dia", which means "through". In this case, we're taking a "logos", which we could render as an account, a worldview, or simply "reason", and running it through a conversation. What comes out the other side, we hope, will be a deeper understanding of that worldview. Ahem. So that's a layperson's attempt at doing one of those cool scriptural exegeses that proper brains are so good at producing. For the record, I can read Greek out loud, but have absolutely no idea what's going on (generally).
When we dialogue (as a verb) or join a dialogue (the noun), we're not simply presenting and discussing a particular thing. Depending on the size of the topic at hand, dialogue forces us to squeeze that topic through our own experience, to annotate it, edit it, and then spit it out the other side. All participants in a dialogue do this simultaneously, thus making the whole enterprise not so much about making the sausage as talking about all the bits and bobs that go into it, as well as our experience with particular kinds of intestine-encased meats (note: I am a vegetarian).
Dialogue is a messy, involved process, and to get the most out of it, we need to really engage with the topic, getting our hands dirty with ideas that might seem foreign to us. In the case of interfaith dialogue (my happy place), we are going up against concepts that, as a general rule, defy easy explanation.
America, and the wider world, is host to countless dialogue groups, some secular, some religious, some REALLY religious. However, I feel strongly that classifying things in this manner is sloppy, since any given conversation has the capacity to turn into an interreligious exchange. Think about politics - debating the relative merits of this or that party will often turn to a discussion of the role of religion in the political sphere, and vice versa. Thinking back, the interfaith dialogue group that I joined in college didn't actually engage personal faith until a few discussions in, and only after we'd discussed things like the ultimate purpose of college or the real meaning of wisdom.
I am an ardent advocate of the kind of interfaith dialogue that produces personal change and exploration, so a focus on lived experience has to be somewhere in the mix. And while I'm all for deep explorations of religious history and dogma, if the conversation doesn't ask at least once, "And how did your religious beliefs inform your actions/feelings?" then I don't think there's much of a point.
We need to talk to one another - this is indisputable. Chatting about our ultimate visions and how they inform our lives is a great pathway, not only for personal discovery, but ultimately for creating a more compassionate and interesting society. I often tell people about how deeply interfaith dialogue has affected my faith-life. I've learned more about my own philosophical guts and spiritual piping than I would have thought possible. The learning doesn't stop, and neither should open, honest, and safe dialogue. Those of us here at State of Formation would do well to help as many people as possible take their logos and [CRAZY METAPHOR ALERT] stick it through the taffy-pulling machine of rousing interfaith dialogue.
Tim received his MA in International Studies from the University of Denver in 2009. He is an (inaugural) alumnus of the Faiths Act Fellowship, a program of the Interfaith Youth Core and Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Tim is a consultant in the interfaith and social media spheres, and currently serves as Director of Operations for The 1010 Project, a Denver humanitarian agency.