Interfaith Dialogue and Identity Formation

Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

Interfaith dialogue is of increasing importance on a daily basis in our current international, social, political and economic order. This can be seen in the current interfaith groups that are gathering together in Baltimore as well as other places around the United States to protest police brutality as well as other social issues. Discussing how religious traditions relate to the social order in the pursuit of justice is just one of the many aspects of interfaith dialogue. As cultures and religions come into ever closer contact with each other, understanding the ways in which both one’s own religious identity and that of other people living in the same area inform and shape identity aids in the creation of mutual understanding and fellowship between people of different backgrounds. The time when people could live among their own community without really having contact with outsiders passed long ago – if such a time ever really existed at all. Therefore, the opening of religious dialogue on equal terms rather than demeaning their current practices with an eye to conversion or as an aid to conquest is beneficial to everyone involved.

This is not just on a personal level by functioning as a way to understand one’s own religious tradition in a new or deeper way but to also help dispel assumptions and misunderstandings about the way other people construct their identities and conduct their lives. Understanding the history and development of religious traditions and how they are lived today is also a major part of this process. Attempting to analyze causes of conflict among followers of different traditions, or even among denominations in the same tradition allows for a fuller understanding of how to build peace between individuals which becomes a stepping stone to greater cooperation among communities.

Dialogue attempting to ascertain the validity of religious claims to the truth can be seen to be unfruitful, as these can be viewed as matters of belief, not as objective facts as once they might have been. Understanding how the search for truth is conducted in various traditions and how that search is reflected in the identity of the individual and the community in which they serve as constitutive members, helps to uncover what is common amongst the various religious traditions. What these commonalities can teach us about the human condition is why I feel that interfaith dialogue is so important, as we all must find ways to share the world, which as of right now is our only home.

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