Thinking together -- an interreligious process
In 1999 the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue (IRRD) organised a workshop at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey entitled "What difference does religious plurality make?" This workshop was an attempt to address if and how religious plurality informs us in our work and as people of different faiths (see Current Dialogue no. 34).
At the workshop in Bossey, some of us felt that an important follow-up would be to focus together on some basic issues of belief, to see how we, in the midst of our religious diversity, express our common convictions and how one could explore core issues present in all our religious traditions.
Our religious traditions relate to religious plurality in different ways and certain issues of faith are more or less important in each religious tradition. What is a key issue in one religious tradition is not immediately a relevant concern in another tradition. Exploring key issues in our respective religious traditions and relating our efforts to the reality of religious plurality, is above all about how we can be truthful to our religion, faith, heritage, belief and at the same time truly open to the religious diversity in which we live. Which core-issues are in need of a focused interreligious thinking? Are there possibilities for a rethinking? And can we do this thinking and rethinking together? We have usually formulated what we are about in the absence of the other. Our self-understanding has been reached without much consideration for who the other is or how the other wants to be understood. When we reflect upon what we are or want to be, could we do so in the presence of the other? Could one theologise together with people of other faiths? In our world of religious plurality, where we live with each other, is there also scope for some intentional theological thinking together?
We, a few Jews, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, held our first meeting at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, CA, USA November 4-8, 2000. Regretfully our Muslim participant had to cancel his participation at the last minute. We had plenty of time to listen to each other and to discuss with each other the implications of our reflections. The introductory presentations are part of this issue of Current Dialogue. We listed for our continued work that :
- In the context of interreligious dialogue it is important to delineate the core commit-ments in our respective traditions. Otherwise we spend our time arguing about boundary issues that may not be central to our faith commitment. What are these core commitments? What is the relation between our core commitments and the proposition of faith we are accustomed to? Is exclusivity a part of these core commitments? Do these core commitments offer us alternative visions of our traditions?
- Authority and use of Scripture must be intentionally addressed. We need to focus on the propriety of proof-texting, norms of interpretation, different understandings of the nature of authority today, fixed or flexible canon, scripture and tradition. We must try to describe the relation of scripture to other sources of authority. How is this related to the question of truth?
- In relation to the question of understanding Truth, truths, and truth-claims, we need to learn to what degree truth is discovered, received, or constructed by the faith community. What is the historical character of our religious traditions? What are the issues involved in revelation and on-going revelation? How do we develop self-critical attitudes to our particular tradition? How do we combine our historical consciousness with the honouring of our sacred traditions?
- We need to clarify our understandings of ultimate goals in each of our traditions recognising the multiplicity of views such as reconciliation, liberation, enlightenment, etc.. We must seek to identify the meanings of salvation, salvation as life after and/or life before death, the delineation of desired life in each tradition and its relation to the ultimate goal, immediate and penultimate goals vs. ultimate goals, and the particularity of our understandings.
- We need to articulate the problems in our understanding of mission in a pluralistic society. Are there forms of mission that are unacceptable? Is there a place for mission? If there is, what are acceptable forms of mission that do not alienate people of other traditions but would be acceptable to the recipients? How do we articulate such a mission and what would be its purpose? Are there common tasks that could constitute a collaborative mission of people of various traditions?
- We need to consider how religions impact the lives of people. What criteria could one use to assess the positive impact of religion on personal and social life? In this respect, what place does violence play in religious life? Is violence embedded in our religious traditions? How do religions support and maintain the violence embedded in the structures of religious communities and the larger societies? How can religions address this issue?
- The nature of religious language needs to be properly understood. What way is language used differently for intra and inter religious conversation? What are the features and functions of insider and outsider languages - for example, mahatmya language (insider language of love and commitment)? Are there negative aspects to insider language that create a boundary of exclusion? Does this help understand exclusive claims about God, the idea of chosenness etc.?
- We need to understand what we mean by pluralism. Is it simply an appreciation of plurality? Are there limits to plurality? What is the purpose and benefit of pluralism? How do we develop positive evaluations of diversity within our own traditions? Can monotheism be totally pluralist? There is a need for the development of theologies of religions in each of our traditions. Could Ishtadeva (the God of one’s favour) serve as a possible approach to address a pluralistic religious situation?
- We need to distinguish which features of the approach to religion are conducive to pluralism? What is the relationship of this approach to self-critical attitudes and a historical consciousness regarding religion? How do we best describe and name these features?
Go to Jesus the Christ: the ONLY Way to God and to Human Flourishing -- M. Thomas Thangaraj
Return to Current Dialogue (37), June 2001
© 2001 world council of churches | remarks to webeditor