A successful fifth conference was held at City Montessori School, Lucknow, India in August 2014, and, building upon its results, we suggest a sixth conference to continue to study interfaith relations from a variety of academic and practical angles. At the end of the fifth conference, we reached important conclusions and determined areas for further work that laid the foundation for the sixth conference that we are now proposing.
In the fifth conference, we concluded by encouraging inter-faith dialogue in the broadest sense of the word. This may take the form of technical discussions among religious leaders on one end of the spectrum to local small groups of individuals, whom we may call lay people, on the other. We noted the importance of religious leaders in teaching their congregations about the importance of inter-faith dialogue and also in showing the commonalities among religions. We also concluded that the school is a very important site of inter-faith dialogue, for if children are brought up studying and interacting with students of other faiths, they will grow up with a natural intuition to practice and indeed live inter-faith dialogue. Thus, teachers bear a big responsibility for teaching and cultivating inter-faith in the classroom.
We determined that supporting and encouraging the practice of inter-faith service is a worthy goal. This notion involves members of different faiths working towards common ends. These goals can include topics such as peace and justice and fighting discrimination in whatever form it may take in the particular locality. In terms of who should instigate and take the initiative to start inter-faith dialogue, we concluded that it has to begin from all levels of society, ranging from small local groups to the national and international level. We noted that inter-faith dialogue must find ways to include participants who do not adhere to a religion or are unsure of their religious identities. Everyone must be welcome at the table of inter-faith dialogue, although participants should come with open minds that are free of prejudice. If an individual believes that his religion is the only true divine one and that the rest are merely contrived by humans, then the purpose of initiating a dialogue will not be served.
Finally, we called for more academic and scientific study of how inter-faith dialogue can be practiced as well as the development of ways to study its results. More studies of the successes and the failures will help to improve inter-faith dialogue going further. We benefitted tremendously from the anecdotes of the teachers at the conference and would like to see more of these examples collected and compiled to help direct others in their efforts.
To continue in the pursuit of these questions and areas of concern, we propose that the sixth conference should focus on the following topics in particular:
- What role in inter-faith dialogue can be played by individuals who do not follow a particular organized religion?
- What is the role of lay-people in inter-faith dialogue? Does inter-faith dialogue presume some level of knowledge about one’s religion?
- How can teachers cultivate inter-faith dialogue in their classrooms in order to create more tolerant individuals?
- What role can inter-faith services play in cultivating dialogue? What are examples of this?
- What role can inter-faith projects (such as service projects to help the needy) play in the cultivation of dialogue? What are examples of this?
- What evidence is there that inter-faith dialogue achieves tangible results in decreasing religious tensions?
- How can inter-faith dialogue support religious freedom, including the freedom to choose one’s religion?
- How can communities characterized by religious tensions or violence embark upon inter-faith dialogue? How can such communities build trust as a first step?
- How can a country’s legal framework provoke or reduce inter-faith tensions?
- Adherents of religions sometimes carefully follow ritual practices and yet fail to internalize and practice those tolerant qualities that are taught in almost all the religions. Why don’t we practice what religion preaches?
- Why do we need religion? What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Why do people avoid talking about issues related to religion and then express themselves in forms of violence instead?
- What is the role of the media in helping religions to understand one another? Whenever there are clashes amongst two religious communities, it gets huge coverage in print and electronic media, but positive efforts to curb or control this disaster fail to attract the attention of media.
In addition to addressing these questions, we also propose that one main focus of the sixth conference be on case studies of successful inter-faith dialogue. We suggest that individuals who have participated directly in a significant inter-faith initiative be invited to discuss their experiences. This could comprise one of the sessions of the conference.
In this conference, it is imperative that we make efforts to involve followers of all the religions so that they have an opportunity to discuss the misconceptions that may have been on their minds and then they try to acquire first-hand information about the commonalities amongst all the religions. It is also important to involve the media and high ranking media officials in particular in order to further spread the message that there are many people devoted to interfaith dialogue.
We look forward to working together for the cause of communal harmony.