Does Interfaith Dialogue Work?


Increasingly social media sites and media driven conversations are herding people into like-minded circles, and our connections to those who differ from us politically, socially, economically, and culturally are becoming rarer. We hear what we agree with; we listen to those who preach what we believe. This is equally true in religious arenas, and many might argue that the inability or unwillingness to listen to and understand the belief systems of others contributes to fear and hostility between followers of different faiths.

In a society that is growing more multi-cultural every year, where it is possible to live next door to those whose faith may seem foreign or mysterious, the ability to listen carefully, accept differences, and articulate one's beliefs without antagonism or coercion on either side has become more than a matter of social etiquette. For a half-century, interfaith dialogue has been a means of striving for peace, overcoming ignorance and indifference, and building bridges of understanding and compassion between adherents of different faith traditions. Yet the effort also has many critics, who argue that it involves mostly like-minded people and that it leads to little more than vague statements and resolutions about our shared humanity.

An earlier site-wide discussion on the merits of interreligious dialogue, including a wide range of viewpoints, can be accessed here, with an eye to the events and issues today. Now we ask again: What does interfaith dialogue accomplish? Does it have any measurable impact? Does it help reduce violence or solve any real-world problems?

The Patheos Public Square is produced in partnership with Christianity Today and the Progressive Christian Initiative.

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