Using Experifaith for Dialogue

Using Experifaith for Dialogue December 13, 2017

Using Experifaith for Dialogue

[Note: This article clarifies how the Experifaith model can be used to facilitate conversations. For best results, read the Experifaith book before you attempt to facilitate. Get your free web edition here.]


At a recent dialogue event about solitude, I was reminded of the fact that people rarely take the time discuss their religious or spiritual experiences.

People are willing to talk about religious stories and the differences between them, yes, social issues that affect everyone regardless of religion, yes, but when it comes to personal experiences with prayer, meditation, and ritual, not so much.

I understand why. Experiences are deeply personal.

In order to share them one must be both trusting and vulnerable.

The risks are high but the payoffs are great. When I share something personal about my experiences and another person does the same, we are bound to see similarities. We may act differently and wear dissimilar robes of skin color, culture and ideology, but certain elements are distinctly human across the board.

Our ability to experience is one of those elements we all share.

That is where Experifaith comes in.

Intrafaith, Ecumenical or Interfaith?

It’s important to learn how to walk before trying to run, learn how to swim before attempting a water rescue, and, in this case, learn to get comfortable with experiential dialogue with friends before attempting to bridge gaps with those foreign to us.

That is why dialogues about faith-based experiences have to start at home (intrafaith), where people have already created trust. Having discussions with friends and family about the personal experiences of spiritual practice can be an enlightening process.

When people have become accustomed to speaking to those who stand closest to them, they can open themselves up to ecumenical dialogue and talk to different sects within their religion. Putting dogmatic and interpretational differences aside and focusing instead on experiences can truly bring about changes in understanding between sects.

Finally, when people have seen the fruits of their experiential communications, they can try the same methods in interfaith settings and see co-human connections where they saw none before.

The interfaith example I use is of two hikers.

One has hiked extensively in Switzerland while the other has traversed all over the Rocky Mountains.

The terrains are different but they share many similar experiences of hiking.

Spiritual seekers and believers are separated by ideology in the same way that the hikers are separated by terrain but the acts of prayer, meditation, and ritual may yield similar experiences even though theological landscapes are wildly different.

The Experifaith Outline

If you are interested, it’s time to get into the details of how to facilitate such a discussion.

Before you begin, you’ll need to have read the book, convinced people to join you for a dialogue session, and found a suitable safe environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed.

Once all that is done, you can start going through the process.

The ideal duration for an Experifaith dialogue is 120 minutes. You will need twenty minutes to explain the model, twenty minutes for everyone to fill in their Experifaith portrait (download your PDF template here), ten minutes to split everyone into pairs/groups (you decide whether the discussion takes place one-on-one or in groups), sixty minutes for the actual dialogue, and ten minutes to summarize and share.

Before you begin the actual dialogue, get the group to agree to the following:

  • We are willing to share and listen, not preach or be preached to.
  • We are willing to converse deeply on an experiential level.
  • We are committed to being cordial in our interactions.
  • We will work in harmony towards a better understanding.

To orient the group you can also read this passage from Mahatma Gandhi:

“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that source within you. Let us work together for unity and love.”

The Dialogue Process

Once everyone has an Experifaith portrait (again, in order to fill in the Experifaith portrait, you’ll need to read the book and print out the template forms) and has been split into groups, either one-on-one or in a roundtable format, read the following tenets:

  • Please limit discussions to how spiritual experiences have influenced your feelings, thoughts and/or actions. For example: “When I [do this} I feel [fill in the blank], I think [fill in the blank] and I do [fill in the blank].”
  • Please refrain from talking about the contents of your belief system, i.e. history, dogma, orthodoxy. Focus on your personal experiences.
  • Explore both similarities and differences unveiled in the Experifaith portrait.
  • Remember that another person’s experience cannot be wrong, just different. Even if you find nothing in common with another person, the mere act of trying to understand will reap benefits.
  • Signal each other by raising your hand if the discussion starts to revolve around theology rather than experiences.

To facilitate, you can use a talking stick or stone and make sure that the person holding that object will get full attention when he or she is talking.

Ideally, everyone should get at least five minutes to express him or herself about their Experifaith portrait. Remember to rotate and have people change partners every ten minutes if you chose a one-on-one format.

At the end of the discussion, allow for time where people can share their experiences with the entire group.

(For further dialogue guidelines, click here)

The Benefits

There are numerous benefits to this exercise.

On a personal level, participants are likely to see themselves in a new light. Even if they have already created an Experifaith portrait on their own, there is something magical that happens when people put their thoughts, feelings, and actions into words.

Furthermore, actively taking the role of another, walking a mile in their shoes, has been shown to facilitate personal growth by increasing the number of perspectives a person can actively entertain without necessarily making them their own, thusly decreasing self-centeredness.

On a communal level, participants are building bridges and elevating understanding. By putting aside stories and disagreements and focusing on universal experiences, participants are automatically drawn closer to the people they are speaking with.

It is important to note that people, who only pay lip service to their faith or spiritual path, will likely have a difficult time participating in this process.

An example would be the disparity between (1) a conversation where two people are both dedicated parents and (2) a conversation where one person is a parent while the other occasionally reads short articles about parenting.

Without being rooted in experience, one part of the conversation is likely to end in mental gymnastics, with the non-parent expressing thoughts grounded in hearsay rather than firsthand knowledge.

With all that being said, when you decide to facilitate an Experifaith dialogue, approach the task with optimism. Be open-minded and expect the best. People who are willing to engage in these kinds of conversations usually want to expand their horizons.

Need Help?

It is part of my ministry to facilitate these kinds of dialogues, so if you need help, feel free to contact me.

Gudjon Bergmann
Author & Interfaith Minister

This article was partially adapted from my book, Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion.

Picture: CC0 License

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