I’ve begun reading a book called “Trialogue: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue,” by Reuven Firestone, Khalid Duran, and Leonard Swidler, a book which attempts to define and guide to a dialogue among the three religions. I haven’t read that much yet, but it seems promising.
It wakes some interesting thoughts. The first and most obvious being “what is dialogue?”
Most of us have probably tried to be talked to, where the talker definitely didn’t want you to respond. Two people, or more, being involved but only one being allowed to talk. That definitely isn’t dialogue. The word dialogue comes from the Greek word ‘dialogos,’ meaning ‘conversion’ or ‘discourse,’ consisting of the two words ‘dia,’ meaning ‘through’ or ‘across,’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘word.’ This is a word that signifies a conversation taking place from both sides, both being attentive to the other as well as taking part in the conversation. A person denying you the right to be heard, is certainly not conducting a dialogue.
But what about two persons fighting? Both having something to say, that must be a dialogue, no? Well, considering that neither of them probably aren’t that attentive to what the other person has to say that probably wouldn’t be considered a dialogue either. The teacher teaching his students rarely do dialogue, merely teaching them, or at least this is an example from the book, though I have to say that most teachers I have been studying with, certainly have paid attention to their students and participated in dialogue with them, as well as many authors of non-fiction books describe how they learned from their students, somewhat telling me of some kind of dialogue.
Dialogue is when two parts, two persons, have a conversation where they are attentive to each other, not having it as their premise that they are correct and the other part wrong, but rather that they are interested to have added nuances or knowledge to what they already might know, or even not know. Dialogue is established when we give up the need to be right, when we want to relate ourselves to what the other has to say. But dialogue can only appear where both parts have this premise. Many people today talk nicely and polite, but still with the premise that they have to convince or persuade the other part. No matter how polite one will speak and behave, this still isn’t dialogue.
In the meeting between religions this is also an important premise, that if we really want to be able to live next to each other, with each other, then we need to open up for each other, get to understand each other. But that won’t happen as long as the premise is to make the other believe as myself. Sure, I understand that some religions have a commandment or expectation to proselyte people, but still. We are in an age where there is so much material on all the religions, where people are more curious than ever, where it is almost impossible not to do some kind of “proselyting” in the meeting with people, so it really isn’t needed. Actually, the need to proselyte might actually just push some people away.
No, if we want to live with each other we need dialogue. And dialogue between religions is not based on the idea that “I already know so much about your religion, now you have to learn about my religion,” but rather “how do you experience and live your religion?” Dialogue is not to define others, based on one’s own perceptions of their religion, but rather allow them to define themselves in context of their religion, as well as how they experience their religion. Dialogue between religions is not necessarily to recognize one’s own religion in the other, nor to find all the overlaps, but rather to get insights and understandings of how the other religion also can be experienced by its practitioners. This can certainly also be achieved within the religions themselves. No religion is at it was when it was created, and today most religions hold several streams, meaning that there are different ways to practice and understand each religion. For example, if you take a Wahabi and a follower of Hazrat Inayat Khan, then you get two different forms of Islam, but both being Islam. The same goes for most religions. We need to be attentive to how people experience their own religion and their own world, that way we might learn a little more about both.
One of my goals for this blog, as well as my studies, is dialogue. I know that I present a subject, which I explain about, but I never want it to end there, I want to involve you out there. Even if you feel that it is above you, or you don’t know enough about the subject, then you still should take part in the dialogue. Many things are discovered by fresh eyes and odd thinking (compared to what is established thinking), and only by opening up for those who think different than ourselves, can we get new insights, which we otherwise may have been ignorant too.
So, do you have any good experiences with dialogue?