Processes of constructive engagement and dialogue between people holding different beliefs and worldviews, and belonging to different traditions and backgrounds, have vital roles to play in the task of strengthening the bonds of community.
The following submissions are particularly noteworthy for their discussions of religion and belief in the UK in the context of dialogue.
‘A willingness to learn about others faiths and put aside prejudice (e.g. from the media) was central to dialogue and engagement and that this stems from the twin desire to be understood and to understand others.’
This submission emerged from a meeting organised by an interfaith organisation in Scotland. The authors set out what they see as the principles underlying effective dialogue. They highlight concerns that people who engage in interreligious dialogue are a minority in their own communities, and that more work is needed to engage the majority of religion and belief communities in such dialogue. They emphasise the role that schools can play in this regard and call for greater training of religion and belief leaders in interreligious dialogue.
‘In my research it was clear that commitment to a neighbourhood and a community, belonging, was important to those who were actively involved in their local community and in dialogue’.
This response was submitted by an academic who specialises in researching interreligious dialogue. The author sets out criteria by which different organisations may measure the efficacy of dialogue. She draws a distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ dialogue and emphasises the importance of the latter in creating cohesive neighbourhoods. She suggests that interreligious dialogue bodies can be seen as ‘means of validating religions in public – approving religions through allowing their membership’.
‘There is a sense of frustration by some involved in dialogue work that it can be too agreeable, and not challenging enough.’
The Humanist Society Scotland suggests that there is ‘no clear desire’ from Scottish humanists to see formal involvement in interfaith work – partly because of use of ‘faith’ as a descriptor of these activities. The HSS highlights a number of issues, including a sense of unfairness among humanists about their exclusion from government funding for interfaith/belief work, and the danger that dialogue can be ‘too agreeable’ and not challenging enough.
‘…effective dialogue between people of faith and no faith must be underpinned by the need to understand and appreciate difference.’
This submission from the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme argues that worldwide religion ‘has not been swept away in the great tide of secularism’ but in the UK there is a lack of religious and belief literacy needed to understand the global situation. The authors suggest that interreligious dialogue programmes should draw on existing local networks to identify local decision-makers, and should offer them quality leadership training. They advocate greater national policy focus on the capacity of religious groups to work for peace rather than violence. They discuss how Scriptural Reasoning may be used in interfaith dialogue. This submission also discusses issues of education and media.
‘The structures and processes for inter dialogue and engagement need continually to evolve to reflect the religious and social landscape – including changing methods of communication – and to meet changing needs.’
The Trustees for the Inter Faith Network UK gives an expansive and detailed look into the role and challenges of inter faith work in the UK today. Specifically regarding dialogue, the submission explains how inter faith work addresses the evolving needs of communities and tackling tensions through dialogue and education but warns of “over-expectation” and the tendency for inter faith organisations to be a “one stop shop”for all dialogue and conflict mediation. The submission also gives a unique insight into resourcing for inter faith initiatives and opportunities.