Interreligious dialogue can be interpreted as a relative of labour-management negotiations. While ignoring this business model’s obvious adversarial excesses, there are at least three loving, compassionate tactics that can be profitably employed in the dialogue context. Namely: (a) patience: starting from the simple and going to the complex; (b) carefulness: going from the safe to the sensitive; and (c) hopefulness: characterising dialogue as a never ending growth process. The critical literature was reviewed and integrated into the text as each of the three etiquette-based tactics were explicated herein. It was concluded that this triune approach be adopted for professional dialoguing and included within future religious education curricula. Further research into this exciting field was encouraged.
Much anxiety can surround religious dialoguing, whether it be of the interreligious (e.g., between Christians and Muslims), intrareligious (e.g., between Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians) or interideological variety (e.g., between Christians and Marxists). No doubt, the concerns are fundamentally rooted in how one expects to be received and treated by the other.  Despite its obviousness and seriousness for the dialogue and other educational enterprises, scant attention has been devoted to its explication within the critical literature.  If the dialogue enterprise is to become more effective, efficient and quality conscious, then these and other issues need to be systematically addressed and presented within formal instructional contexts, as is slowly happening (Kozlovic, 2002). As Scott Daniel Dunbar (1998, p. 456) bemoaned: “I believe that scholars can no longer afford to see interreligious dialogue as a fringe issue in religious studies but as an essential pursuit of the profession,” and presumably as another in-house means of ameliorating further fragmentation, alienation and divisiveness amongst the worlds’ religions.
A Managerial Approach to Religion
It would be naive to suggest that religious dialoguing does not involve tactics, manoeuvres or stratagems, it does. However, it:
- ...should not...be based on the model of a labor-management negotiation. Such a negotiation has two parties in the conversation, to be sure, but it is an adversarial one. The parties in a labor-management negotiation approach the table representing solely the interests of their side. They assume that there is a finite pie of financial wealth, and that each side wants the biggest slice it can get. Neither side sees any gain in losing (Peters, 1986, p. 885).
Taxonomically speaking, religious dialoguing can be viewed as a subspecies of the negotiation enterprise (Fisher & Ury, 1987; Koren & Goodman, 1992), but while ignoring the obvious adversarial excesses of labour-management disputes, some of its lessons can be profitably employed in the dialogue context. A brief scan of the critical literature revealed at least three etiquette-based tactics that lovingly embody compassion in its applied form, namely: (a) patience, (b) carefulness, and (c) hopefulness. The following is a brief introductory explication of each of these three basic propositions.
1.0 Patience: Starting From the Simple and Going to the Complex
Although Harvey Cox (1989, p. 8) argued: “I have never been persuaded that an interfaith dialogue is enhanced by designing it like one of those elementary collections for teaching the piano that begins with “Frere Jacques” and works up to Chopin preludes at the end,” it is not particularly good advice. Many delegates feel nervous before or during dialoguing (Solomon, 1991, p. 39), while others may be confused and frightened (Siejk, 1995, p. 227), what Levinas referred to as the “terror of otherness” (Tracy, 1990, p. 73) which is akin to stage fright. Given this dialogue fact-of-life, there is an a priori need to create, maintain and actively foster trust and truth-seeking via gradual stages. It was an idea embodied in Leonard Swidler’s (1983) 8th dialogue commandment:
- ...a dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust. Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide common ground, thereby establishing the basis of human trust. Then gradually, as the personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken (p. 11).
Taking things slowly was also advocated by Eugene J. Fisher (1990) regarding the Jewish-Roman Catholic encounter:
- On the interreligious level, a wide range of shared theological concerns such as creation, revelation; covenant; mission and witness; cannon law, Tradition and Oral Torah; messianism; etc. can be fruitfully explored in incremental stages as the dialogue becomes more sophisticated (p. 27) [my emphasis].
This incremental gradualism is akin to the need for patient nurturing of new relationships (Samartha, 1980, p. 160), and especially considering that most religions have “little experience in the process of moving from dialogue to decision and reception” (Brunett, 1999, p. 305). It is also common sense. Proverbial babies need to crawl before they can walk, let alone run. Some scholars have argued that it will take about twenty-years to translate the results of professional New Testament scholarship into the lay Christian arena (Cook, 1993, p. 24), so how much more time is needed to understand the intricacies of another alien faith? On the other hand, Evangelical Lutheran Darlis J. Swan (1998, p. 353) raised the possibility of over doing it and under processing the results: “the greatest challenge we may face is that we have too many dialogues going on at the same time while we have not fully received any of the results of nearly four decades, in some cases, of dialogue reports claiming consensus on core issues of faith and life.” However, this appears to be more of an organisational failure than a defect inherent within the dialogue enterprise itself.
Being patient and focused during on-site dialoguing also makes good sense simply because dialoguing is a structured form of human communication, which itself is premised upon the notion of simultaneous transactional feedback. This means that “even as a person speaks, he or she is simultaneously assessing the listener’s response on the basis of feedback and is modifying the formulation of further parts of the message as that feedback is being transmitted” (DeFleur, Kearney & Plax, 1993, p. 23). Therefore, the entire direction and success of the dialogue depends upon the speed and immediacy of these feedback responses thereby warranting a careful, patient approach, or at least the avoidance of rashness. This on-site reality applies equally well to the whole dialogue enterprise and is probably the root motivation behind Swan’s (1998, p. 356) following suggestion, namely: “Rather than starting new each time, bilateral dialogues ought to interface with one another so that, if agreements have been reached in certain doctrinal areas, those fruits may be used as building blocks.”
In many instances, establishing a foundation of trust and openness via careful and patient pre-handling should start before the formal dialogue commences. As Brockway and Rajashekar (1987, p. 177) advocated: “the “dialogue” of daily life may need to precede any attempts at more careful and formal dialogue.” But whether in a dialogue-of-daily-life or a formal dialogue event, the search for common ground is a useful starting point, as was also suggested by Essene and Nidle (1994, p. 4): “We can examine various religious writings and teachings for common agreements rather than for separate attitudes, and we can then update their meaning for our 20th-Century times.” This particular approach was adopted in the British based Sikh-Christian encounters organised by Charanjit Ajitsingh and Rev. John Parry. As the Sikh delegate reported:
- A highlight has been to do Scripture studies together, passages from the Bible and Guru Granth Sahib related to a theme. This common voyage of discovery of each others’ scripture has helped immensely to deepen understanding and build trusting friendship within which we can agree to agree but also disagree (Ajitsingh, 1998, pp. 34-35).
This is not to suggest that all dialoguing events are intrinsically simple or can be reduced to bland conclusions, indeed, they can be exceedingly complex because:
- Dialogue is not only multilayered along a vertical axis, but also multiform along what Rosenstock-Huessy called “the cross of reality.” That is, dialogue, like the human beings who enact it, simultaneously faces inward and outward, forward and backward, along the axis of space (from inner to outer and vice-versa) and the axis of time (from backward to forward and vice-versa). Thus dialogue becomes exceedingly complex. But complexity is to be expected, since dialogue is a meeting of whole human beings in their multiformity (Bryant, 1990, p. 7).
This multiformity also means more work for the participants in exploring this cross of reality, and also because the “changes that come about through one dialogue may make the next dialogue still more difficult. After each new transformation, the work that was done earlier will have to be done again” (Cobb Jr., 1988, p. 93), which means raking over old ground again and again but with new, more enlightened eyes.
Another important step in the dialogic process is establishing exactly what is meant by dialogue. As Raimundo Panikkar (1987, p. 102) argued: “A fruitful dialogue has to agree on the parameters to be used in the dialogue itself, otherwise there is only talking at cross-purposes.” This requirement alone necessitates a slow journey until participants are ready for more taxing issues, after all, it “takes time to build trust and to deepen relationships...and [that is] why patience and time are necessary” (Braybrooke, 1993, p. 105). This patient attitude also entails applying Philip H. Hwang’s (1989, p. 9) first necessary assumption for genuine dialogue, namely: “we should make no hasty value judgements,” especially if the dialogue is only at the simplistic levels. The use of Leonard Swidler’s (1982) three phase dialogue process is also appropriate here. But even when dealing with what appear to be simple issues, progress may still have to be slow and deliberate because of its potential profoundness:
- When the dialogue is with representatives of other religious Ways, that truth or wisdom is rarely of the sort that can simply be added to our previous store of beliefs. If we have listened for the heart of the matter, we have heard something profound and transforming. Hence the task of rethinking is not a simple one (Cobb Jr., 1982, p. 119).
As always, practical experience is a good guide in determining how to tackle these simple-to-complex dialoguing topics. For example, the Muslim Riffat Hassan (1986) reported:
- My experience of Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue has convinced me that it is disastrous to begin any dialogue with a discussion on the concept of God, which many theologians assume to be the natural starting point of any theological dialogue in the framework of monotheistic religious tradition. I have never seen any dialogue which begins with a discussion of the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim concepts of God get past the point of hair-splitting definitions and disagreements, leaving the dialogue partners flabbergasted and wondering whether they are indeed talking about the believers in the same God. Any theological dialogue between Hindus and Muslims which begins with the discussion of the concept of God is even more likely to be doomed to disaster. I do not see any way in which the great majority of Muslims can be persuaded to appreciate the 330,000,000 gods of Hinduism, even if they are told that these gods are not ends-in-themselves but merely symbols of ultimate reality (p. 138).
The Christian M. Thomas Thangaraj (1991) likewise noted complications over word usage during his encounters within his Saivite-Christian Dialogue Group and his Religious Circle of Friends, variously composed of Christians, Hindus and Muslims:
- ...the employment of the word “God” does exclude many groups of humans, whether they call themselves atheists, humanists, or Buddhists. Therefore, it we want to begin our reconstruction at a point where it is possible dialogically to engage the whole of humanity, missio Dei cannot be the starting point (pp. 163-164).
Indeed, there can be further practical problems when using specific religious terminology. For example:
- The very employment of the word “church” leaves a large majority of humans outside the circle of discussion, because church is not the most inclusive category as far as humanity is concerned. Coming from a multicultural situation, in which the reality of the church has been that a tiny minority within India’s large Hindu and Muslim population, I am aware of the divisive character of the word “church.” Therefore, one has to look for an alternative starting point (Thangaraj, 1991, p. 163).
One of Thangaraj’s (1991, p. 164) alternative starting points was to characterise the dialogue as missio humanitatis because the mission of humanity includes “all human beings, irrespective of either their faith in God or their membership in any religious community.” As another alternative starting point and/or means of avoiding these sorts of dilemmas, the Hindu Kana Mitra (1986, p. 121) suggested exploring “the parallels that exist between our two traditions, despite their differences and distinctiveness,” which is akin to Leonard Swidler’s (1983, p. 11) suggestion of seeking “common ground.” At least it is a safe, constructive start which many a seasoned dialoguer would no doubt approve of; even if it may also be “ancient history” (Duran, 1988, p. 212) and somewhat boring for them at times. Nevertheless, patience can reap incredible rewards. As Alexander Brunett (1999) reported concerning the Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue:
- Discussions were broken off in 1541...Conversations aimed at reconciling our two churches were only renewed in 1965...[after] thirty years of dialogue, each will recognise that the condemnations of the Book of Concord and the Council of Trent on this theme [division] are no longer applicable. The common affirmation on this issue, at the center of the gospel and of sixteenth century controversies, will be a monumental step for all Christians. Can you imagine what this means after four hundred years? (p. 304).
Hopefully, the beginning of serious intra-Christian reconciliation in our time.
2.0 Carefulness: Going From the Safe to the Sensitive
This safe-to-sensitive tactic is a corollary of the simple-to-complex tactic applied to the sensitive spots of each faith, and all faiths have them:
- Unfortunately a tendency to adulation of Christian heroes begins in the Acts of the Apostles and has infected much of the Christian story ever since. But to learn that our story is one of exclusivism, anti-Judaism, sexism, racism, corruption by power, corruption by wealth, corruption by piety, corruption by nationalism, and a host of other sins does not keep it from being our story (Cobb Jr., 1988, p. 91).
If not religious sore spots and the attendant problem of confessional defensiveness, then there may be proscribed areas to deal with. For example:
- Some traditions seem to resist theological dialogue because they do not wish to reveal the arcane secrets they believe to be theirs (traditional religions), or because they are convinced that the possession of truth is not for discussion (Islam), or because they are afraid that dialogue will weaken faith (integralists). Certainly openness must not be forced upon the other; it must be prepared and facilitated (Zago, 2000, p. 11).
Although these sore spots and initial dialogue reluctance should be handled sensitively, they should not be allowed to impede the ultimate progress of the dialogue because a “dialogue praxis that is afraid of giving offence, but keeps to the comfortable middle ground, may be useful as damage control, but it is hardly interreligious” (Sharpe, 1992, p. 233). Indeed, the Baptist Harvey Cox (1989) reported how he consciously tried not to offend his dialogue group by rushing into talk about Jesus Christ, but he only succeeded in frustrating himself and his dialogue partners who were just as eager to get to the Jesus topic as he was. As he somewhat annoyingly reported:
- My efforts at theological prudence, going slow, avoiding possibly thorny issues--although I certainly meant well--had merely succeeded in delaying the real exchange for two hours. I came away convinced that, whatever might be said for the other modes of dialogue, in my own future opportunities I would not assume that my partners wanted me to hold the Jesus factor in abeyance (p. 9).
Not only can it be frustrating but such a comfortable “middle ground” stance frequently resulted in a form of dialogue cancer -- impotent politeness:
- This lack of communication between Jew and Christian sometimes stems not from misconceptions and stereotypes, but from otherwise laudable intention: that of diplomatic politeness. Both Jews and Christians seek to overcome centuries of hostility and to embrace one another as valued friends. Jewish-Christian dialogue too frequently slips into a stylized type of interaction by avoiding substantive disagreement. Jews and Christians strive for clarity, to portray themselves and their partners in dialogue in the best possible light; thus each stress what the one can learn from the other. Such cordiality merits commendation, but it does not often illuminate the real differences separating the participants. Politeness, valuable as a means of creating a climate for interaction and mutual respect, falls short of true dialogue and conversation (Breslauer, 1991, p. 121).
Indeed, there is a potentially detrimental role-playing dimension to dialoguing which participants should be made aware of. As Norman Solomon (1991) highlighted:
- People I played with, went to school with, share a whole language and culture with, in the market-place, the concert hall, the laboratory, at the hustings, on the street, in all the facets of everyday life - we don’t have to handle each other with kid gloves. But dress up as theologians, professing the love of God and man and the pursuit of peace, and put us in the conference hall labelled Jews and Christians, and we hardly know each other, we were nervous, we tread softly lest we unleash hatreds and suspicions. Is this the cost of spirituality? (p. 39).
One would have to say that it is a cost of spirituality but not necessarily the cost. One should engage in diplomatic politeness and theological prudence. One should embrace one another as valued friends. One should be cordial and polite. One should be afraid of giving unnecessary offence. And one should initially keep to the comfortable middle ground simply because there are many sensitive issues within every religion which should be tactfully ignored until a trust relationship is built and sufficiently strong to endure the rigours to come. For example, during the 1986 Catholic-Marxist Dialogue in Budapest, Hungary and “conspicuous by its absence was the traditional Marxist critique of the supposed disinterest of Christians in terrestrial tasks as well as the slogan that religion is the opium of the people [while]...It was clear that some of the Marxists were embarrassed by the charge of religious persecution” (Pereira, 1987, p. 274).
Apparently Sharpe (1992), Breslauer (1991) and Solomon (1991) seem to suffer a lack of patience and are thus frustrated. It is simply a matter of propitious timing; not one of avoidance, even if dialoguing takes years to accomplish. Indeed, if “necessary, there must be a commitment to decades of discussion rather than a few years” (Sandidge, 1992, p. 244) as evidenced by the Roman Catholic-Classical Pentecostal dialogue which ran for approximately 17 years (Sandidge, 1992), and the Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue which lasted 30 years (Brunett, 1999). But such frustration is understandable:
- It is not often that we come across Christian scholars who are humble enough to admit that “decades of study and dialogue” will be necessary to understand another religion. What we are more accustomed to hearing are the a priori, doctrinal statements of those whom seem to feel that they know everything about other religions, and that there is nothing to learn from them (Fernando, 1988, p. 113).
The issue of appropriateness is another necessary condition for dialoguing which needs to be tactfully incorporated into the safe-to-sensitive tactic, as dramatically demonstrated during a 1968 meeting with the Islamic Research Institute staff at Rawalpindi:
- A very liberal and remarkably open discussion was traumatically upset by the intervention of a young historian from North Africa who protested that the contemporary Church was as relentlessly hostile to Islam as it had ever been, and he instanced missionary sympathy with the Southern Sudanese revolt, widespread Christian rejoicing over Israel’s capture of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the churches’ support of Biafra (Taylor, 1980, p. 215).
Even if the historian’s tale was factually true, it was certainly not the time nor the place to raise such unpalatable facts, especially with an aggressive in-your-face style (alas, the impetuousness of youth!). Dialogue participants must be made aware that it will always take time for their relationships to acclimatise, even though they may be very aware of each other, indeed, precisely because of it (Klenicki, 1991, p. 1). So, it is not surprising to find that:
- ...Orthodox Jews often are extremely reluctant to talk with Christians about anything they characterize as “religious” for fear, admittedly justified, of Christian efforts to convert them to Christianity. Also, some Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, hesitate to dialogue with Christians because they know those same Christians engage in dialogue with Jews and believe the Jewish people have a right to a state in what used to be called Palestine. Thus the existence of one dialogue places roadblocks in the way of another! The complications are manifold (Brockway, 1987, p. 3).
Nor is it surprising to find that “Zoroastrians consider intolerance and conversion as the most serious obstacles to interreligious dialogue. Because of past experience, they are wary of religious discussions with those of a proselytizing creed” (Dhalla, 1989, p. 39).
These trepidations require dialoguers to be sensitive about such issues, and hopefully by not comparing “one’s own ideals with the excess or failings of the other religion” (Brockway & Rajashekar, 1987, p. 177). Instead of comparing the excesses of one tradition with the best ideals of another, “Recognize the ideal in all faiths, and the fact that most believers do not attain the ideals of their faith” (Eck, 1987, p. 148). Regrettably, there are many religio-politico sensitivities to address, some centuries old. For example, “for many Muslims the Crusades--Christian jihads--remain the most graphic expression of what the cross means” (Cox, 1989, p. 36), while the Jews are still sensitive about being blamed for Christ’s crucifixion, the 1492 expulsions, and particularly the harrowing experience of the Holocaust. As Rabbi Leon Klenicki (1991) lamented:
- One painful aspect of our death experience was the fact that Jews went alone to their final destiny; few voices claimed, protested, such crimes. Is it not a sad reality to the Christian call that in general the community chose silence, when one million children went to the gas chambers? Such a lack of words helped the oppressors to act freely and without hindrance (p. 3).
Indeed, it was argued that these traumatic Holocaust events can challenge their very desire to dialogue:
- The shock of the Holocaust, especially after its magnitude had fully impressed itself on the Jewish community, led many to wonder whether an inter-religious dialogue was possible or desirable. Similar questions were raised by the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War when the existence of the state of Israel was threatened, yet even Christian leaders, who had participated in dialogue, remained largely silent or were suddenly inaccessible. This raised the question again and again whether we were actually engaging in serious conversation or whether this was an illusion (Jacob, 1991, p. 76).
These graphic memories and alternative meanings are but the dialogue equivalent of another aspect of human communication, namely:
- ...that receivers are always active parties in the communication process. That is, they bring to the act of interpreting the message their own individual repertoires of remembered understandings, which include many private and subjective shadings of meaning for words, things, actions, and settings that may not be universally shared in the general language community and the specialized cultures of the communicating parties (DeFleur, Kearney & Plax, 1993, p. 26).
Although Eric J. Sharpe (1992, p. 233) was critical that dialogue often took place “not actually on the frontiers, but in a demilitarized zone somewhere between the frontiers,” such a demilitarised zone may be a good thing, at least to start with. Why? Because all these paining persons can ignite suppressed hostility. For example, Jacob Neusner (1992) eagerly wished to dialogue with Christians about Israel precisely because:
- While not the source of racist antisemitism, Christianity made its massive contribution to the racist antisemitism that shaped the policy of mass murder of men, women, and children, in the name of the “purification” of humanity; and Christianity has come to recognise that theirs has been a teaching of contempt (p. 24)!
Not unexpectedly, this dialogue is unlikely to get off to a propitious start if this challenge is first on the agenda. Indeed, the “possibility for any genuine dialogue at all certainly depends on the willingness of some scholars and religious representatives to achieve a psychological distance from these historical and practical stumbling blocks” (Hellwig, 1982, p. 77). It was good advice. Much care is required, with Paul Mojzes’ (1978, p. 11) 26th ground rule needing to be judiciously applied here, namely: “Work toward accomplishing something for the better. Work at improving the situation.” Rabbi Leon Klenicki (1984) also suggested the following:
- The painful effects of memory are difficult to overcome. The Jewish people have suffered centuries of persecution and contempt, leaving images if not scars difficult to erase, a feeling of disillusionment inviting self-righteousness and distrust. The Jewish dialogue partner requires signs, gestures of friendship and fraternity to erase these images. He needs to be reassured of the seriousness of Christian commitment to friendship; otherwise the dialogue will become just another form of the old threat of denial and of conversionary activity (p. 102).
In this case, Judaism’s dialogue partners need to earnestly signal their gestures of friendship and fraternity for the sake of the dialogue, possibly in the names of their own deities that sanction such cooperative ventures. This in itself is an important sign of maturity and growth which all religionists and ideologists should actively pursue, especially as a demonstrable sign of love and compassion.
3.0 Hopefulness: Dialogue as a Never Ending Growth Process
Not only should the dialogue start from the-simple-to-the-complex, and go from the-safe-to-the-sensitive, but this forward-looking gradualism should be applied to the entire dialogue enterprise. After all, dialogue “is a process of growth” (Braybrooke, 1993, p. 105) and “an endless path of revelation, transformation, and spiritual growth. In a sense, it is a circular path, for it leads back into the roots of one’s own faith” (Krieger, 1993, p. 353). If one claims that no growth is possible then it implies one has all the answers, and if one has all the answers, then no new questions are allowed, and if no new questions are allowed then it is the death of dialogue before it is born; and thus the very regrettable loss of new understanding. This is clearly an untenable position, philosophically, sociologically and pragmatically speaking. Change is unavoidable, growth inevitable, and so it is pragmatically wise to proactively embrace it rather than reactively deny it.
Of course, the richness of a religious tradition cannot be presented in its entirely in one session, or even a series of sessions, which is the practical embodiment of Mojzes’ (1978, p. 11) 15th ground rule: “Do not assume that the conclusions reached are final. There will always be a need for continual dialogue regarding these views.” Indeed, the “last condition is that other questions are left unanswered, or for another dialogue” (Ochs, 1993, p. 130). Irrespective of the length of the program, Leonard Swidler (1982) noted how dialogue was capable of going through three distinct phases, namely:
- In the first phase we unlearn misinformation about each other and begin to know each other as we truly are. In phase two we begin to discern values in the partner’s tradition and wish to appropriate them into our own tradition...phase three. Here we together begin to explore new areas of reality, of meaning, of truth, of which neither of us had even been aware before...We may thus dare to say that patiently pursued dialogue can become an instrument of new revelation (pp. 11-12).
The revelatory capacity of dialogue to make us grow was also echoed by Peter Neuner (1991):
- I emerge from a dialogue changed from what I was when I entered into it...If I am not ready for input in this way, then I have not been in dialogue. In dialogue I cannot predict how and in what direction this change will take place. Dialogue is therefore always hazardous. If churches exclude a change of this kind, they are not conducting dialogue, even if they are talking to each other (p. 291).
Interestingly, the Marxist Andrija Kresic (1978) considered that co-existence itself was a disguised form of growth:
- Each side [Communist and Ecclesiastical Christianity] in co-existence retains its ideology with the hope of a proselytized end of the other, because each side conceives of the future of the world as its own world with no opponents. Thus co-existence is a tactic, but the strategy is still some sort of quiet contra-existence (p. 40).
The best sort of dialogue according to Richard E. Wentz (1987) is one with no rigid agenda, one which was free to flow where it may:
- Our own dialogue [between Wentz and Korean theologian Nam Key-Young] had no agenda, no intention. I think it was profound, at times intense. I came away from the experience with the insight that that dialogue may be best for which we advance no great expectations (p. 13).
However, great expectations or not, it is still important for participants to recognise that dialogue is an ongoing process operating within an organisational context. So, Wentz’s (1987) no-rigid-agenda suggestion should be tempered by practicality because, like all other organisational events, formal religious dialogues need to be efficiently organised and have formal agendas, whatever the overt or covert intentions behind them may be. Interestingly, it may be possible to do justice to the twin demands of freedom and order because:
- Interreligious dialogue means that we play by ear, but it also demands that a sequence, both historical and logical, be established between listening and talking. We must listen to the structural complex of the categories of the religions before we talk to them, or start talking on behalf of them (Yadav, 1988, p. 183).
The potentially unpredictable, playing-it-by-ear element of dialoguing is important because dialogue participants cannot decide before the dialogue what they will actually learn from it. Each dialogue is different, and there are many potential partners to work with, and from whom important things can be learned:
- Only as we move into such dialogue can we find out what the future holds for such a venture. We can expect new questions, new knowings, new levels of trust in one another, new affirmations of faith. Perhaps we will also find some very specific, pragmatic, and particular next steps toward each other, with each other, and beyond ourselves toward all others (Cunningham, 1987, p. 16).
This is exactly what makes dialoguing exciting: discovery and a positive expectation of growth and mutual transformation via a structured playing-it-by-ear approach:
- I am sure that many of you could tell your own stories of being personally stretched and stretched again in the course of ecumenical encounter and of dialogue. In each successive step of my own pilgrimage it was impossible even to envisage the next step that most astonishingly did occur. Each time one felt one was at the limits. One by one the barriers that we imagined protected us and the Christian faith itself have been broken down by the Holy Spirit (Turner, 1987, p. 14).
This unpredictable, repeatable stretching explains why dialoguers should not set any theoretically derived or prejudged limits in advance, whether descriptive, prescriptive or experiential. However, these discovery limits should not be confused with a priori event organising and theme focusing structures.
Patience, carefulness and hopefulness, as a triune cluster of tactical devices is only one set of strategies which can be profitably applied to the dialogue enterprise. Many other applied compassion approaches exist but have not been fully articulated to date. The time is ripe to plunge into both the business communications and negotiation literature to extract even more loving gems of respect, appreciation and understanding, and then incorporate them into future religious education and professional dialoguing curricula. Further research into this exciting field is encouraged, and certainly needed in this frightening post-September 11 world.
1. Logically speaking, there is a fourth option, namely, non-religious interideological dialoguing (e.g., between Feminisms and Marxists), but it will not be dealt with herein. If one group/delegate does not represent a particular religious faith (as opposed to discussing a religious topic), then it cannot be legitimately called religious dialoguing.
2. Hereafter, the terms “dialoguing,” “interreligious dialoguing” or “religious dialoguing” will refer to an official dialogue involving at least one religion configured in any of the three above-mentioned ways, unless informed otherwise.
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Anton Karl Kozlovic BA, BEd, DipEd (Adelaide), BA (Deakin), GradDipEd(RelEd) (SACAE), GradDipMedia (AFTRS), MA, MEd, MEdStudies (Flinders) is a PhD candidate in Screen Studies, School of Humanities, The Flinders University of South Australia. He is interested in Religion-and-Film, Interreligious Dialogue and Computer Films, and is currently writing a doctoral dissertation on the biblical cinema of Cecil B. DeMille. He has published articles in Australian Religion Studies Review, Compass: A Review of Topical Theological, Journal of Christian Education, Journal of Mundane Behavior, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Journal of Religious Education, The Journal of Religion and Film, Labyrinth: An International Journal for Philosophy, Feminist Theory and Cultural Hermeneutics, Marburg Journal of Religion, Nowa Fantastyka, Organdi Quarterly, Quodlibet: Online Journal of Christian Theology and Philosophy, Religious Education Journal of Australia and Teaching Sociology. His latest book chapters and critical entries have been published in The Wallflower Critical Guide to Contemporary North American Directors (Allon, Y., Cullen, D., & Patterson, H., 2001) and Sex, Religion, Media (Claussen, D. S., 2002).