by Kemal Argon
Many people of religion have grave doubts about the worth and utility of interfaith dialogue, dismissing it entirely. Interfaith work can appear to be leading nowhere and accomplishing nothing relevant or useful. While there are those who support interfaith work, there are others who could not be bothered, seeing it as a waste of time. These people are missing something: they are often losing a strategic opportunity to train their own scholars and activists, stimulate the revivification of their own religious tradition, or even to work on peace building.
Interfaith work can be very useful for religionists who know how to plan and use dialogue, who are prepared beforehand and are approaching it with the right understanding. For dialogue to be made useful, what I firstly want to suggest seeing is that there can be three parts to dialogue: preparation beforehand, the actual dialogue, and the follow-up phase. In brief, the preparation beforehand involves adequate study of our own religion as well as that of the dialogue partner, the actual dialogue will be comparatively short but will provide useful material, especially useful being material from people whom we definitely disagree with. The final followup, “post-encounter,” phase in our own community with our own scholars can be the most important one as that is where the real examination and inquiry into matters is taking place. This post-encounter reflection and inquiry can happen over a long period of time, meaning the benefits of deeper inquiry in response to disagreement need not be limited to any particular time frame, especially if we have been paying careful attention and taking notes. This also means that, if we participate sincerely, we can be learning something that may become known to us later.