three kinds of interfaith dialogue

Professor John Hick, philosopher and theologian, has taught on both sides of the Atlantic, has engaged with Hindus and Sikhs in India, and with Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Japan, and has been part of international Buddhist-Christian and Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue groups. He has written numerous books that have been translated into many languages, the most recent being The Fifth Dimension: An Exploration of the Spiritual Realm.

The International Interfaith Centre recently interviewed Prof John Hick as part of its Faith and Interfaith video series. During this interview, Prof Hick identified 3 main types of interfaith activity:

“I myself have been involved in three kinds of interfaith dialogue. One is highly intellectual – this was the international Buddhist-Christian dialogues that went on for several years based in the States, another was a Jewish-Christian-Muslim trialogue that took place mostly in the US, but once we met in Jerusalem. And this was between intellectuals of the different faiths and it was a matter of trying to understand one another’s belief systems and discussing them – not trying to persuade each other that the other was wrong but in actual fact learning from the others. And I would say that in the Buddhist-Christian one, we Christians actually found it changed our ideas and ways of thinking a lot more than the other way round.
Now that’s one form – that is intellectual if you like.

Then in California I was involved in a totally different kind of thing, much more ground level, in which quite ordinary people, not religious leaders, not the rabbis and ministers and so on, but ordinary people, got together in one another’s houses – Christians, Jews, Muslims this was – and they were interested to find out about daily life, what you do in family life, how you deal with children’s problems, what you eat and what you don’t eat and all that sort of thing, and this was enormously creative of interfaith friendships, genuine friendships.

The third thing was the one I mentioned in Handsworth (Birmingham, UK) where people of different faiths were getting together to cope with specific local concrete problems.

I think all of these three things, at least all of these three, are valuable. Probably the easiest and most productive way for religious people of different traditions to get together is over concrete problems – the problems of the environment, of peace, of poverty, the problems of the world because they are common to all human beings and you find that different ideas spring up from different sources so I think that is quite possibly the most valuable thing at the moment. I don’t mean that the others shouldn’t also go on – all forms of interaction should go on, but I would guess that if you could get people of many faiths together specifically to concentrate on a particular human problem, that would certainly be of enormous value.”