IIC Newsletter 6: January 1997
International Interfaith Centre Autumn Lecture

14 November 1996, The Chapel, Mansfield College, Oxford.

From Conflict to Harmony: A Confucian Response to Interfaith Dialogue”

Dr Xinzhong Yao, University of Wales, Lampeter.

Chair/Respondent: Dr Ram Prasad, Trinity College, University of Oxford.

Over 60 people gathered together on a chill, late November afternoon to gain some insight into Confucian views and values. Dr Yao began by charting the recent decline of Confucianism and its rarity as an active player in interfaith dialogue. However, Confucian values and ideals still function in the world today so can be utilised as resources for the solution and resolution of problems confronting other communities. The central theme in Confucianism is the ‘quest for equilibrium and harmony’, the essential nature and ingredients of life. To realise harmony is an individual responsibility which will affect world order. “When feelings and action are perfectly balanced, ‘a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish’ “.

Confucian methodology to achieve such harmony is morality centred: the development of cosmic harmony through the establishment of social harmony which, in turn, is dependent on individual character cultivation. Conflict resolution is based on three convictions: that conflict arises principally from people, especially the powerful, whose characters are not cultivated; that external accusations rather than internal reflections are used in situations of conflict; and the belief that peace and harmony will naturally follow from individual cultivation of character.

Dr Yao then discussed the definition of Confucianism and its relationship to interreligious dialogues and conflicts. He concluded that it can be considered a religion, a religion of harmony which emphasises the integration of wisdom and practice, transformation and transcendence “through human efforts in family, community and society, by means of rituals, ethics and politics, following the guiding lines of the classics which reveal to us the constant principles in changing human events”.

Five convictions comprise the Confucian faith:

“1) that the Way (Tao) is the foundation of the cosmic movements, human experience and individual life;
2) that harmony once prevailed in the world when the Way was understood and followed by ancient sage-kings;
3) that the essentials of the Way have been recorded in the classics;
4) that the Way of the classics cannot be revealed unless through learning and practicing; and
5) that the world will be again in peace and harmony when the Way is fully applied for our life”.

Dr Yao believes that it was, perhaps, the Confucian abhorrence of force and violence, as well as its focus on virtuous behavior rather than a transcendent Reality, that saved it from becoming a missionary religion. Faith is based on an individuals’ own experience so that “what one believes is …what one has understood and what one has acquired”. There is no formal credal structure or defined deification of Confucius himself. Cultivation of each heart is of primary importance. “A good Confucian is a man who realises in his life the intention of Heaven, and if he does that, Confucianism is content to let him believe what he will”.

Dr Yao identified missionary tactics as a source of problems in the world. He understands Confucianism, as a non-missionary religion, to be a more open resource for conflict resolution. Interreligious strategies are based on three principles: that various faiths co-exist as different understandings of the Way; that the value of each tradition is to realise human transformation; and that the final goal of all religions is the same, namely, to attain to harmony. He argues that Confucianism can be seen as a tradition of dialogue, actively encouraging and participating in exchanges with other ways. This has both enriched and enlivened Confucianism and affected its development, leading to a harmonising of Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist practices and beliefs by many Chinese. History, however, reveal a less inviting response to other traditions, as a result of oppression, in attempts to maintain authority, and to suppress rivals.

Dr Yao concluded by referring to a 5th/6th century argument that faiths are essentially the same and their differences not fundamental. All are vehicles for movement, some more appropriate in one location than another. Religious harmony does not arise from the removal of differences but from the recognition that “the sameness of faiths requires us to respect them equally, while their differences permit that they are practiced in different ways by different people”.

Dr Ram Prasad responded by wondering if Confucianism could legitimately be considered a world view, a system of values, more like liberalism, rather than a religion with transcendent concerns. He was not so certain of the divide between Confucianism and missionary religions as depicted by Dr Yao. Dr Ram Prasad expressed the view that even missionary religions today extended a sense of harmony and commitment rather than compulsion. He also doubted if there was such value neutrality in Confucianism as indicated. The manipulation of Confucian doctrines by governments for their own ends was accepted by Dr Yao.

One questioner asked about the state of Confucianism in Europe. Dr Yao responded that it was primarily experienced in the West through intellectual study, particularly in the USA. Confucian organisations no longer functioned widely or effectively, in China or elsewhere, although some Chinese communities in Europe continue to live by Confucian values.

To another question about ‘where’ the transforming power for harmony arises, Dr Yao replied that the Confucian doctrines of human nature affirm the innate goodness of humans, their oneness with a heaven which is harmonious. Therefore, an exploration of the heart will bring about a natural harmony.

Regarding eschatalogical doctrines, Dr Yao explained that the transcendent in Confucianism equals transformation so that the focus is primarily on social transmutation. He quoted one nugget of Confucian wisdom relating to thoughts about death and what might follow: “If you have not understood life, how can you understand death?”

The final question dealt with the role of women in Confucianism. Dr Yao descibed Confucianism as originally confined to male circles as education was not extended to women, with the exception of one Empress whose rule changes were rescinded immediately after her death! However, more recently the door had been opened to women who were now able and welcome to evaluate and live by Confucian values and thoughts.

For many present, this may have been a first encounter with Confucianism, both as a religion or value system, and in its interaction with other religious traditions. The IIC thanks Dr Yao and Dr Ram Prasad for the knowledge and insights they shared with us which provide a solid foundation for further study and reflection. Dr Yao’s full paper will be published in World Faiths Encounter. Copies are also available from the IIC office for £4.00 including p&p.

Sandy Martin




In a very real sense, no military action, or act of violence, can ever bring lasting peace. Since violence stems from violence, it can never eradicate violence. That is why I believe in the power of prayer and the healing possibilities of interfaith dialogue. If you read all the scriptures, you would see that they are all saying the same thing: “love one another”. But what is true dialogue and how can we achieve this? In order to talk and negotiate, we need to bring people together who believe in heart-to-heart talking. We need to sit together and meet as friends, not as enemies. I believe in complete trust in the other person or persons, and in open discussion. We need sincere prayer and honest negotiation; not cunning, diplomatic talks. It will not be useful to talk about our sisters and brothers as our enemies. By constantly calling one another as “enemy”, how do we build trust? So, it is time to open up and talk from the heart, not from the head. Even war is based on love, but that love is misplaced or limited in some way. If you want to throw a bomb on another country, you may feel that you are doing it for the sake of your country, because you love your country. You may love your country but don’t you think the other person will love his or her country also? If we love only our own country, it is a kind of limited love, which might also be called selfishness. Unless the human mind is freed from greed, jealousy and hatred, there will be more and more wars. If you free your own mind of all these problems, at least that little part of the world will be free from trouble. If we want a peaceful world outside, let us begin with ourselves. When you love yourself, you should also love everybody else in the same way. When we do not do that, we see these political wars and other problems arising. Look at all the great saints of the various religions. How many millions love them even today and worship them? Why? Because they loved the entire humanity. Unfortunately, even in that people have segregated themselves and they say, “Mine is the best, yours is not good”. Then religious wars come in. It is all based on selfish, limited love. If you cannot have communion with your own neighbour, how are you going to have communion with God? Your neighbour is God in a visible form. We need to understand the essential spiritual teachings of all the religions. We should open our minds and our hearts. Even just imagining, “I belong to the whole world and the entire world is my family” will make you so happy and peaceful. That is how all our great sages and saints wanted us to be. Unfortunately, it seems that many people only read the scriptures, and do not apply them in their lives. Whenever we put limitations on our love, we seperate ourselves from others, we fence ourselves in. If we would enlarge our thinking, it would go beyond the “mine” and “ours” that limit us, that would really help the world avoid all these calamities. The whole world is like a body. That is the idea behind interfaith dialogue. We see each other as part of the whole. If there is unrest in one part, every part will be affected. If not treated, an infection in one part will spread throughout the whole body. Likewise, if we want to be happy,we should work for the happiness of all people everywhere. That is the only way to achieve real peace. We are all bound to each other; and at the same time, we are all afraid of each other. Interfaith dialogue can help us understand that we are all interconnected. It can help us build bridges and gain greater understanding of these truths. Then, we will no longer consider fighting as a solution to our problems. Instead, we will want to reach out to each other. We will want to be friends. It would be a greater freedom to stop hiding behind our arms and bravely stretch out a hand and offer an open heart. We should rise above all the differences and see our spiritual oneness; we should learn to love each other and to always appreciate the nice things that people do. When we come together in the name of dialogue, we should not always be pinpointing the mistakes of others. Instead, if you keep on talking about the good things, you will forget all the superficial differences that divide us. We do not need to label or deny people because of our differences. If you go a little deeper, where is the black and where is the white? Where is the yellow and where is the brown? The spirit has no black or white or yellow or brown. This is the real spiritual life: talking in terms of spirit, loving in terms of spirit. That is the real spirit of diaologue, union or communion. We cannot have communion with God without having communion with our fellow beings. Many people say to me, “The world is going to collapse at any moment”. I do not think so. I consider this a transitory period. We are witnessing a great change. I see a very bright future for humankind and I really feel we are going to see a better world. In fact, we are seeing it already. I am a person who travels constantly around the globe. Wherever I go, I see an increasing openess to interfaith dialogue and commitment to world peace. I have confidence in the international interfaith movement. I believe in the people who are sowing the seeds of health and happiness, of peace and goodness. This world is going to be filled with people who love each other, care for each other, and together build peace through better understanding.

Report from Rio Interfaith Network: Andre Porto

(A full report, which includes a review of the 1996 conference at which Andre was both a presenter and translator, was sent out to the IIC Internet Faith List)

Back in Brazil I jumped into a conference of the Board of the WCC that was happening right at the Institute for Religious Studies where I work. The reason for the gathering, of twelve persons from ten different countries, was to figure out a Program to Overcome Violence – new strategies to build a Culture of Peace. During the meeting there was a massacre of nineteen landless people in a northern state. As a response to this event – another tragedy, human rights falling apart and impunity prevailing – the Rio Interfaith Network organised an important ceremony to focus public attention on the injustice in Brazil. Three years previous there was an event, known as the Candelaria Massacre, when seven children had been killed in front of a church. The judgement on this was due to start on 29 April 1996. On this day, two hours before the session started, we gathered in a main downtown plaza, around two hundred people from different religious backgrounds, human rights organizations and supporting citizens. The Afroreggae, a cultural/social project that works with teenagers in slums gave a great performance and were an image of hope and the viability of good projects that work with disadvantaged street children. Many banners urging human rights, justice and peace set the atmosphere. Representatives from each tradition present held a spiritual service in memory of the victims of all massacres and injustice in Brazil. The group then walked half a mile through the city to the Palace of Justice. We arrived just as the trial was starting. The event received tremendous local and international coverage and was seen and heard about by millions of people, drawing attention to the trial itself, as planned. The Rio Interfaith Network now plans to organise, in many cities, more Ceremonies for Justice and Peace to coincide with major judgements.


Karinna G Pablo, Coordinator, IARF Philippines

The interfaith movement as we know it in other countries is just beginning to take root in the Philippines. People are now enlightened enough to acknowledge and respect the differences in their religious beliefs, but this has not always been the case. In the Philippines, old traditions die hard, and Roman Catholicism has always been the dominant faith tradition. One was either baptised a Roman Catholic or else considered a religious minority, one outside of the religious mainstream. Thus, despite the fact that the southern island of Midanao is predominantly Muslim, that indigenous religions have flourished over the years, and many foreign religions are active in the country, interfaith activities were virtually unheard of until recently. Most likely, this can be attributed to the fact that it was not uncomon for each religion to pursue a general policy of exclusivity, unless it was for the purpose of actively recruiting new members. However, with the growing internationalisation of Philippine society and culture, people have opened up their minds to other faiths, and interfaith cooperation has now become very much a byword of the ’90s. Social service has been instrumental in fostering interfaith cooperation in the Philippines. Foreign non-govermental organisations typically seek tie-ups with a local religious group in their operations in the Philippines. The International Association for Religious Freedom has been one such organisation, supporting social service projects that are seen to promote interfaith cooperation among their beneficiaries. People’s perspectives have broadened to encompass those of other religious faith traditions. There seems to be less and less prejudice and criticism directed at other religions, and no one religion is out to claim superiority over others. People have now been observed to be more tolereant and less discriminating of people outside their own faiths. They have learned that they can be curious about other people’s religious beliefs without compromising their own. Thus, people are now less wary about interacting with other people who may not share the same faith as they do, showing interest and willingness to participate in dialogues and interfaith activities. With more organisations such as the IARF, dedicated to promoting interfaith activities such as the World Congress and Philippines Conference, the interfaith situation in the Philippines can only improve. The IARF-Philippines membership also supports the goals and ideas of the International Interfaith Centre and would like to promote its work in the Philippines. It welcomes all opportunities to meet and work with members of other faiths.



(A fuller report was sent out on the IIC Faith List via the Internet)

A seminar entitled “Pride and Prejudice” took place very successfully in June 1996 with the participation of sixty people. The goal of the seminar was to deal with the subject of attitudes towards the foreigner, the “other”, in various religions and cultures, by relating to academic as well as psychological outlooks. In the academic part of the seimnar we hosted prominent religious leaders: Jews – Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen (Chief Rabbi of Haifa and member of the Chief Rabbinate Council) and Rabbi David Rosen (Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland); Muslims – Sheich Ziad Abu-Moch (Head of the Islamic College in Baqa El-Gharbiya) and Imam Rajai Abdu (Director of the Peace Center for the Study of Islam and Dialogue in Jericho); and Christians – Metropolitan Bishop Christodolos (Greek Orthodox Patriarchy), President Bishop Samir Kafity (Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East) and Probst. Heinz Ronnecker (Head of the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and Amman). They gave lectures, had talks with the seminar’s participants and led workshops. In the second part of the seminar, participants were divided to small groups that were led by professional psychologists. In the groups participants dealt with their emotional-psychological attitudes toward the “other” – how did they become aware of the existence of the “other”, what are their associations to various “others” etc. This work was very unique and powerful and was highly and deeply appreciated by all participants, especially those very experienced in interfaith seminars who pointed out the unique approach. We plan to continue in other seminars with this work.

* The Israel Interfaith Association has recently been honoured by an award from the Movement for a Good Land of Israel (promoting Arab-Jewish tolerance and co-existence) as a “voluntary organisation that has for years advanced understanding between Arabs and Jews in Israel”.

The IIC welcomes reports from interfaith friends and organisations in the world.