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Learnings for the Future of Inter-Faith Dialogue

Part I: Questions arising from the Parliament of the World's Religions (Chicago, 1993) (Part #1)


Published in Transnational Associations, 1993, 6, pp. 345-354 [PDF version] (with Part II continued in 1994, 1, pp. 15-22)
Abridged version published in the UniS Journal (Dramatic University), 5, 1, March 1994, pp. 74-86.


O Lord, Forgive us for having left undone those things which we ought to have done and for having done those things which we ought not to have done.

A. INTRODUCTION

The Parliament of the World's Religions was held in Chicago (29 August-4th September 1993) -- as a centennial celebration of a similar event in Chicago in 1893. This came to be seen by many as the birth of the inter-faith movement despite its origins as an official extension of an event organized by the City of Chicago to commemorate the Fourth Centenary of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas. This centennial was also marked by other inter-faith events elsewhere.

This note follows an earlier report on learnings of relevance to inter-faith gatherings (1) which includes a description of the World Congress towards Spiritual Concord (Alma Ata, 1992) already reproduced in this journal (2). It is designed to highlight some of the learnings to be gained from these events with a view to any future initiatives of this kind. As such it is less an evaluation of what was achieved and more an assessment of the questions and challenges still to be faced.

One dilemma in formulating this note is the nature of its potential readership. It is not designed for those whose interest is primarily in celebrating what has been achieved, nor is it especially concerned with any particular institutional setting through which future inter-faith events may emerge. The aim is to highlight concerns which merit attention if such events are to respond more effectively to the challenge of the times and the expectations projected onto them by many around the world.

There is a widespread tendency to emphasize the oneness at the heart of all religions, the harmony of world community, and the need for consensus. This 'positive' approach has not reversed the trend towards religious violence. A contrasting approach is therefore explored here in accordance with the Dalai Lama's view that to talk of the oneness at the heart of religions is 'hypocrisy'. In Chicago he stressed the value and necessity of differences as serving the needs of people of different temperament. From this perspective the objective is not to make religions similar, but to learn to work creatively and effectively with those differences.

ake religions similar, but to learn to work creatively and effectively with those differences.