Interreligious conversations (1)

A very good master thesis on presuppositions for feminist islamic-christian dialogues (Sporen weven naar ontmoeting. Mogelijkheidsvoorwaarden voor feministische Islamitisch-Christelijke Dialogen) by a K.U.Leuven Faculty of Theology student, Joke Lambelin, made me reflect on interreligious conversations (I prefer the word “conversation” to “dialogue”, as it connotes life together and not only an intellectual discussion). Joke Lambelin studies feminist and post-colonial approaches in general and then more specifically in the work of Amina Wadud-Muhsin and Kwok Pui-Lan, to end with personal reflections in which for example the classical approach “exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism” is criticized as androcentric, in whic feminist post-colonial criticism is given space, in which the word “difference” suggest an approach in the line of sustainable conflict transformation, and in which attention is paid to community building.

The feminist and post-colonial approaches illustrated by Joke Lambelin confirm a set of perspectives in an approach to interreligious conversations, that I would consider very important.

  • The emphasis on “life together” and “community building together” also means that we should reconsider static approaches to identity (as if interreligious dialogue were taking place between clearly and definitively defined identities that would not evolve in the process of the conversations themselves, although this does not mean a relativization of these identities) and that we should not enter the conversations with an attitude of fear for the different other (who represents, rather, an opportunity, as in the conversations we discover and deepen our own identities).
  • The femnist and post-colonial critical attitudes also point to the complexities of interreligious conversations, interwoven as they are with history, culture, economics, politics, etc.
  • Karl Rahner’s understanding of “anonymous christians” does not, in my opinion, primarily refer to an inclusive position (as if the label “christian” could be applied to non-christians outside of their will or intention) but rather to the fact that God enters into relationships with people (also non-christians) in the way God enters into relationships with christians (this is a really theological meaning). This suggests the introduction of a new concept, “reciprocal anonymity”. “Anonymity” here means the willingness to treat someone who does not belong to my own faith tradition or religion as someone who does: a non-christian is treated with the same respect as a christian (which means that christians accept that they will learn about their own being christian from non-christians). The “reciprocal” indicates that one hopes that the anonymity works in both directions, that a christian, for example, may be treated as n anonymous buddhist or jew by fellow human beings from other religions. This reciprocity cannot be forced upon others, only hoped for or asked for. If it is not given, it is no reason to abandon one’s own attitude of anonymity.
  • The sustainable conflict transformation model certainly offers a good approach to interreligious conversations. Of course, here the word “conflict” is used in a very broad sense. Conflict transformation refers to the building of sustainable life together, as is also meant in approaches such as restorative justice. These “secular” approaches may well represent a fruitful methodological addition to theology and religious reflection. The issue of interreligious conversations is not primarily to solve intellectual conundrums, but to built up life together in such ways that a space is opened for God’s self-revelation and self-gift.
  • Another very fruitful “secular” approach is provided by social psychology, by authors as René Bouwen and Kenneth Gergen in social or relational constructionism whereby the response to a challenge always also means the building of the community responsible for addressing the challenge.
  • Religions will have to look inwardly to discover resources that allow them to enter into conversations with one another aiming at opening the space for God and God’s work amongst us. In christianity some of these resources are clear: the incarnation (indicating God’s entry into the world), the Kingdom of God (as a promise and a grace for the whole of creation and, therefore, for all), Jesus’ capacity to discover God’s presence and challenge even in those places where he himself because of his background did not expect to meet God, etc.

These are some ideas or suggestions that may help to think about interreligious conversations amidst a situation in which our “classical” models are not satisfying anymore as has become clear out of the feminist and post-colonial criticism. However, I think that we are still a long way from a generally accepted model.


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