In this essay I seek to identify some basic characteristics of an appropriate interfaith mindset.  In this context the term ‘mindset’ implies a conscious, consistent and disciplined application of certain principles that participants might bring to every interfaith encounter.

One cautionary tale to begin with!  It is a laudable but perhaps an unrealistic sentiment to suggest that we need to “walk in other peoples’ shoes” in order to understand them fully and to empathize with their particular approach to life’s opportunities and problems.  Introducing this cautionary tone here is motivated by a wish to avoid any suggestion that the process of Interfaith Dialogue demands such an enormous intellectual and imaginative effort that it is beyond the reach of the vast majority of people.  Few of us have the time, the resources and the inclination to gather the levels of information needed to ‘walk in the shoes’ of even a few of those who live by a religious or non-religious faith different from our own.  The point that I want to stress is that such a depth of knowledge and understanding of different religions is not a necessary requirement for involvement in Interfaith Dialogue.

The word dialogue indicates that our focus is on activities that involve interpersonal relationships with a heavy emphasis on conversation and discussion.  Clearly some kind of shared linguistic ability is a prerequisite.  This must then be accompanied by a sustained commitment to the general protocols, conventions and manners that guide all civilized interaction between humans.  In summary, these include showing to all involved, respect and courtesy; upholding each other’s freedom and dignity and exercising goodwill, sensitivity and honesty in all that we say and do.  Alongside these general good manners there are also attitudes of mind that are specific, though not unique to the task of Interfaith Dialogue.  Here are four of the most obvious examples.

  • An acceptance of the fact that diversity is of the essence of ‘humanness’.

    No two individuals and no two cultures are identical and we do not have the same identical life experiences.  Hence difference is at the core of ‘humanness’.  It is the way we are.  It is an inevitable outcome of the processes by which we are made and formed.  Of course, as members of the one species we do have some common characteristics, needs, skills and biological functions.  However, within this shared ‘humanness’ there is an infinite number of highly significant differences.  We have different food and clothing styles and preferences.  We have different cultural and recreational interests and pursuits.  There are many different colours of human skin.  (So we are all coloured people!)  There is an enormous number of different ethnic and national origins, identities, histories and allegiances.  The peoples of the world use different languages, accents and dialects to communicate with one another.  Different configurations of religious and spiritual beliefs inspire, motivate, challenge and comfort large numbers of the peoples of the world.  A consistent and disciplined articulation of a positive attitude to this fact characterizes the interfaith mind-set.

  • An expectation to receive and to give in terms of intellectual and spiritual growth and enrichment.

    Diversity and change belong together at the heart of our nature.  No individual, culture or civilization has reached its full potential.  Human perfection has not found its expression in any one cultural or religious group.  Being ‘human’ is a ‘work in progress’.  We are all, individually and collectively deficient and wanting in material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual capital, skills and resources.  Each individual and each society has something, however small, to offer to the rest that can in some measure go towards compensating for that which is lacking in the other.  All human societies and therefore, individuals within them are shaped and over time reshaped by a process of material and cultural give and take.  This expectation of mutual enrichment challenges any deeply held sense of cultural and religious superiority and it helps remove some common barriers to interfaith dialogue.

  • A willingness to extend and receive hospitality.

    Hospitality is a normal and widespread human attitude and activity.  For most religious people a requirement to extend hospitality is a central tenet of their Faith.  Consequently, people participating in Interfaith Dialogue bring with them an almost ingrained disposition towards hospitality.  In the context of Interfaith Dialogue, achieving the desired levels of engagement of mind and spirit is facilitated when different understandings of hospitable behaviour are shared and members actively seek opportunities to befriend and entertain as guests or companions people of other Faiths.  These expressions of hospitality may include invitations to a range of different social, educational, festival and worship activities.  A genuine desire to extend and receive hospitality from others who in religious terms are different from us reflects an established interfaith mind-set.

  • A commitment to the principles and disciplines of using inclusive and non-presumptive language.

    Communication, especially through the medium of language, is at the heart of Interfaith Dialogue.  Careful attention to the use of non-presumptive and inclusive language styles can facilitate conversations between people of different religious Faiths.  Our language is only ‘presumptive’ in the pejorative sense, when our assumptions are not made explicit within any conversation or presentation.  We are also being presumptive when we express our own beliefs in words and tones of voice that imply that such beliefs are non-contestable facts that should be obvious to all.  Expressions such as ‘non-Christians’, ‘non-Muslims’, ‘non-Aborigines’ should also be used with great care in Interfaith Dialogue situations.  Few of us appreciate being referred to as ‘non’ something or other.  Our religious, racial and national identity resides, primarily, in what we are, not in what we are not.


    Mindsets are habitual.  They have to be learnt and they need to be practised until they become a well formed habit. 

    Garth Read




Tags: Interfaith, Brisbane, NBIG, Garth Read

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