Santa Clara University


Interfaith Dialogue

This section treats interfaith dialogue, the interaction among religious traditions. This dialogue can have multiple goals, from alleviating social conflict and tension to mutual intellectual understanding to learning from the other tradition at a very deep spiritual level. Thomas Merton (Cunningham, below, p. 24) stated that “I think we have now reached a stage of (long overdue) religious maturity at which it might be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment and yet to learn in depth from, say, a Buddhist or Hindu discipline and experience. I believe some of us need to do this in order to improve the quality of our own monastic life and even to help in the task of monastic renewal which has been undertaken within the Western Church.” The Thirty-Fourth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1995) passed Decree Five on "Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue." That document (n. 131) focuses on four different types of dialogue: a. the dialogue of life, "where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrow, their human problems and preoccupations"; b. the dialogue of action, "in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people"; the dialogue of religious experience, "where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance, with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or for the Absolute"; and d. the dialoue of theological exchange, "where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other's spiritual values." This document cites n. 42 of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue document below for its orientation. 

Mohammed Abu-Nimer (in Smoch, below, 16-17) writes about “(1) alternative cognitive processes through new information and analysis (change in the head), (2) a positive emotional experience in meeting the other through the construction of a safe and trusting relationship (change in the heart), and (3) working together on a concrete task or action that enforces the positive attitudinal change (change through the hand).”

In terms of numbers of believers and emphasis conflict resolution in the Holy Land, the majority of interfaith dialogues have been among all religions or among the religions of the book. In terms of all religions, readers may want to start with Hans Küng’s A Global Ethic in the section on Pursuing a Global Ethic.

For an introduction to interfaith dialogue among the specific religions covered in this section, especially the three religions of the book, see the following:

Abu-Nimer, Mohammed, Khoury, Amal I., and Welty, Emily. Unity in Diversity: Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute for Peace, 2007. Basic concepts and the cases of Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.

Bole, William, Christiansen, Drew, S.J., and Hennemeyer, Robert T. Forgiveness in International Politics (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004). For seventeen lessons learned about forgiveness, see pp. 182-85. These lessons summarize five years of discussion on the topic by prominent practitioners and analysts.

Bouta, Tsjeard, Kadayifci-Orellana, S. Ayse, and Abu-Nimer, Mohammed. Faith-Based Peace-Building: Mapping and analysis of Christian, Muslim, and Multi-faith Actors. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, 2005.

Cunningham, Lawrence, ed. Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master: The Essential Writings. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1992. Merton, as above, argues throughout for learning from other religious traditions. A Hindu ascetic first introduced him to Christian meditative works. He carried on a long friendship and writing projects with Zen master Daisetz T. Suzuki, and wrote one of his most revelatory spiritual letters to a Pakistani Sufi.

Gopin, Marc, Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). This is the book on the successes and failures of dialogue in the Holy Land by a prominent Jewish practitioner.

Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1991).

Smoch, David R., ed. Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002). The book contains three sections: three broad analytic assessments by Abu-Nimer, Gopin, and Cilliers; three case studies in the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, and Northern Ireland; and analysis of the interfaith organizations the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and  the United Religious Initiative.

For a single example of interfaith dialogue between a religion of the book and a religion of meditative experience, the following is recommended:

Clooney, Francis X., S.J. Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions (New York: Oxford, 2001).

Organizations and Events that Promote Interfaith Dialogue


November 2, 2009.