In the latter sessions of a conference held last week at Trinity College Dublin, ‘From World Mission to Interreligious Witness: Visioning Ecumenics in the 21st Century,’ the theologians and others gathered there began to get around to some crucial questions not only about the importance of interreligious dialogue, but of moving beyond that to ‘witness.’
Why is dialogue so important anyway?
During the conference, I think I heard two possible answers to that question, distilled into succinct form:
- From Prof. Catherine Cornille of Boston College – because it is possible to receive a gift from god in encounters with the ‘other’
- And from Prof. Linda Hogan of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin – because the future peace and sustainability of life on our planet depends on it
Those are fairly serious, and contestable claims.
But in the final session of the conference, which featured inputs from Hogan and Prof. John D’Arcy May (a professor emeritus of the Irish School of Ecumenics), it was pointed out that global dialogue is a necessity – not a luxury – because of the way we have treated others in the past whether through colonialism, war, ethnic cleansing, slavery, or economic exploitation.
May, and others at the conference, raised the hope that some sort of global civil society is emerging, in which both religious and secular actors can challenge powerful state and corporate actors to behave in a more ethical manner.
In some ways, the conference was a call for theologians to think about how they might begin ethical conversations about our relationships with each other, the economy and the environment.
Further reflections on the conference, and Trinity’s intensive summer school, ‘Translating God(s),’ can be found on the ‘Theology as a Process’ blog, written by Jacques Haers, a Flemish Jesuit and professor at the faculty of theology of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. For example: