Practical suggestions for successful interfaith dialogue
Check-list for the planning of interfaith events
1. What is the starting-point?
- Is dialogue part of the regular programme of an organisation, or is there a special reason for planning it?
This may be an event like the attack on the World Trade Centre (9/11); or a point of conflict like the Swiss referendum to forbid the building of minarets2. A special holiday or a festival could also offer a reason for a dialogue event.
- What kind of starting-point is it – primarily religious, political, or social? Positive, negative, acute, or latent? Is it perhaps an anniversary (for example, 10 years after 9/11)?
- How does the external event define the kind of interfaith event/dialogue which would be appropriate?
2. Organisational questions / framework
- Who is going to initiate the event? Is it an organisation, a private individual or group, a political body, a church group or another religious body?
- Who is going to determine the framework of the meeting, the content and procedure?
- Who is doing the inviting? One particular community, or all the groups involved? How are the costs going to be divided up?
- What are the ideas and the concerns of those issuing the invitation?
- How can you evaluate the level of organisation needed, and the professionality of those issuing the invitation?
- Is this an event involving a majority and a minority religious community? Or an event set up by minority religions?
- How will the concern which led to the event be handled if there are more than two dialogue partners involved?
- Who is being invited: official representatives or officers of religious communities, people from religious institutions, individuals, delegations, people with official positions, experts?
- Who will select those to be invited, and according to what criteria?
- Do the participants belong to existing organisational structures? What kind of balance exists between the different partners in dialogue, in terms of rank, influence, power, sex and representativeness?
- Is the question of equality important?
- How much experience have the participants already had in dialogue? Are they using their mother tongue, or a foreign/second language? How familiar are they with the specific vocabulary in use among experts for the subject-matter of the dialogue? Are they capable of understanding and translating terms which emerge from the cultures of those participating –for themselves, and for other participants?
- Where will the event take place? In sacral premises or secular premises attached to a sacral complex (for instance in a hall belonging to a church, or in the library of a mosque), in a room belonging to the government, in private premises, in an institution like a hospital, etc.?
- Is it to be an event open to the public, or one intended for a closed circle?
3. Questions of content
- Have the objectives for this event been defined? By one group, or by both/all participants?
- If “yes”, were the defined objectives accepted by all, and are they transparent?
- Was a possibility provided, during the process of setting objectives, not only for discussion between all participant groups, but also for “internal” discussion within the different groups?
- What are the intentions (of those planning the event)? To provide an opportunity for encounter? For people to get to know each other? For the exchange of views and information? Is it intended that the participants will work on a document, or formulate a concept? Is the aim to start a discussion on a particular subject? To deliberately set up an arena for disputation? To negotiate about something? Is it hoped that a public declaration will result?
- Is it quite clear to all participants what the objectives and procedures of the meeting will be, and are all in agreement?
- How is the power to take decisions about the event divided up among those doing the planning?
- Is there pressure from outside about the timing of the event, its success, or its material results? For example, must a report be written before a specific date?
4. Conclusions and evaluation
It is important to have an evaluation or debriefing afterwards. The following questions might be asked:
- Were the objectives achieved?
- How will the decisions be put into practice?
- How lasting were the results of the event?
- What was learned by all parties?
- What experiences must be borne in mind when planning a further event?
- How do the different participants feel about the event?
- Are people motivated to continue with the discussion in further events, or to organise a repeat event of the same kind?
- Did those involved experience a deepening of their knowledge of issues involved in the dialogue attempted? Did their competence in dialogue grow?