Guidelines for Dialogue*
Perhaps the most concise description of how to go about dialogue comes from David Tracy:
Conversation is a game with some hard rules: say only what you mean; say it as accurately as you can; listen to and respect what the other says, however different or other; be willing to correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the conversation partner; be willing to argue if necessary, to confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change your mind if the evidence suggests it. . . . [or as articulated by Lonergan} . . ."Be attentive, be intelligent, be responsible, be loving, and if necessary, change" [Plurality and Ambiguity, 19]

A fuller, practical account comes from Leonard Swidler [Toward a Universal Theology of Religion, 14-16], which is then followed by Martin Buber's more philosophical "Six Criteria for Authetic Dialogue"]:

Ground Rules for Interreligious and Interideological Dialogue  (Swidler)

First Rule:  The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn - that is, to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly.  We come to dialogue that we might learn, change, and grow, not that we might induce change in the other, as one hopes to do in debate - a hope realized in inverse proportion to the frequency and ferocity with which debate is entered into.  On the other hand, because in dialogue all partners come with the intention of learning and changing themselves, one's partner in fact will also change.  Thus the intended goal of debate, and much more, is accomplished far more effectively by dialogue.

Second Rule:  Interreligious, ideological dialogue must be a two-sided project - within each religious or ideological community, and between religious or ideological communities.  Because of the 'corporate' nature of interreligious, interideological dialogue, and because the primary goal of dialogue is that each partner learn and change, it is also necessary that each participant enter into dialogue not only with partners across a faith line - Catholics with Protestants, for example - but also with coreligionists, with fellow Catholics or fellow Protestants, to share with them the fruits of interreligious dialogue.  Only thus can the whole community eventually learn and change, moving toward an ever more perceptive insight into reality.

Third Rule:  Each participant must come to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity.  It should be made clear in what direction the major and minor thrusts of the tradition move, what the future shifts might be, and, if necessary, where the participants have difficulties with their own traditions.  No false fronts have any place in dialogue.

Conversely, each participant must assume complete honesty and sincerity in the other partners.  Not only will the absence of sincerity prevent dialogue from happening, the absence of the assumption of one's partners' sincerity will do so as well.  In brief:  no trust, no dialogue.

Fourth Rule:  In interreligious, interideological dialogue we must not compare our ideals with our partner's practice, but rather our ideals with our partner's ideals, our practice with our partner's practice.

Fifth Rule:  All participants must define themselves. Only the Jew, for example, can define from the inside what it means to be a Jew.  The rest can only describe what it looks like from the outside . . . all dialogue partners define what it means to be an authentic member of their own tradition.

Conversely, the interpreted must be able to recognize themselves in the interpretation.  This is the golden rule of interreligious, interideological hermeneutics, as has been often reiterated by the "apostle of interreligious dialogue", Raimundo Panikkar.  For the sake of understanding, dialogue participants will naturally attempt to express for themselves what they think is the meaning of the partners' statements; the partners must be able to recognize themselves in that expression.  Wilfred Cantwell Smith would add that the expression must also be verifiable by critical observers not involved.

Sixth Rule:  Each participant must come to the dialogue with no hard-and-fast assumptions as to points of disagreement.  Rather, each partner should not only listen to the other partner with openness and sympathy, but also attempt to agree with the dialogue partner as far as possible, while still maintaining integrity with one's own tradition.  Where one absolutely can agree no further without violating personal integrity, precisely there is the real point of disagreement - which most often turns out to be different from the point of disagreement assumed ahead of time.

Seventh Rule:  Dialogue can take place only between equals - as Vatican II put it, par cum pari.  Both must come to learn from each other.  Therefore, if, for example, the Muslim views Hinduism as inferior, or if the Hindu views Islam as inferior, there will be no dialogue.  If authentic interreligious, interideological dialogue between Muslims and Hindus is to take place, then both the Muslim and the Hindu must come mainly to learn from each other; only then will it be "equal with equal," par cum pari.

Eighth Rule:  Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust.  Although interreligious, interideological dialogue must occur with some kind of 'corporate' dimension - that is, the participants must be involved as members of a religious or ideological community - for instance, as Marxists or Taoists - it is also fundamentally true that it is only persons who can enter into dialogue.  But a dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust.  Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing the basis of human trust.  Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken.  Thus, just as in learning we move from the known to the unknown, so in dialogue we proceed from commonly held matters - which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from centuries of hostility, will take us quite some time to discover fully - to discuss matters of disagreement.

Ninth Rule:  Persons entering into interreligious, interideological dialogue must be at least minimally self-critical of both themselves and their own religious or ideological tradition.  A lack of such self-criticism implies that one's own tradition already has all the correct answers.  Such an attitude makes dialogue not only unnecessary, but even impossible, because we enter into dialogue primarily so that we can learn - which obviously is impossible if our tradition has never made a misstep, if it has all the right answers.  To be sure, in interreligious, interideological dialogue one must stand within a religious, or ideological tradition with integrity and conviction, but such integrity and conviction must include, not exclude, healthy self-criticism

Six Criteria for Authentic Dialogue, Martin Buber
In continuing with some of the work of Martin Buber, the following criteria for authentic dialogue set forth by him are somewhat more philosophical in tone:

1. When people interact authentically, when they move beyond themselves to encounter the other person as an equal, they discover a basic reality, a "sphere of between" that links humanity in some greater wholeness.

2. This sphere of between is a primal category of human reality available to us through human dialogue.

3. Genuine dialogue happens when one contributes one's spirit without abbreviation or distortion: everything depends upon the legitimacy of what one has to say.

4. Genuine dialogue requires the overcoming of appearance.  If the thought of one's effect as a speaker outweighs the thought of what one has to say, then one inevitably and irreparably deforms what one has to say: it enters deformed into the conversation, and the conversation itself is deformed.

5. Genuine dialogue does not require that everyone present has to speak, but that no one can be there as a mere observer.  Each must be ready to share with the others, and no one can know in advance that he or she will have something to say.

6. Genuine dialogue can be either spoken or silent.  Its essence lies in the fact that each participant turns to the others with the intention of establishing a living mutual relationship.

* Taken from: Rod Downing,  Dialogue With Other Religions, Course book for Temple School, Community of Christ 1999.
    Back to Home

This is ongoing.  All response is welcome and can be sent to:

This is being done in the few tiny gaps of time that I have available - I will respond as soon as possible.  Thank you for your interest and patience.