Official or institutional conversation between or among elites appointed by their religions as official representatives; parliamentary-style debate; verbal communication; intervisitation; spiritual dialogue are all examples of interreligious dialogue. Informal or personal conversation may involve one or more participants and can take place face to face, over the phone, via email, on social media, or in writing.
Interreligious dialogue has been taking place throughout history, but it became a recognized activity only in the 20th century. The first international conference on interreligious understanding was held in 1922 in London, England. Subsequent conferences have been held regularly, most recently in 2015 in New York City.
There are many forms of interreligious dialogue, but they can be divided into four main categories: official, informal, personal, and spiritual.
Official interreligious dialogue takes place between or among governments, agencies, or organizations that are responsible for setting policy within their respective realms. Institutional voices that discuss issues related to religion and politics include the Catholic Church's office for interfaith relations and the State Department's advisory committee on religious freedom. Formal meetings also occur within the European Union where members state their case for recognition before the Council of Europe.
Informal interreligious dialogue takes place when individuals from different religions talk with each other about their beliefs but not with their respective institutions.
Inquiry, negotiation, information-seeking dialogue, deliberation, and eristic dialogue are the six primary categories of dialogue previously defined in the argumentation literature (Walton and Krabbe, 1995). In addition to these categories, researchers have identified other types of dialogue that occur within arguments. For example, dialogical analysis of legal cases has shown that judges often ask questions of witnesses and other lawyers during hearings. These questions are not included in the formal record, but they help the judge reach a decision.
Judges' questions can be classified as either inquisitive or confirmatory. Inquisitive questions seek further information about facts not fully covered by the parties' presentations. For example, when a party calls a witness who has never heard of the incident in question, the judge might ask whether this person is familiar with the company's operations elsewhere. The question seeks additional information that may help the judge make a decision.
Confirmatory questions restate facts already presented by the parties. They serve to clarify evidence that has already been introduced into court or to establish new facts relevant to the case. For example, when a party introduces evidence that he was not at the scene of the crime, the judge might ask him why his fingerprints were found at the scene. The question confirms that he did indeed steal the money, thereby clearing him as a suspect.
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples described these characteristics in the 1991 paper Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The paper was updated in 2006 by Raphael's Leo Apostolico Foundation to include considerations of new developments in interreligious relations.
They are as follows:
• The search for common ground - rather than denial of difference. Differences of religion, philosophy, and culture exist within the cosmos, within any given society, and even among individuals. They must be recognized if we are to live at peace with one another. However, it is also important not to let our differences divide us. There may be some things that all people have in common, such as a desire for love and happiness. By exploring our similarities we can find ways to cooperate for the good of all.
• The need to know the other - an openness to learn from others, especially from those who disagree with us. This does not mean that we should accept anything or anyone as correct, but it does mean that we should try to understand why others think as they do and not judge them for it. Only then can we hope to resolve our differences.
• The importance of love - both toward others and more specifically toward those of different religions.