MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF RELIGIOUS COHABITATION: PERSPECTIVES ON INTERRELIGIOUS AND INTER-DENOMINATIONAL DIALOGUE INITIATIVES
Helga Dickow, Arnold Bergstraesser Institut, Freiburg
Yonatan N. Gez, University of Konstanz and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
This panel puts a critical lens onto inter-religious and inter-denominational dialogue initiatives in the wide sense of the term. Drawing on case studies from across the continent, panel participants will go beyond the rhetorical appeal of buzzwords to identify actual promises and concrete challenges associated with this field.
Recent years have seen the growing involvement of religion in political conflicts across Africa, often intertwined with the rise of fundamentalist groups and ideologies. Seeking to stem this challenging development are a wide variety of dialogue-based initiatives, initiated by international Faith-Based Organizations and NGOs, umbrella and ecumenical associations, and even some local and national governments. Such initiatives set out to build bridges and facilitate transformative dialogues both across religions and between traditions and denominations, by identifying remedies that would promote—or ‘restore’—tolerance and coexistence.
Such initiatives may go a long way into achieving these goals. At the same time, and despite ostensibly good intentions denoted by appealing buzzwords such as dialogue, tolerance, and inclusivity, such initiatives ought not to be spared critical examination. Indeed, questions arise regarding the actual efficacy of such dialogue initiatives, as well as their unintended consequences. Furthermore, such initiatives may themselves be taken over by political actors or be instrumentalized for financial gains, while some blur the boundaries between dialogue and proselytization, or engage in undetectable forms of de facto exclusion. In extreme cases, the politics of (inter-)religious dialogue may be just as compromised as those of religious-based conflict.
In this panel, speakers will put an analytical and critical lens onto initiatives that are ostensibly aimed at promoting interreligious understanding in these challenging times. Speakers may draw on concrete case studies from across the continent, focusing on formal as well as informal dialogical initiatives involving Christian, Muslim, traditional, and other religious groups. While their attention may understandably turn to well-recognized dialogue initiatives, they are encouraged to equally consider uncommon, semi-formal, and low-key initiatives (e.g. web-based dialogue groups, publicly staged debates, and school-based initiatives).