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An Interview with Professor Knut S.Vikor on Interfaith Dialogue

Dialogue parties must inform society about what they learn of commonalities and the nature of differences between the religions, so that society moves away from fear and misunderstanding to an increased knowledge that does not deny that religions differ, but that it is possible still to live together in spite of the differences, said professor Vikor in an interview with Mr. M.J Ostadi

What follows is the full interview:

Nowadays everyone talks about the dialogue in the Muslim world. Due to the Islamic approach, what is your definition of dialogue?

I am not working so much in theology (normative studies), but as a historian dealing with religious matters. From that approach, a dialogue is an exchange which accepts the differences between the religions, but seeks to find what points of contacts there may be, in particular in that all religions have to relate to a social and historical context that is increasingly shared between them. Most religions were developed in a situation where each religion either dominated over others, or were in physical conflict with each other. Today, that is no longer the situation, and the theologians would have to find ways to deal with what that entails for the understanding of religion.

  • Why is the topic of dialogue between religions so important?

It follows from the definition above; religions today can be used either to increase or justify conflicts between peoples and countries, or to reduce such conflicts. The latter can only be achieved through greater knowledge of other religions, and awareness both of how they differ and what they may, in terms e.g. of normative basis, have in common.

  • What are the requirements for dialogue formation among the various religions?

Awareness of commonalities and differences, and a willingness to approach both without a missionary intent of imposing one’s own view, but instead respect that others may have their view while we have ours, “to them their religion and to us our religion” – but in knowledge about each other.

  • What is the main purpose of dialogue between various Christian sects? What are the outcomes of the dialogue?

Christians share more amongst themselves than Christians with Muslims, or with other religions, but the principle is the same: awareness of commonalities and respect for differences.

  • Can dialogue (intra-religious and inter-religious) prevent Crusades?

A “crusade” is a war, and no war has begun only because of religion. It has always been other factors that drive to war, and dialogue cannot stop e.g. economic interest or military strategy. But it can make it more difficult to use religious difference as a way to justify the wars, and perhaps make them less likely.

  • Dialogue is a social and communication category. What is the impact of inter-religious dialogue on the social and communicative spheres of the world?

That depends on how much society and politics will allow dialogue efforts to have an impact. Dialogue must of course not be limited only to the dialogue partners themselves, but must be disseminated to the public and society at large, both normatively (that it is good to have dialogue) but also the result: Dialogue parties must inform society about what they learn of commonalities and the nature of differences between the religions, so that society moves away from fear and misunderstanding to an increased knowledge that does not deny that religions differ, but that it is possible still to live together in spite of the differences.

  • Today, Dialogue between Islam and Christianity has been badly damaged. What is the solution to this problem?

This is evidently the result of the social and political solution in the Christian world, in the Islamic world, and between them. Dialogue efforts may counteract this, but basically, a political effort needs to be made to build down the political, economic and social factors that creates the divisions we see. This may, for example, be to increase knowledge about the “other” religion, but also the social and political needs, among the voting public of those countries that are now being increasingly dominated by xenophobic trends. This is clearly a long-term effort.

  • What is the relationship between ethics and inter-religious dialogue?

The dialogue partners would have to address the issue: Do ethics cut across religions? Are all religions expressions of the same basic ethical foundations, or do different religions – developed over time in different historical circumstances – have differences in ethical principles, and if so, should they be overcome (theologically) or is it preferable that any such differences are preserved within each religion? That is both an empirical, but primarily a normative issue.

  • Due to the advancement of technology in the contemporary world such as social media, what is the influences of new media and new technologies on dialogue changes among religions?

Contact improves, of course, but the main effect is that religious authority is being made more diffuse. The democratization of media means that “everyone can become their own priest / imam”, and even more: everyone can choose their own religious authority that may or may not command a majority within the religion. The boundaries between and within religions are being washed out. That may both lead to extremist (anti-dialogue) views gaining authority without being opposed (“echo chambers”), but also that views and norms that are shared in a society can cross the boundaries of religion in one (multi-religious) society, which may promote pro-dialogue understandings of each religion.

  • What is your analysis of the current state of dialogue between Islam and Christianity?

There are many good efforts on both sides, which also has public support in many societies. But the last few years have seen a sharpening of “identitarians” views, particularly in parts of Europe (Central and Eastern Europe in particular, but also the West and other countries) that reject dialogue and want “single-religion” nation states, i.e. Christians [of their own particular brand, Catholic or Protestant] and oppose Muslim (and sometime Jewish) presence in their country as “anti-national”. This is a serious and dangerous trend, and increased salafism, rejection of the modern multi-religious society by some Muslims, supports the same anti-dialogue trend. Dialogue is clearly been linked to political liberalism, and liberalism has come under attack in many countries. In many cases, however theological authorities; church leaders as well as Muslim imams, have become the strongest advocates of rejecting religion as the basis for divisions in society.

About Ali Teymoori

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