The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

two people holding hands showing importance of interfaith connection

It’s tempting to be cynical and say, “Why bother?” Religions and the religious have been at each other’s throats for millennia. Most religions highlight what’s distinct in their traditions rather than what’s universal, even though people of faith often stand on a great deal of common ground. Silos seem to be the norm, working together is the exception.

But there are many reasons people who practice different religions should talk to and learn about each other. A Christian, for example, might try to understand Jewish rituals and holidays. A Muslim might show curiosity about Bahá’ís, even if there are few in her community.

Exploring Differences, Deepening Faith

We have a tagline at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace that’s been around for decades: Exploring Differences, Deepening Faith. It’s been around so long because it’s hard to improve on. It encapsulates the idea that I deepen my own faith when I explain it to someone of a different faith. In a multireligious classroom, for example, I may be asked to articulate why I believe what I believe or live as I do, and that exploration often doesn’t happen when we only talk about religion with people who share the same values, practices, or beliefs.

The “exploring differences” part is key as well. When I learn about how Hindus approach the end of life or why Buddhists seek a state of enlightenment, I’m expanding my knowledge of the world. I’m becoming more empathetic and understanding, and I can better process the complex history of religious conflicts and participate effectively in efforts to resolve them. The goal is not to change my own views. In fact, I might see anew how important my own views on something are, understanding them better.

Importance of Dialogue

Disagreements are common in interfaith classrooms. HIU’s students are mainly Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, with a variety of other religions thrown in the mix, as well as “nones,” those who don’t subscribe to any organized religion. These students may not always agree, but learning together puts our disagreements into perspective. When you share a picture of your child with me or tell me about your beloved cat’s cancer, we are bound together in our humanity. This makes it less likely that we will stop talking to each other when our beliefs, or our religious leaders, come into conflict with each other.

If we stop talking, there is no hope of resolution. If we keep talking, there is. It’s as simple as that, though to be honest, it’s not simple at all. It takes determination and courage, and it takes opportunity. There aren’t many places where people of different religious perspectives regularly come together to practice the skills of dialogue, and there are fewer institutions of higher education that focus on it.

Hartford International University is such a place, and it welcomes those who want to broaden their horizons and learn from a multireligious faculty and diverse student body. An image comes to mind from an HIU conference in early 2023 that brought Muslim and Jewish chaplains together to exchange ideas and discuss the challenges of working in majority-Christian institutions. During the event, one Jewish chaplain-in-training held the toddler of her fellow student, a Muslim chaplain-in-training. This little boy looked so at home on the hip of his mother’s friend, so completely relaxed, because he knew his mother’s friend and could sense her kindness and protection.

When we see that kindness in others, even when they believe something at odds with what we believe, we are better off. When we learn from differences instead of wounding each other with them, we build hope. When we acknowledge each other’s humanity, the conflicts so prevalent in the world can shift, even if just incrementally, toward resolution and greater peace.

About Hartford International

As a pioneering, interreligious, international university, Hartford International has helped thousands of people find peace within, and many thousands more find peace with each other. At HIU, we engage in robust religious studies, including a Master of Arts in Interreligious Studies, and meaningful interfaith dialogue to deepen our beliefs, respect our differences, and help bring peace to the world.