Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: religious dialogue
Friday, 13 August 2010 16:03

Is Asia Pacific? Interreligious conflicts, dialogue and inventiveness in today’s Asia

There is no need to underline the dizzying diversity of Asia’s religious landscape. I do not intend here to attempt even a preliminary sketch of the patchwork of faiths and traditions that extend from Pakistan to Japan… I just would like to point out some general trends that have emerged in the last two or three decades, trends that have been partly reshaping the setting of Asia’s religions. Also, I would like to reflect on the challenges that these trends are creating. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest a few possible answers that Christianity could articulate in response to current developments, provided that Christians wish indeed to become “peacemakers” as the Sermon on the Mount calls them to be. Such responses may also inspire the ones brought forward by other religions. In any case, interreligious dialogue in Asia has become an endeavor that no religion can escape from, not only for spiritual reasons but also in order to achieve the following goals: (a) progressing towards national and ethnic reconciliation (b) ensuring religious freedom and other civil rights (c) tackling global challenges (dialogue of civilizations, ecology, struggle against consumerism, development of a global ethic.)

Revivalism and Identity Crisis

Revivalism has become a predominant religious trend. The clearest example is provided by the new vitality found by Islam in Asia, as is also the case in other parts of the world. Such fact is of utmost importance: Indonesia is the most populated Muslim nation in the world; Bangladesh and Pakistan have overwhelming Muslim majorities, and Malaysia has also a Muslim majority, though not as pronounced; India has a strong Muslim minority; and Muslim populations are located on conflict-prone frontier regions in the Philippines, Thailand and China.

The point here is that such “vitality” - experienced with different feelings according to the standpoint of the observer - encompasses an array of very different phenomena that have to be carefully distinguished:

- A kind of revivalist atmosphere stressing both Islamic and ethnic pride on a background of post-colonial sensitivity and widespread religious education, affecting the consciousness of Muslim populations all around Asia.

- Marginal violent movements carrying attacks, movements often fostered by international networks.

- Pervasive political strategies trying to impose and enforce Islamic laws and Islamic state apparatus; such strategies threaten the fabric of the secular state (which was a feature of post-colonial Asia) or lead some states that from the start were not altogether secular to become openly theocratic.

- At the same time, it is important to note that, since 2001. Muslin communities often suffer from accrued hostility and prejudices, especially in countries where they are a minority - and these prejudices can reinforce violence and deviant behaviors. Some of these communities also suffer from disadvantageous social background and economic conditions.

A few additional remarks are in order:

- Among these trends, the third one might be the most preoccupying one. In history, such strategies have led to the annihilation/assimilation of populations living in Muslin societies and professing other faiths. Strategies vary according to the size of the proportion of the Muslim population and the overall political situation. A distinction is to be made between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia on the one hand, and the other countries of the region where Muslims are a vocal minority, sometimes with complaints rooted into national history. At the same time, further comparison between Bangladesh and Pakistan for instance might help us to assess better the role of cultural or international factors in religious attitudes: Bangladesh prides itself of a spirit of tolerance and accommodation seemingly lacking in Pakistan. This opposition of style between two Moslem countries leads back to an array of cultural and political factors deeply anchored into the collective memory of the two protagonists.

- In countries with Muslim majority, Christians of tribal origin generally constitute the most vulnerable population when it comes to forced conversion and discrimination. At the same time, Christians who are social leaders because of their wealth, occupation or educational level are often at the frontline of ongoing confrontations (this is patent in Pakistan).

- Of course, besides the Islamic revival, other sources of concern exist, which strongly influence interreligious conflicts and cooperation on the continent as a whole: authoritarian States manipulative of religions or even of interreligious dialogue; revivalist political/religious currents and organizations that might go with the assertion of a “national’ religion (in a Buddhist context, the phenomenon can be observed in Sri-Lanka); materialism and consumerism as they are cutting off the very roots of interreligious dynamics and dialogue.

- With the exception of Vietnam maybe, one notes everywhere a strong growth of Protestantism, most of the time under a fundamentalist and proselytizing garb, which often exacerbates tensions already existing. Proselytism also characterizes new religions, which are in the rise in many countries. As a consequence of this increase of religious communalism, a country like China is much less “syncretistic” than in the past and, witnesses a new assertiveness of believers who are conscious of clear-cut confessional divisions.


bv_buddhist_temple_bkk_2010

In a Buddhist temple in Bangkok (July 2010)

What is to be done?

1) In a context marked by potential or actual confrontations, but also by encounters and fluctuating frontiers, believers should not renounce the ideal of living and praying side by side as a privileged form of dialogue. Sometimes, and in different circles, there have been hesitations and reservations on a form of interreligious dialogue rooted into the fact of praying side by side. Still, one can reasonably think that God takes more pleasure in seeing people praying together than killing each other… Prayer often manifests itself as a kind of “revolutionary force”, and religious leaders are well advised to let and encourage people find their own way of associating their prayers in times and places of conflicts, natural disasters, or just for building up brotherly neighborhoods. Actually, what might be the most dangerous feature of violence is the fact that it exercises a kind of fascination that leads all people involved to a hardening of their own identity, fostering a chain of violent reactions - violent in spirit even when not in deeds. In this light, and even if such posture looks “idealistic”, the importance of a spiritual, even “mystical” approach towards interreligious understanding cannot be overlooked.

2) At the same time, it is impossible not to tackle directly the political dimension of interreligious encounters (understood as dialogue and tensions): ethnic or national revivalist movements and religious revivals are associated phenomena; ethnic, partisan and religious lines are often blurred. In the Catholic Church, a document of the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae, has established the principle of religious freedom, associating it with a reflection on the mission, nature and duties of the state. At the same time, the text was strongly influenced by the American constitutionalism tradition. Asian religious leaders now need to clarify their stance about the secular state (which most of them tend to belittle or flatly reject.) Asian religions should debate of their political principles and, hopefully, agree on a few pressing tasks: (a) definition of the secular state, (b) pushing towards further regional union, encompassing a bill of rights emphasizing the spiritual roots of Asia (both their diversity and their strength), (c) working for equality among sexes (which might constitute the most important check against radical Islam on the long run)… Also going along this “political imperative”, arises the exigency to be always truthful about history. Interreligious and inter-ethnic encounters are made possible or are blocked by narratives that are shared or are conflicting. When they happen in a context where conflicting narratives are honestly recognized and retold, such encounters operate as a healing of memories.

3) Asia is a region marked by an irreducible linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Traditionally seen by Christianity as a practical and theological challenge, such diversity is actually a treasure that needs to be assessed, appreciated and interpreted. Peace-building is thus to be seen as an ongoing endeavor inseparable from the development of interreligious dialogue: both tasks are anchored into an interpretative process through which cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped. On the long run, the “translation” of traditional languages and narratives that the in-depth meeting with the Other makes possible nurtures a creative reinterpretation of one’s spirituality and faith.

4) Value education and other actions conducive to a culture of dialogue must target in priority women and the youth, as these two sectors are the ones who are susceptible to foster in the future a less rigid and more compassionate social culture. Value education starts from existential requirements such as the importance of honesty, mutual respect and joy. Interreligious cooperation is actually anchored into the nurturing of basic values that, ideally, could and should be taught in the schools of a pluralistic secular state.

A “musical” metaphor might help us to ascertain what is at stake in such encounters: we all have different musical tastes, different “ears”, and yet we are called to do music together. What then will come out of our musical disagreements? At the end of the day, we cannot bet for sure on the kind of music that God likes and composes. Maybe He does not compose in the C scale or in B moll, maybe He composes a kind of serial or computer-generated music that goes through disharmonies and rhythmic breaks – music that we do not immediately appreciate. Creative music generally challenges our listening habits - and we can assume that God indeed is a creative composer.


Monday, 05 July 2010 18:09

Tea break with Taipei's only Rabbi

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1918, Rabbi Dr E. F. Einhorn has witnessed huge global change throughout his 91 years.  He moved to Taipei in early 1975 where he has since served as Rabbi.

Belying his age, Rabbi Einhorn is the Chairman of Republicans Abroad Taiwan; Honorary Representative Asia and Pacific Region for the Polish Chamber of Commerce; and Honorary Secretary of State for Montana, USA, among several other roles.

Here Rabbi Einhorn discusses his role as Taipei's Rabbi and shares some insights on how he remains motivated after so many years of dedicated activity.


Friday, 06 August 2010 16:08

The boundary between religion and the state in China

In this video Professor John Lagerwey examines the boundary between the state and religion in China.  Importantly, he identifies the problems that arise when attempting to understand Chinese religiosity through a Western religious framework, rather than through a Chinese cultural one.

This video is an excerpt from Professor Lagerwey's presentation on 11 May 2010 at the "Dialogue among Civilizations and Global Challenges" forum hosted by the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University, Shanghai.

Professor Lagerwey is the Professor for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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Monday, 21 June 2010 16:40

Spiritual experience and interreligious dialogue

Religions are not only made of rituals, creeds and cultural expressions. They provide different paths for one’s spiritual experience and growth. For sure, spiritual experience can happen and develop outside religions but religions provide written traditions, guides and beliefs that lead one along the way. Religions are not only spiritual experiences, and spiritual experiences are not only religious in nature. But there is a strong connection between the two.

Different religions provide different kinds of religious experiences. The way the Absolute is conceived, the cultural context where these religions grew or still the styles of prayers and liturgy proper to different religious traditions shape the spiritual experiences that a given religion allows. But this does not mean that one religion would allow for only one type of spiritual path, nor that there is no communication possible among these paths. Actually, spiritual experiences are also determined by the psychological characteristics of the pilgrim, or maybe, even more basically, by human nature itself. Said otherwise, spiritual experiences are anthropologically determined.

In fact, studying spiritual experiences in their variety makes us able to investigate both things at the same time: (a) the nature of Man as an animal capable of praying, meditating, and investigating what he cannot see or touch; (b) and also, maybe, the nature of the Absolute itself, since dialogue among different spiritual traditions might reveal common insights. For using a crude comparison, the nature of Man and the nature of the Absolute are the hardware on which can play the various “software” of the spiritual paths. Spiritual experience, when lived and reflected upon, has much to tell us about the ‘hardware” of human and divine nature.

Seen in this light, religious dialogue, when anchored into dialogue among spiritualities, is also a way to explore our common human condition. It is an investigation, a way of growing into one’s spiritual identity, and not only a way of building more harmony and peace among religions. When seeing interreligious dialogue as the cross-fertilization of various spiritual experiences, a few interesting insights might occur to us. For instance, spiritual traditions put a special stress on some basic virtues that are anchored into our everyday experience and that prove to be fundamental for starting the spiritual path: the most important of these qualities is to be deeply attentive to Life within us, to the Other and to the world. This is the way to develop “pure attention”, which, in many traditions, has often been defined as the essence of prayer. “Attention” goes along a growing awareness of the richness of the our world and of the inner mystery of the things and beings that surround us.

All spiritual traditions also develop a paradoxical language that mixes metaphor of “summit’ and “abyss”, of fire and water, of awe and deep confidence. They try to subvert our ordinary categories and experiences so as to open us to the novelty of the Absolute. They make us see the spiritual path as a pilgrimage that we are called to undertake.

A third characteristic of spiritual cross-encounter is that all spiritual traditions develop ways of transcending the limits of the Self, so as to abolish the distance between “subject” and “object.” They want us not to concentrate on ourselves but rather to open us to a transforming reality. Becoming more familiar with the object of our quest and being progressively and deeply transformed by it is one and the same operation. In this respect, spirituality is a form of experimental knowledge. It aims at experiencing and revealing the inner world within the external one by making us dare to be transformed by the reality we investigate. Spiritual writings can thus be seen as “maps”, as itineraries. Among them, mystical writings are of a special quality, as they are personal testimonies on life-long experiences that have led their authors to the very limit of their humaneness. Mystics can be seen as “explorers” on the boundaries between human and divine nature.

Finally, there is a post-modern twist in the way inter-spiritual encounters are lived today: many people do not live only an experience of inter-religious dialogue but also of intra-religous dialogue; they can internally refer to various traditions (for instance aboriginal religions and Christianity), due to the fluidity of cultural contexts. This can enrich their own spiritual experience and the one of all Humankind. Spiritual pilgrims do not live their experience for themselves alone but for the community of which they are part - and ultimately for the whole of Humankind searching for its nature and destiny.

Photo by B.V.


Thursday, 04 March 2010 00:00

The great diplomatic balancing act of dialogue: Dalai Lama and the Cardinal

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan during August and September 2009 was ostensibly religious.  Accepting an invitation from the Democratic Progressive Party in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s worst typhoon in 50 years, he arrived and explicitly stated that while he admires Taiwan’s democracy, his visit was non-political. And it appeared that way.  The Dalai Lama conducted prayers for the hundreds who perished in the typhoon and offered comfort to their family members.  Twenty thousand people attended the prayer service in the southern city of Kaohsiung.  Furthermore, the Dalai Lama held a public religious dialogue with Catholic Cardinal Paul K. S. Shan.  They discussed the ever-relevant values of mutual tolerance and respect and the importance of using shared religious values to reveal the qualities of humankind.  Both leaders noted that the material development of nations should not occur at the expense of religious or spiritual values, whether by neglect or by suppression.

As representatives of organisations (the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Catholic Church) with strained relationships with Beijing, this final comment carries some weight.  Even more so given the Chinese government’s strongly worded condemnation of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan.  These statements are routinely issued whenever the Dalai Lama visits, or prepares to visit, a foreign country. Given Taiwan’s delicate relationship with China, visits by the Dalai Lama are especially controversial.  Ignoring any political statements that the Dalai Lama may make, and most seem carefully worded to avoid antagonising Beijing, his visits routinely involve dialogue with local religious leaders and often luminaries in science, business or human rights.  He has even gone so far as to declare that the 21st century should be one of dialogue so as to avoid the bloodshed that typified the 20th century.

The Dalai Lama acts as a catalyst for dialogue among local religious leaders.  For the most part, these leaders would not get together too often to discuss matters of faith, community and tolerance.  When the Dalai Lama juggernaut rolls into town, all of a sudden the media spotlight focuses on religion.  Beyond any sympathy that the general public might have for the plight of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has a huge following, both through those who adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and those who find solace in his advice on life as published in a large number of easy-to-digest books.  It can be easy to scoff at these events as feel-good hyperbole.  Nevertheless, they are an opportunity for local religious leaders, in the company of a global religious superstar, to search for universal truths, and do so in front of audiences of thousands of people.

In recent decades China has become indispensable to foreign countries, both as a consumer of raw materials and as the world’s factory of manufactured goods.  Somewhat mirroring this rise, the Dalai Lama’s constant foreign jaunts have increasingly become diplomatic issues.  Foreign governments do not wish to offend China, but at the same time, do not wish to be seen to be denying the Dalai Lama freedom of speech and as being bullied by Chinese threats.  Whether or not trade balances suffer will be of concern to leaders, however the civil benefits are also worth considering.  Inspiring local communities to seek and recognise commonalities in large public forums is a role that the Dalai Lama has evolved into being rather adept at and one that can offer much to communities across the world.

 

 

Thursday, 04 March 2010 00:00

Cup of tea, TV and religious dialogue

The plane on which religious dialogue occurs is too often conceived as occurring at a high level.  Leaders of faiths occasionally meet in public, be it in front of an audience or a camera.  Within a community, a church may come together with a mosque or temple as part of a festival.  At a lower level, it is not uncommon for neighbours of differing faiths to discuss matters of faith with each other.
 
Dialogue within the family is an additional part of the spectrum of religious dialogue that deserves attention.  The construction of family units can be incredibly diverse.  While several generations might live under one roof, it is not uncommon for family ties to stretch across countries and even between them.  Within the myriad of family dynamics that exist, there are a few key concepts that I wish to focus on.

Whether through choice or destiny, many of our closest bonds are with our family members.  Our family members are the ones who we see on a daily basis, the ones with whom we share the tribulations and triumphs of day-to-day life.  For most of us, the support, understanding and care provided by family members is the necessary foundation for a happy life.  Shared religious conviction can form much of the basis of this stability.  When family members have a faith in common, religious dialogue can almost appear to be a given.  However, when family members have different beliefs or varying levels of commitment, religious dialogue can become an issue.  In the close confines of the family, this can be particularly acute.

In recent decades, religious mobility has become increasingly common, both in Asia and across the world.  New religious movements (NRMs) continue to appear, either offering fresh interpretations of established beliefs or something altogether new.  And beyond the more organised NRMs, there are the nebulous sectors of new age beliefs, self help and spirituality, concepts that are expounded in books and seminars rather than in more established places of worship.

Not only do religions continue to innovate, people across the world are switching their religious allegiance or modifying their beliefs, often in the face of long-established family tradition.  This is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

Such lofty ideals do not necessarily filter down to day-to-day reality.  Conversions can cause schisms in the family.  When someone—be they parent or child—converts to a new religious belief, the rest of the family can be traumatised.  The faith of the convert, something that had always been taken for granted, has changed, calling many things into question.  When a member appears to have turned his back on his family, it can be as if they are cutting off the chance for dialogue, rejecting an important part of the family’s identity.  In many cases, this is true, especially when the convert conscientiously chooses to distance himself from his family.

[dropcap cap="T"]he reasons for converting are manifold.  The once common notion that members of NRMs had unhappy relationships with family members has been debunked.  There is just as much likelihood that the convert is from a happy family as from a troubled one.When someone adopts a new faith, it is not always an attack on his family.  [/dropcap]While the convert might be more content with his newly chosen faith, family members too can be happy that their kin has found a faith that suits him better.  However, such realisations can only be reached through discussion and demonstrating the love that the family members hold for each other, not an inherently easy task.
 
 
Intra-familial religious dialogue is not limited to circumstances where one family may have members of two or more religions.  Tension can arise when members share a faith but differ in the extent to which they adhere to the set beliefs or scripture.  Agreement on financial matters and reproductive health are fundamental to family stability.  If one member interprets (or ignores) his family’s faith on a matter such as these in a way that upsets or alienates other members then it can be unsettling.  For the family to continue to remain together, or at least do so fruitfully, dialogue must occur.  Where one point of view is taken as an absolute, either through doctrinal definition or mere tradition, then it can be difficult to find middle ground.  However, when the long-term well being of the family is at stake, these absolutes should be given a bit of leeway, at least in as much as it can help reach a point of understanding.

Religion can be a powerful force for bringing families together.  However, if the stability of a family’s religion is shaken by a member either not sharing the same level of devotion or leaving the faith, and possibly converting, then there is a risk of a serious breakdown occurring.  For there to be continued coexistence and hopefully a point of agreement, the members must come together through dialogue.  For members to challenge, and possibly change, long held (or in the case of converts, newly acquired) beliefs is no simple task.  But to help ensure the chances of the family’s ongoing happiness, this dialogue is essential.

 

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