Challenges and Opportunities for the Interreligious Movement

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is proud to stand with a myriad of local, regional and international organizations and initiatives that serve religious and spiritual communities in their pursuit of a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. In hosting the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, the Council grappled with many challenges that all in the interreligious movement face when seeking to realize aspirations for the future.

How can a global movement be truly global?

Face-to-face encounters at events like a Parliament are crucial to building bridges of understanding and cooperation. Yet even with the diversity apparent at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, it was equally clear that friends and colleagues from around the world were missing from the conversation, as the costs associated with registration fees, travel and accommodations make such gatherings impossible for many. How can we insure that the voices we often need to hear the most are not silenced by their absence?

How can local to global connections be made effective?

In order to be effective, the interreligious movement needs to connect grassroots work to systemic change. Short-term fixes for problems at the local level can often only treat the symptoms but not the underlying causes. Still, analyzing the underlying causes of systemic problems through position papers and declarations at international gatherings can take years, while people suffer today. How can action at the grassroots level inform and catalyze meaningful systemic change?

How can identities remain unique in the midst of diversity?

The paradox of interreligious dialogue is that it both broadens personal horizons and deepens the commitment to one’s own tradition. Nevertheless, the process of encounter and dialogue is inevitably fraught with anxiety and fear. The interreligious movement must provide open and safe forums in which to grapple with these crucial questions: How do I understand my identity in the midst of diversity? What religious convictions are non-negotiable? How should we treat those who believe or practice in different ways?

How can spirituality and social action be connected?

One response to a world full of suffering people is that we must begin with ourselves, with our own spiritual transformation. If we can change our own hearts and minds, we can change the world. Another response is that we must urgently address suffering through social action. But will social action not grounded in a broader spiritual or ethical framework inevitably substitute one ill or ideology for another? Do we have to start in one place or the other? Is this merely a balancing act, or is there a dynamic way to engage both spirituality and action?

How can religious and spiritual communities work with other guiding institutions for the common good?

It is understandable that many guiding institutions are reluctant to engage with religious and spiritual communities in working on social issues because these communities are often viewed as incompetent or divisive. Unfortunately, guiding institutions that do work with these communities often view them simply as “foot soldiers” to accomplish their own goals, rather than view them as true partners with unique contributions to make. How can religious and spiritual communities become informed and effective partners in addressing real world problems? How can other guiding institutions become aware and appreciative of the unique role that religious and spiritual communities can play?