Monday, August 20, 2007

Women and Interfaith Dialogue

Full and equal participation of women in church and society has been one of the long standing commitments of WCC and it applies to WCC’s own structure also. In world today we experience pluralism in religions, cultures, customs, language, and world views. Inter-religious dialogue, as currently understood practices and promoted in many parts of the world, particularly among Christians, is strongly marked by the absence of women. In deeper sense dialogue implies intimacy of personal relationship, enjoyment of each other, and sharing of knowledge, experience, problems, suffering and resources.[1] The founders of various religions Jesus, Buddha and Prophet worked to bring about change in the position of women but in due course of history the advances made have been reversed and thus pressing women back to subordinate position, fixation of roles, scripture denied to them. Here in this paper I would like to discuss the role of inter-religious dialogue which is concerned about women, their empowerment.

Issues of Women Interest to be Taken Up in Dialogue
In 1994 a group of women were interviewed from around the world concerning the guidelines by the central committee of the WCC, and in 1995 the group was drawn together for a dialogue. The guidelines for dialogue were identified as marginalization, identity, boundaries, power and strength.[2] Marginalization emerged as the strongest theme; it was believed to be the common experience of the majority of women.[3] The women in the group felt that the way of living led them to marginalization and the experience of it formed the backdrop to their experience of the whole life and helped them to formulate other common themes which were identified as follows. The question of Identity also provided a strand in the women’s self understanding. The nature of identity was of particular interest to women in their self perception and the perception of the world. The question before them was weather identify can be defined individually or only in community; how much of personality helps to define identity and how much it is bound by the culture. The third guideline was with the issue concerning women and boundaries.[4] This question was based in context of Christian service; weather women have boundaries to their compassion, to their willingness and to serve others. Strength and power provided the final backdrop of discussion. This point aimed to explore the nature of power both structural and innate which exercised in the context of women and service. The focus was to be on the fact that women exercised much in innate power and show great strength and creativity, but are rarely in the position of structural power and influence.

Patriarchal Nature of Inter Religious Dialogue
Feminist theologians have argued that the dialogue program has suffered from insufficient involvement of women and the absence of women concerns in the issues taken up for dialogue. Diana Eck[5] pointed out how glaring was the absence of women in interfaith events and efforts.[6] She pointed out, that although there had been a consciousness of the issue and the efforts to address it; the dialogue has suffered from the insufficient involvement of women and the absence of women’s concerns in the issues taken up by the dialogue. Women have actively participated in dialogue but the overall picture remains poor. The sexism that pervades among religions is evident in dialogue also. The participation of women is only symbolic than real as men could set both agenda and frame the work of discussion.
Ursula King has pointed out that it is evident the inter-religious dialogue remains a part of patriarchy.[7] She says “to envision the development of post-patriarchal dialogue, it will be necessary to do away with the hierarchies of gender which is persuasive in religion. Radical institution and doctrinal transformation are needed to respond to the needs of women for equal participation and dignity and demand to condemn all prejudice and violence against women, especially done in the name of religion.”[8] The real problem lie in the heart of religious tradition themselves, the sexism that pervades in religious traditions is also affected in their dialogue with one another. Thus the dialogue enterprise so far accommodates this reality and in compromised. Diana Eck further dealing with the same issue, calls for six fold revolution, revolution of language history, interpretation, experience, leadership and ritual. According to them feminism is a missing dimension in dialogue
Need For Change
Dialogue has played an important role in transforming people, there views. It has granted people different perspectives to ponder upon. If the Dialogue has to respond to the challenges that feminism posits it has to undergo a change. The dialogue has to undergo change because of four major reasons.
1) The importance of dialogue at grass root levels: the approach to dialogue and the actual practice of dialogue among women are more life oriented, they evolve out of experience. It brings concrete changes in perception and practice at basic level of the lives of people. As Raymond Pannikar pointed out “an inter-religious dialogue today is unavoidable; it is a religious imperative and a historical duty for which, we must suitably prepare.”[9] A dialogue that is life oriented is needed. Women approach to dialogue is oriented to the practice of this reality.
2) The importance of feeding new thinking in Dialogue: The participants of inter-religious dialogue should become aware of the need to explore ways in which abstract religious beliefs both effect and are effected by social situations in which religions are practices. There are men and women in each religious tradition that challenge some of the traditional language, imagery, teaching and structures of patriarchy. Paul Knitter pints out in an essay in his collection the Myth of Christian Uniqueness “from the perspective of those concerned with liberation, the past decade has indicated what an important and powerful role religion can play, for better or worse, in bringing about socio-political transformation.”[10] The inter-religious dialogue should give preference to them in bringing about new concepts that address the problem of feminism.
3) The importance of dialogue for new thinking that is emerging: it is evident that all religious traditions are in the process of revisiting there traditional teachings in response to the present challenges. Religion and ideologies are not only explanation of the meaning of life, but also ways to live according to that explanation.[11] Therefore the involvement of women dialogue in important not only for dialogue but for feminist thought also.
4) The importance of sign and signals: dialogue through its work should make evident that it is a part of women’s activity or else it will remain a part of patriarchy.

Implication Of inter religious dialogue for women[12]
The implication of inter-religious dialogue for women are threefold, firstly, women will have greater awareness and appreciation of diversity among themselves. Through which an atmosphere of trust is created clarifying diverse perspectives. Secondly, there will arise a need for women to reflect on and write about there conversation. As the meaning of the concepts such as liberation, Oppression and feminism cannot be assumed; therefore inter-religious dialogue must forsake the preconceived notions and place them specifically in context of social change and prevent them from irrelevant theorizing. Thirdly women will be more prepared to act for social change. Dialogue is commitment; only through dialogue women will come to learn each others needs, existence and the extent of oppression, and the most effective way to end them. Through dialogue and literature, women will able to communicate their growing consciousness of themselves and of others and their experience of similarities and differences with each other. Communication of all this will empower women in inter-religious dialogue to act more dynamically.

It is really important to know who people are, in order to really understand what they believe and why the believe it. The common struggle for greater equality between men and women brings women closer to each other. What is to be envisioned is that women engaging in dialogue seek to discover, through conversation, the reality of oppression. Inter religious dialogue helps women in coming over boundaries. Dialogue takes place I terms of collective experience, dialogue can help women in finding new ways of restoring the balance of power in relation between men and women.
In women’s dialogue, therefore, we need to question the concrete situation in which women has to suffer, and we need to understand relativity of our own. What needs to be analyzed in the inter connectedness of social issues and women issues and demonstrate new and creative ways and interpretation and approaches to women’s rights. We have to view feminism in broader political perspective, which would be visible everywhere.
Dialogue is commitment. The more one engages in it, the greater is the perspective and the goal. Only through dialogue mutuality among women can be realized. Only through dialogue we can learn on others need, the existence and the extant of a culture’s oppression practices, the women’s reaction to those practice, and the most effective ways to end them.

ü Knitter, Paul. “Towards a Liberation Theology of Religion,” In The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistic Theology Of Religions Edited John Hick and Paul F. Knitter. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1990.
ü O’Neill, Maura. Women Speaking Women Listening: Women In Inter Religious Dialogue. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1990.
ü Swiddler, Leonard. “Interreligious and Interideological Dialogue: the Matrix for All Systematic reflections Today,” in Towards a Universal Theology of Religion, Edited by Leonard Swidler. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1987.
ü Ariarajah, S. Wesley. Not Without My Neighbor: Issues In interfaith Dialogue. Switzerland: WCC Publication, 1999.
ü Panikkar, R. The Intra Religious Dialogue. USA: Paulist Press, 1978.
ü Selvanayagam, Israel. A dialogue on Dialogue. Madras: Christian literature Society, 1995.
ü Blyth Myra & Wendy S. Robins. No Boundaries to Compassion? An Exploration of Women, Gender and Diakononia. (Great Britain: Kent Christian Press, 1998.

[1] Israel Selvanayagam, A dialogue on Dialogue (Madras: Christian literature Society, 1995), 2.
[2] Myra Blyth & Wendy S. Robins, No Boundaries to Compassion? An Exploration Of Women, Gender And Diakononia (Great Britain: Kent Christian Press, 1998), 12-15.
[3] Myra Blyth, No Boundaries…, 12.
[4] Myra Blyth, No Boundaries…, 13.
[5] She is from Harvard University and has been the moderator of the Sub- unit on dialogue. She made these comments in the meeting of the working Group in Casablanca, Morocco, in June 1989.
[6] S. Wesley Ariarajah. Not Without My Neighbor: Issues In interfaith Dialogue (Switzerland: WCC Publication, 1999), 59-60.
[7] S. Wesley, Not Without…, 60-61.
[8] S. Wesley, Not Without…, 61.
[9] R. Panikkar, The Intra Religious Dialogue (USA: Paulist Press, 1978), 78.
[10] Paul Knitter, “Towards a Liberation Theology of Religion,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistic Theology Of Religions eds. John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1990), 179.
[11] Leonard Swiddler, “Interreligious and Interideological Dialogue: the Matrix for All Systematic reflections Today,” in Towards a Universal Theology Of Religion, ed. Leonard Swidler (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1987), 16.
[12] Maura O’Neill, Women Speaking Women Listening: Women In Inter Religious Dialogue (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1990), 102-104.

1 comment:

Samuel Maynes said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on interfaith dialogue and the Trinity, please check out my website at, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes