Being involved as a fellow at the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry has been an unforgettable experience for me. I have had an incredible opportunity to interact with so many different people, to expand my horizons, and to grow as a person. The incredible conversations at weekly meetings, to the bigger events such as the “Intersections of Interfaith” conference held in the Spring semester, have all taught me so much about interfaith dialogue. The key points that I have taken away from my experience during the fellowship are of the critical importance of tolerance and acceptance, listening to the other person, and focusing efforts on reaching out to connect and learn about others. At the start of the fellowship there were a list of values and rules that we had agreed upon to conduct interfaith dialogue with each other. However, there were a few of these that were especially critical points that I had seen interfaith dialogue rest and structure itself upon. These are the keys which I feel must be re-iterated and understood to ensure that interfaith dialogue takes place respectfully and fruitfully.
Tolerance and acceptance is the first key point which I would like to focus on. I feel that it is the fundamental key to not just interfaith dialogue, but for respectful dialogue for any kind. Especially in Interfaith dialogue, the mindset of understanding that the person opposite you may have a completely different view and being accepting that they can have their views and beliefs, is the building block of such dialogue. Throughout my experiences, which included conversations in meetings and events, there were many discussions which took place about religion, community, society, etc. I saw people communicating with each other and engaging in conversations, but when I witnessed conversations that involved topics that were complex or difficult, I really understood the importance of this mindset. The difficult arguments were the ones that highlighted to me how critical it was for people to be tolerant of each others’ views. People may hold strong emotions for the topic being discussed, but realizing that differences may arise between two people through these discussions and being understanding and tolerant despite disagreements, is what showed me the importance of this. I witnessed many difficult conversations happening in front of me, but people were still respectful and tolerant of each other’s views. Watching respectful disagreement take place highlighted to me the importance of tolerance and acceptance.
The second key point I took away from my experiences was of the importance of listening to the other person. Listening to the other person has always been taught as fundamental to any good conversation, and I practically experienced this through interfaith dialogue. Listening to other people’s ideas, emotions and experiences with the intent to understand, without having the intent to simply just reply to somebody’s responses, is a critical point. It is a skill I continued to develop through my conversations, and I realized through experience I could pay attention to understand the other person much more easily if I focused on listening. To build a tolerant world and a peaceful society, it is essential to listen to the other person to understand their views.
The third key point I took away from my experiences with the fellowship was of wanting to learn and connect with other people. Putting in effort and showing that you want to reach out and connect with someone who may not have the same background as yourself shows interest for that person. This can decrease a feeling of division and can increase and create a dynamic of inclusivity. There is a strong burst of positive energy when people want to genuinely connect and learn about others. I experienced this many a time during the “Intersections of Interfaith” conference. People I didn’t know—showed curiosity and interest in wanting to know more about me and my faith. This attitude helped to develop a rapport much faster, and I noticed it made both sides feel much more comfortable, making it easier to initiate a conversation.
These three key points, which I learned and felt during my experiences with the Fellowship, are what I feel are the most important to building and developing Interfaith dialogue. The requirements and the context of interfaith dialogue, I think, make it essential for these points to be embedded in some way to an interaction. Repeatedly, I have noticed these points act as the backbone to interfaith conversations and dialogue, and these lessons are what I want to carry forward in the future whenever I have interfaith dialogue, or any conversation. Not only has the Fellowship given me the skills of good communication, but it has taught me what I feel are the key points of structuring and carrying interfaith dialogue.