Many people have been raised with the idea that religion – along with politics and football – is a subject of conversation to be avoided. Concerned about getting into an argument or causing offence, people often keep their beliefs – and their questions – to themselves. But we know that it’s possible to talk about religion and faith in ways that are productive and often enjoyable. Moreover, we’ve learned that such conversations are necessary to build understanding and support enduring, positive relationships between diverse communities.
The focus of this area of our work is on creating well-facilitated contexts in which people from diverse backgrounds can come together to discuss their religious and philosophical beliefs and practices – and the bearing these have on pressing contemporary issues – with people who believe and practice differently. Encouraging people to engage in this way provides a mechanism by which ignorance, stereotypes, and misconceptions can be challenged and people can gain the skills and confidence to engage fruitfully with religious and cultural diversity.
Programmes and events include, for example: our Scriptural Reasoning programme; our ‘Faith to Faith’ series (run in partnership with St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art); Festivals Exchange events; programmes focused on particular issues of common concern, such as our ‘Faith and Covid-19’ and ‘Voices from the Portal: Re-imagining our Post-Pandemic World’ series (which together covered topics such as sources of solace, solitude, food justice, racism, kindness, mental health, and changes in religious practise); ongoing dialogues in relation to climate change; and occasional events on topics such as religious dress or religious objects.
This strand of our work also increasingly includes programmes intentionally focussing on controversial issues in interfaith dialogue, where significant divergences of opinion are likely and in relation to which there is considerable strength of feeling on both sides – see Difficult Dialogues.
When facilitating interfaith dialogue our primarily concern is not to broker agreement, but rather to support deepening mutual understanding. This means that where disagreement persists, it is better quality disagreement i.e. people know precisely where they disagree and why, rather than relying on – often erroneous – assumptions. As a result, ongoing discussion in relation to issues of common concern can proceed in a more nuanced, sensitive, and productive way.