How connected and cohesive is the global field of interreligious dialogue?
This question triggered a network study on interreligious dialogue (IRD). The research was sponsored by the international organization Porticus, who are experienced in supporting projects and organizations on interreligious dialogue. At present, however, there is some uncertainty about networking and the extent of cooperation between actors in interreligious dialogue.
In an effort to answer this question, FASresearch conducted 134 interviews with interreligious dialogue experts from 45 countries around the globe. During these conversations, interviewees shared their experience and expertise on interreligious dialogue, and named or “nominate” other IRD organizations they consider relevant. These nominations generated a network of 831 organizations, located in 96 different countries.
The global network of interreligious dialogue
- The IRD network map (which you can find here) that resulted from this study can be described as single-peaked and highly centralized: Instead of having several centres, the network has one single core with few highly visible and prestigious organizations.
- Organizations in the semi-periphery of the network are well-embedded in their own stable communities or subclusters which are directly or indirectly connected to the centre.
- The subclusters are primarily defined by geography: A French, British, Kenyan, Bosnian-Croatian and Latin-American cluster can be identified. Organizations in the semi-periphery are engrained in their regional or local communities, rather than for instance, around certain topics. The cluster of European academics sticks out as transcending country borders.
Means to another end
During conversations about the intentions of interreligious dialogue, it became clear that many activists regard interreligious dialogue as a means to another end: IRD is not so much an engagement between religions about religion, but a field in which people seek to leverage their religious resources to bring about change. While only 10% of the interviewees see IRD as a way to engage in scholarly study and theological debate, most organizations intend to solve specific problems and tackle societal issues such as building peace (45%), fighting hatred like antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiments and racism (19%) and improving mutual understanding (35%). In line with this self-evaluation, interviewees view topic-based engagement as the most important opportunity to cooperate with other organizations.
For an international organization like Porticus that has been accompanying efforts in interreligious dialogue with the aim of contributing to human dignity, social justice and sustainability, this network study provided some “good news”: The IRD network is strong and stable and has some well-established actors, but is also able to integrate “newcomers”, e.g., organizations that only recently emerged on the scene.