There is magic in dialogue

May 2, 2010

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AS A person who conducts dialogues among people of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, I challenge Stephen Prothero’s assertion that “multiculturalists’’ wish to “pretend’’ that “religious differences are trivial’’ (“Separate truths," Ideas, April 25).

My observation is that most “champions of multiculturalism,’’ as Prothero puts it, do glory in the diversity across religious traditions. Far from separating us further, the heightened mutual understanding of our differences that we can attain through honest, respectful discussion dispels harmful stereotypes and builds trust and positive relationships.

Prothero says “it is a fantasy to imagine . . . that interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims will magically bridge the gap.’’ I can only surmise that he has never experienced a good interfaith dialogue, which requires, among other things, at least several meetings and a facilitator.

Given a safe space and sufficient time, interfaith dialogue participants can delve beneath the superficial, unproductive levels of discussion most of us are familiar with. People inevitably begin to bond, often in variance with what they had anticipated. Some experience an epiphany that changes how they relate with others forever.

Their religions may feel no less distinct, but their human commonalities become obvious. Such insights and their potential ripple effect on a conflict-weary world might indeed be called magical.

Jeffrey R. Stone,

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