Friday, August 19, 2011

The Future of Interreligious Dialogue

The corresponding video can be viewed at:

8/19/2011 10:45 am (et) Virginia: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:45 am (et).
8/19/2011 10:45 am (et) Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:45 am (et).
8/19/2011 10:46 am (et) Mary: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:46 am (et).
8/19/2011 10:53 am (et) Jessica: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:53 am (et).
8/19/2011 10:57 am (et) Kevin Siegel: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:57 am (et).
8/19/2011 10:57 am (et) Sampson: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:57 am (et).
8/19/2011 10:58 am (et) Susan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 10:58 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:00 am (et) Moderator: Welcome! This is Rebecca from the InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator. As this is still new, let me explain how this will work. On the right, you will see a video playing of our current topic to get the conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question send it along to me, the moderator. As long as I deem it appropriate, the comment will be posted to everyone and the speaker will have the opportunity to answer your question.
8/19/2011 11:00 am (et) Moderator: Today, our topic is ‘The Future of Interreligious Dialogue.’ We will be featuring a reflection from Rev. Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director of IFC.
8/19/2011 11:00 am (et) Moderator: As always, I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we come together to learn more about the religions of the world. Whether you agree or disagree, we welcome your comments and questions that are posed in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Also, this is a place of learning, so please refrain from ‘soapboxing.’ If there are any issues or questions about this, they can be submitted along with the comments pertaining to our topic. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, just hostile ones!
8/19/2011 11:01 am (et) Moderator: You can now view the beginning comments on the right. As you listen, please feel free to start sending questions or comments (YES, we want your comments). Also, the video will remain within the sidebar, so feel free to return to it as you wish. Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation, just hit the archive button. And lastly, PLEASE do not use double quotes as it led to some issues.
8/19/2011 11:03 am (et) SteveSawmelle: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 11:03 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:07 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: logs in on 8/19/2011 11:07 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:07 am (et) hussong: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 11:07 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:08 am (et) Moderator: SteveSawmelle said: Hi Clark, could you share with us what the IFC may be doing, or planning to do, to counter the growing Islamophobia in America - especially as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11? Thanks.
8/19/2011 11:09 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Thanks, Steve, for participating today. Our work to combat Islamophobia is a year-round effort, not just one for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
8/19/2011 11:10 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Is this growth of Islamaphobia putting dialogue with Islam more at the forefront?
8/19/2011 11:10 am (et) Moderator: Jessica said: I love the idea of interfaith dialogue. However, many christians I know feel it compromises the message of the gospel because instead of being open and receptive to learning about other’s beliefs, we should be trying to convince them of our own..because of the inherent need for salvation. Any ideas on how we can work past trying to pressure others to take on our beliefs, and simply have open discussion for the purpose of understanding eachother more?
8/19/2011 11:10 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: But we are co-sponsors of the 9/11 Unity Walk which certainly takes on special significance on this 10th anniversary. We are participating in quite a few iftars during the month of Ramadan and sometimes I am the only person present who is not a Muslim.
8/19/2011 11:12 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Jessica, I used to believe that those who wished only to evangelize were sorely mistaken but in the end I realized it is because those people truly care about me, but I think it is important to press them on accepting the same expectation from my side.
8/19/2011 11:13 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: There is quite a divide not only within Christianity but other religious traditions as well between those who feel that sharing their own faith is all that matters (whether for salvation or because one's religion is the best one or the only one or ... and those who believe and experience that their faith is deepened by the dialogue process. Clearly I am in the latter group and those involved in IFC tend to be i n the latter group.
8/19/2011 11:14 am (et) Moderator: Jessica said: For sure, interfaith dialogue can help remove some of the boundaries people have with other religions.
8/19/2011 11:14 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: There are definitely different ways of sharing one's faith and those differences can make a huge difference in how one's sharing is received by the person or persons with whom one is sharing.
8/19/2011 11:14 am (et) Virginia: private message to Moderator: logs off on 8/19/2011 11:14 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:14 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do find it is harder or easier to talk about religion today?
8/19/2011 11:15 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: In the video it seems more necessary...
8/19/2011 11:16 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: A Catholic priest in a predominantly Muslim country spoke about not only feeling called to his own prayers each time, five times a day, that he heard the Islamic Call to Prayer, but also that he shared his faith when people asked him why he did what he did in their community, not otherwise.
8/19/2011 11:16 am (et) Moderator: hussong said: I think the people who still think about salvation in their 'interfaith' work are more moderate and those that can see past it are more progressively leaning.
8/19/2011 11:16 am (et) Moderator: Jessica said: .I think one of the biggest obstacles towards interfaith dialogue, are being posed by those with no faith. They seem very much against organized religion in our country (not sure about others) you feel atheists have a place in interfaith acheive a greater harmony and understanding ..peace evenamong all groups of thought and belief?
8/19/2011 11:17 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Another colleague who lived in the Middle East. He is a Christian but because of the terrible memories of so many in his audiences of the Crusades, he never began a speech without apologizing for the Crusades.
8/19/2011 11:19 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Well in today's world it seems so much more conceivable to interact with the same people as your colleague Clark. Does that make a difference? I mean do we have to expect to apologize for the Crusades as well for instance?
8/19/2011 11:20 am (et) Moderator: Kevin Siegel said: I believe it is an unfair generalization to consider atheists an obstacle towards dialogue. Just as there are religious people who are opposed to dialogue, so too are there atheists who stear clear of any engagement with organized religion or who actively oppose it. But, there are certainly people of no faith/atheists/agnostics who are deeply interested in the study of religion and in engaging religious communities.
8/19/2011 11:20 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: I think atheists, like persons I know of diverse faiths, can be very open to persons of faith or very close-minded, believing all people of faith are wrong or misguided or ... Dialogue with the first group is important and can be relatively easy, especially if we as believers make clear we respect the position of those with whom we speak/
8/19/2011 11:20 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: and want to understand what makes them 'tick'
8/19/2011 11:21 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Kevin, I would have to agree, I think there is just a strong perception of the dichotomy between science and religion, which only seems to be growing as our technological advances grow.
8/19/2011 11:21 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: a really helpful model was shared by a person who started out describing persons of different political persuasions but his model could be applied to persons within a faith tradition or different people between faith traditions.
8/19/2011 11:21 am (et) Moderator: Jessica said: True Kevin...perhaps I'm drawing my conclusions from what I hear mostly from the media. It's not right..but it goes to show how much the media effects our perceptions of groups.
8/19/2011 11:23 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I think the different kinds of media speak to it as well. I mean, nowadays everyone has the ooportunity to get their opinion out there on blogs, but most of the time its only the extremists who take to the internet
8/19/2011 11:23 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Dr. Rokeach noted that we not only have to evaluate people on a horizontal axis, which we often do --that person is very conservative or very liberal or moderate or ... We also have to evaluate how they hold their views, said Dr. Rokeach, on a vertical scale. Do they hold their views in an open-handed, open hearted way or in a narrow minded , close fisted way.
8/19/2011 11:23 am (et) Moderator: hussong said: Jessica I think the best bet is to see the positivity atheists have in interfaith dialogue. Whereas you of your religious background will still lean toward that in your openness.. atheists can actually look at things from a 100% phenomenological approach.
8/19/2011 11:23 am (et) Moderator: Jessica said: Media can both help and hurt dialogue and understanding. It can either reinforce stereotypes by just showing the negative, or promote peace and healing by discussing the positive and what's possible.
8/19/2011 11:24 am (et) Moderator: hussong said: You'd be surprised how many people in academia don't believe in God but are theologians by profession.
8/19/2011 11:24 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: It is certainly true that a dialogue such as this could not take place if it were not for the technology
8/19/2011 11:24 am (et) Laura S: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 11:24 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:25 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Hussong, in your experience are the professors who are theologians by profession but do not believe in God, open about their stance?
8/19/2011 11:26 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do you think that dialogues will take more to the internet?
8/19/2011 11:27 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: when I teach my students, I remain vague about my religious views and identify
8/19/2011 11:28 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: The internet is certainly one place for interfaith dialogues. The water-cooler in the office, the neighborhood gatherings, perhaps discussions within a home, are certainly other places for that dialogue. A big advantage of face to face dialogues is that you can build a relationship with that person that is on-going and likely to be strengthened by one's continued contact and interaction.
8/19/2011 11:28 am (et) Moderator: SteveSawmelle said: Hussong, you have reminded me of my great fondness for the writings of Erich Fromm, who was a humanist (and atheist) and one of the most spirtual people I have ever encountered in my readings. Yet, I maintain that he came from the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, with all the enormously important AND common values that those traditions taught and teach.
8/19/2011 11:28 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I don't want them to fell pressured to say what they think I want to hear or will agree with
8/19/2011 11:28 am (et) Moderator: Jessica said: Laura...I think that's a good approach. It allows students to think for themselves and not be swayed by someone who they might perceive as a mentor.
8/19/2011 11:29 am (et) Moderator: hussong said: It's not that they openly profess their beliefs, but you can just tell who is and who is not religious.
8/19/2011 11:29 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Some professors are better at that than others...
8/19/2011 11:30 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: My students typically want to know at the start and I tell them 'let's come back to that at the end of the semester'
8/19/2011 11:30 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: At the end, I have them guess, based on having gotten to know me over the course of several months of interaction
8/19/2011 11:32 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I recall, in dialogue years ago, a young woman who was very vague about her religion for several months. Once she was comfortable with us, she revealed that she was Unification Church. Having gotten to know her as a person first, after several months we did not apply possible stereotypes or prejudices against her for being part of a group that many consider to be a cult
8/19/2011 11:32 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: The media can certainly reinforce our stereotypes, especially negative ones, but they can also be very helpful. for example, a story about Ramadan and the iftar fast-breaking at sun-down may well enable me to ask someone at work or who lives next door or ... about what Ramadan means to them and whether or not they are fasting. Its important not to assume that the person speaking to you is being observant, unless you know he or she is.
8/19/2011 11:32 am (et) Moderator: Sampson said: What do you think the best way to get young people involved with interfaith dialogue would be?
8/19/2011 11:32 am (et) Moderator: Mary said: Clark, what would you say will be/should be the role of technology (such as the internet) in inter-religious dialogue?
8/19/2011 11:33 am (et) Moderator: Kevin Siegel said: I think what Hussong is getting at is that many professors allow their personal beliefs to color the material they teach. In my experience, professors try very hard to make sure they are respectful and do not disparage people of faith. But, at the end of the day, it's pretty easy to decipher their personal attitude.
8/19/2011 11:33 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: I think young people may already be involved in interfaith dialogue.
8/19/2011 11:34 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: I find many young people are more open to persons of other faith traditions than us older folks and that reflects in part the fact that they have grown up with more diversity.
8/19/2011 11:35 am (et) Moderator: Since the internet has come up, I would like to share a link to the Berkley Center at Georgetown which published a report on the topic a little over a year ago.
8/19/2011 11:35 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: On the other hand, one's religious beliefs or questions or lack of belief is often 'off the table' in the interactions they have with their friends which is a shame in my opinion.
8/19/2011 11:35 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: many of my young college students have friends of different religions (Muslim, or others) but they do not seem to dialogue with them or relate to them in terms of religion - neither exploring similarities nor getting familiar with the differences. for them, religion seems to be a non-issue in their relationships
8/19/2011 11:36 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Even they don't dialogue explicitly though, there is some interaction on that level. I remember once being told that even the theological dialogues are more about getting to know the person across the table and not the tradition
8/19/2011 11:36 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I force my students to have interfaith experiences by making them do a field research assignment of visiting and talking with people of a religion they are unfamilar with
8/19/2011 11:37 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: My hope is that this one time activity will jump start them to be more open to future interfaith dialogue and activity
8/19/2011 11:37 am (et) adambriddell: private message to Moderator: logs in on 8/19/2011 11:37 am (et).
8/19/2011 11:38 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I'm not sure though, I feel as if most people are leaning away from more explicit dialogue. And not that it is a bad thing, but it seems to be a different approach
8/19/2011 11:38 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: many of my students are hesitant about the field research at first but after the fact are very grateful that I 'made' them do it!
8/19/2011 11:39 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Then again, there does seem to be an influx of students interested in this specifically, look at the growth of the IFYC
8/19/2011 11:39 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: And many schools have interfaith groups to deal with issues
8/19/2011 11:40 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: And groups like the Interfaith Youth Corps (IFYC) that Susan just referred to are a sign of hope for me.
8/19/2011 11:41 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: IFYC utilizes Facebook and Twitter and the like, does this create a divide I guess between the 'old timers' and the young people?
8/19/2011 11:42 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Not to mention what does everyone think the pros and cons of using those medias?
8/19/2011 11:42 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan, might I invite my college students to join the IFYC Facebook and Twitter groups as one option for connecting with other young people of various religions? How would they join? What is the URL?
8/19/2011 11:43 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: It can create the divide in my experience, Susan. It can also force us 'old timers' to start using Facebook and Twitter or to work with those who are using them!
8/19/2011 11:43 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I think the easiest way would be to direct them to IFYC website where they list all their account to join.
8/19/2011 11:45 am (et) Moderator: I would also suggest that if you are in the area Laura, to direct your students to the IFCMW website, where they can be involved both in person and online. The link is
8/19/2011 11:45 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: back in the mid 90s when I first went into online discussion forums I found is much easier to find and connect with like minded (and not so like minded) people interested in discussing religion
8/19/2011 11:45 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: you can look for listserves or forums based on interests rather than the random face-to-face connections made in the limited region in which one lives
8/19/2011 11:45 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do you ever find echo chambers then Laura?
8/19/2011 11:47 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: online you can connect with people world wide, in vastly different cultures, from vastly different backgrounds. Especially for people who live in more rural, less diverse regions, connections online are that much more valuable for diversity of experience
8/19/2011 11:47 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I find the main reason for doing things like this would be to be challenged in my beliefs, but many times you get in groups with people all saying the same thing
8/19/2011 11:48 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: well, if you want to be challenged and debate issues, you can easily seek out and get active in online groups with greater diversity.
8/19/2011 11:48 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: What about conencting with people? Dialogue like this takes some trust, can you establish those relationships with online only friends?
8/19/2011 11:49 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: if your interest is in discussing religion, there are all sorts of people interested in such discussions, people from diverse religions as well as perspectives on the issues
8/19/2011 11:50 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: my experience in the mid 90s proved to be more instense personal connections with people on line than I'd ever had with people face to face
8/19/2011 11:50 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: We just held our fourth annual Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues. Gathering people of diverse faiths in someone's home and utilizing excellent prepared questions is a wonderful way to open the door to personal relationships among persons of different faiths.
8/19/2011 11:51 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Is dialogue going to take place more at the grassroots level in the future Clark?
8/19/2011 11:51 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: And in that case what would the discussions be based on?
8/19/2011 11:52 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: There seem to be more issues that people can coalesce around
8/19/2011 11:52 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: the online connections can be less threatening than face-to-face connetions. Especially valuable when discussing touching subjects like religion
8/19/2011 11:52 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Naturally, people are very different. Some want the personal interaction. Some prefer the on-line interaction that to me is often less personal. Some people want the face to face interactions to take place in 'safe' settings. Others may be more adventuresome. So we seek in the InterFaith Conference to provide a variety of opportunities for connecting with persons of different faiths, races and cultures.
8/19/2011 11:52 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I guess there is also the anonymity factor, which can be good and bad, Laura
8/19/2011 11:54 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I had one student this past summer who ended up doing her field research by visiting a virtual Hindu temple in Second Life
8/19/2011 11:54 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Virtual temple?
8/19/2011 11:54 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Because the Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues took place in different parts of this metropolitan area, one might well describe them as 'grassroots' dialogues, Susan.
8/19/2011 11:54 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: However, I did not accept that substitute for the 'real thing' for full credit. But it was at least an effort made
8/19/2011 11:56 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I don't think I have ever heard of a virtual temple before. Do they function in the same way? That seems like a broad way to frame the question, but I'm not sure how else to do so.
8/19/2011 11:57 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: interestingly, this student said that it was her husband who did not want her to do this field research assignment. He refused to watch the kids while she wnet. Point being, other key people in our lives might put a damper on such potential interfaith exposure
8/19/2011 11:57 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: virtual simply means an online version
8/19/2011 11:57 am (et) Moderator: Hey everyone, we're going to wrap up in just a couple of minutes, so please finish any ongoing thoughts
8/19/2011 11:57 am (et) Clark Lobenstine: Our 32nd annual InterFaith Concert, on the other hand, is an experience of our unity and diversity for a thousand or more people. It will be held on Tuesday evening, Novem. 15th from 7:30-9:00 pm in the main sanctuary of Washington National Cathedral (mass. and Wisconsin Avenues, NW). That is a very different kind of interfaith dialogue experience than the Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues.
8/19/2011 11:58 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: in second life, people build graphic structures like CGI in the movies and then an avatar (online virutal image) of themselves can wander around the artificial online environment that users have created
8/19/2011 11:59 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: but there are REAL people behind the scenes that one would be communicating with, just as one would be communicating with real people on line in chat (like we are here)
8/19/2011 12:00 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Wow, that is a ittle unexpected though when it comes to worship, I wouldn't have thought of it
8/19/2011 12:00 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: I think the issue of other people not wanting us to explore other faiths, as Laura just raised, is a potential issue for some marital counselling! Why was her husband opposed to this? Why would he not watch the kids while she went to a 'real' temple?
8/19/2011 12:00 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: google 'religion in second life' and see what comes up
8/19/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: and why was this woman being so submissive to her husband? 8/19/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: But that's not my business to criticize or quesiton her on
8/19/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: Thank you for your participation today. If you would like to reach our speaker please contact me at Next week we will be discussing ‘Views from the Outside,’ featuring me, Rebecca Cohen, IFC intern.
8/19/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: Also, this is a new effort on our part so we welcome your feedback! Any comments will be helpful. If you have any suggestion please feel free to email me at
8/19/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: This moderated chat room is just one example of the many programs which the InterFaith Conference is doing. If you are able and willing to financially support the InterFaith Conference’s vital year-round work, please donate now using the donate button on our website - You can also find out more about us and sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter.

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