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E. Glaubach-Gal: Interfaith Climate Change

 Presentation at a conference on “Religion and Peace in the Middle East: the Significance of Interfaith Cooperation”
Jerusalem, Israel - August 26-28, 2012
Published in UPF's interfaith journal Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 26, No. 2, Fall 2012
Theme: Religion and Peace in the Middle East

Einstein once said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.” So our world will change when we change.The World Interfaith Harmony Week as proclaimed by the General Assembly of the UN is the main motive of this article. Following the General Assembly Resolution of 2010, which points out that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of the culture of peace, the World Interfaith Harmony Week was established as a way to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith.

In the last two decades, religiously motivated peacemaking and reconciliation efforts have begun to draw the attention of scholars, journalists, diplomats, various governmental and non-governmental agencies, and funding organizations. These efforts are more needed now than ever.[1] Such efforts were made by high-profile organizations such as the World Conference on Religions and Peace, the International Association for Religious Freedom, and the Universal Peace Federation. Many of their initiatives are well known and studied, but it is much harder to find a great number of studies discussing the grassroots movements and initiatives led by religiously motivated peacebuilders.

Religious Peacebuilding as a Global Function

Harold Coward and Gordon Smith refer to faith-based peacebuilding as a range of activities carried out by people inspired by faith and institutions established by them, with a goal of ending deadly conflicts and promoting non-violence in both social relations and political institutions. According to Coward and Smith, these activities can be categorized as conflict management (prevention, enforcement, peacekeeping), conflict resolution, and structural reform (institutional building, civic leadership).[2]

Whether they were interfaith or not, people motivated by their faith have established institutions to promote dialogue and non-violence in order to promote peace inside conflict zones as well as non-conflict zones. Thus, examination of faith-based organizations involved in interfaith dialog is a promising approach to addressing topics of religion and peacebuilding.

Interfaith dialogue rarely centers on peacebuilding because to assume that there are organic ties between faith and peace is viewed as naïve idealism. It is argued that the examination of functions would pave the way for more systematic approaches to their role in peacebuilding.

In terms of global functions of interfaith dialogue, the answers of interviewees to the question addressing whether they think that such activity positively contributes to world peace and if so, how, elaborates on the point about the first function, which is called the changes in perceptual level. Since the main aim of such activity is to contribute to world peace, unfortunately it is well known that today’s major problem is that people and communities use their religions and ideologies to justify their wars and conflicts. While the adherents of the various faith communities claim that their faith is the best one, they claim to have privileges and find issues to fight over. The main ways to overcome this problem are education, dialogue, tolerance, love, and reconciliation.[3]

Challenges in Dialogical Tension

Interreligious dialogue is one of the major challenges confronting contemporary theology. In particular, the so-called “dialogical tension” between openness and identity has been a central issue: can one maintain one’s religious identity without closing oneself off from the other? One cannot engage seriously in interreligious dialogue without a sound theology of religions.[4]

There are various models for Christian theology of religions: exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, and particularism. How do these models relate to the dialogical tension between openness and identity? Some propose transcending the classical theological approaches to religious plurality and moving in the direction of a theological hermeneutics of interreligious hospitality. To that end, Marianne Moyaert turns to the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, whose philosophical and hermeneutical insights can give a new turn to the discussion of the criteria, possibilities, and particularly the limits of interreligious dialogue.

“There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialog among the religions.” This was said by Dr. Hans Kung, a professor of ecumenical theology and President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic.

Dialogues through the Ages

The term “interfaith dialogue” refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. Throughout the world, there are local, regional, and national interfaith initiatives; many are formally and informally linked and constitute larger networks or federations. The history of interfaith dialogues is as ancient as religion, since people who are not at war with their neighbors make efforts to understand them. History records many examples of interfaith initiatives and dialogues.

Here are some examples of this from the last decade: After the attacks of September 11, 2001, under the leadership of James Parks Morton, Dean Emeritus of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, the mission of the Interfaith Center of New York became increasingly centered on providing assistance to immigrant communities whose religious leaders were often the only source of knowledge for new immigrants about coping with a new life in New York City.

On October 13, 2007, Muslims published a message to Christians: “In a Common Word Between Us and You.” It was the work of 138 Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals who came together for the first time since the days of the prophets to declare a common ground between Christianity and Islam.

In July 2008, a historic Interfaith Dialogue Conference was initiated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to address world problems through concord instead of conflict. The conference in Madrid was attended by religious leaders of different faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, and was hosted by King Carlos of Spain.

The policies of dialogue vary from religion to religion.

Baha’i Faith - interfaith and multi-faith activity is integral to the teachings of the Baha’i faith, and its founder Baha’u’llah enjoined his followers to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”

Buddhism has historically been open to other religions and teaches people “to live and let live.” In the history of the world there is no evidence to show that Buddhists have interfered with or done any damage to any other religion in any part of the world for the purpose of introducing their own religion. Buddhists don’t regard the existence of other religions as a hindrance to worldly progress and peace.

Christianity is Christ centered, meaning that Christ is held to be the sole, full, and true revelation of the will of God for humanity. In a Christ-centric view the elements of truth in other religions are understood in the fullness of truth found in Christ. God is understood to be free from human constructions. Therefore, God the Holy Spirit is understood as the power that guides non-Christians in their search for truth, which is held to be a search for the mind of Christ. According to traditional Christian doctrine, interreligious dialogue is confined to acts of love and understanding towards others either as anonymous Christians or as potential converts. In mainline liberal Protestant traditions, however, as well as in emerging churches, these doctrinal constraints have largely been cast off. Many theologians, pastors, and lay people from these traditions do not hold to uniquely Christ-centric understandings of how God was in Christ, and they engage deeply in interfaith dialogue as learners, not converters, with the desire to celebrate as fully as possible the many paths to God.

Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism encourage interfaith dialogue, which is a controversial issue within the Orthodox Jewish community. Some Orthodox Jews refuse to participate in interfaith dialogues as they believe that Judaism’s prohibition of proselytism, combined with other religions’ “missionary zeal,” creates an unbalanced power of dynamic such that the “dialogue” effectively becomes a monologue. However, some modern Orthodox Jews participate in some dialogues.

Islam has long encouraged dialogue to reach truths. Islam also stresses that the supreme law of the land should be Islam. Islam regulates all life affairs and therefore regulates how non-Muslims and Muslims live under an Islamic state, with historical examples coming from Islamic Spain, Mogul India, and even as far back as Mohammed’s time when people of the Abrahamic faiths lived in harmony. In recent times Muslim theologians have advanced interfaith dialogue on a new, large scale with the publication of “In a Common Word” in 2007, which was their first attempt to work out a moral social ground between Islam and Christianity on many issues. Relations between Muslims and Jews remain quite difficult, notably due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Inter-Muslim issues between Sunnis and Shiites are unresolved in the Middle East.

Criticism of Interfaith Dialogue

Criticism of interfaith dialogue is quite prevalent. The group Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects the concept of interfaith dialogue, stating that it is a Western tool to enforce non-Islamic policies on the Islamic world. Conversely, organizations labeled as extremists have been accused of adopting interfaith dialogue as a political front as well as to raise funds. British MP Paul Goodman has questioned the UK government’s decision to fund Campusalam, a university interfaith group that has received half a million pounds sterling of taxpayer’s money despite the group’s alliance to the Lokahi Foundation, widely believed to be an Islamic organization.[5]

Questions of meaning arise within each person. Religions suggest answers to these questions, but real spiritual practice occurs in the heart of each person. The spiritual quest can involve a variety of religions and paths. What can these various traditions offer each other? What do their practitioners have in common? How can interreligious contact increase understanding of other religions and encourage harmony among the followers of various faiths, which could lead to a deepening of the practice of our own faiths or if we have none it may reactivate our interest in spiritual issues?.[6] In addition, it gives a glimpse into the monastic life of Christians, Buddhists, and other faiths so that people will understand the joys and challenges as well as what the monastic life offers to those who live it and to society as a whole.

Relating to orthodox views in general, peace is inextricably related to the notion of justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through the prophets or holy people and the work of all holy spirits as a gift and vocation. The peaceable witness of churches, synagogues, and mosques in situations of war cannot be limited to ethical precepts, because these will not prevent war. Peace requires much more than military action or passivism. It invites the faithful to engage in a continual struggle and public actions that lead towards greater justice and peace.

Dialogue between opposing sides is not simply a means to achieve peace and agreement. The peace process means not only defending dialogue among peace-loving people but also including people who are very often neglected in crucial deliberations. Those who become partners in true dialogue with open and sincere minds and are willing to listen and not only speak are already on the way to peace.[7]

In an era in which religion is resurgent, peacemaking based on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim principles provides timely new insights, drawing on religious resources for building fair and sustainable political, economic and social systems.[8] This is an advancement from religious thinking about a “just war,” which provided religious criteria for making war, to a consideration of “just peacemaking,” a proactive process for mitigating the root drivers of violence and a non-violent tool for preventing and resolving serious conflict.

Religious Freedom under the Ottoman Empire

History recalls outstanding examples of the Ottoman State behaving kindly and tolerantly to non-Muslims and showing respect for their religious values. One of the reasons why the Ottoman State showed tolerance and gave liberty to people of other religions, including respect for their beliefs, worship, and rites was their adherence to Islamic principles. The Ottoman system did not emerge out of a temporary good will of a Sultan or an official of high rank. The Ottoman state regarded the fundamental rights and freedoms of Muslims as non-Muslims primarily as a grant of Allah, not as a grant of the king or administrators, as has developed in Western law. Mehmet II declared in 1643:

I am Sultan Mehmet II, it should be clear to everybody that Bosnian clergymen came to me and I decided to help them, nobody should prevent them and their Christian churches, they should live in their land securely. I swear by the name of the Creator of the earth and the sky, by the Koran, by our exalted Prophet, by the sword I carry nobody should do anything contrary to the orders written here.

Thus quite impressively Turkish Muslim rulers regarded it their duty to show respect for the sacred values of all other religions. The religious understanding between Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc., in the city of Duvin reached the point where mosques, churches, and synagogues, crescents and crosses, etc., were seen side by side and Muslim rulers married Armenian and Georgian princesses. There was a large population in Ottoman Europe and Anatolia that was both ethnically and religiously diverse. The Ottoman state that directed the policy of the world for almost 600 years attracts the attention of states today not only because of its strategic territories in Europe, Asia, and Africa but also because of the different nations and religions brought together under its rule.

The Elijah Interfaith Institute

The Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem hosts international conferences about issues of interfaith peacebuilding. Such conferences included the Future of Religious Leadership in October 2009, at which scholars presented a series of papers representing the perspectives of Christianity, Sikhism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Previous conferences explored the topic of Sharing Wisdom: The Case of Love and Forgiveness (November 2007) and The Crisis of the Holy: Towards a Contemporary Theology of Religions (November 2005). At this event the Elijah Interfaith Institute embarked on a major project of critical self-examination, drawing on the religious thinking of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism as a basis for dialogue among these faiths.

The Elijah Institute focuses not only upon the Abrahamic faiths but upon all the major faith traditions. It approaches interfaith work from an academic platform, while integrating the spiritual and academic dimensions in its programs and activities. It is an international organization, planted in different territories.

The Elijah Interfaith Institute is a bridge-builder between the theoretical study of religion and the quest for wisdom and spirituality, of dialogue and collaboration between religious leaders, scholars and thinkers of diverse religious traditions, and lay leaders around the globe.


This paper attempted to touch on research about interfaith activities and peacebuilding in the present reality. It focused on offering valuable conceptualizations on peacemaking through interfaith dialogue organizations as peace building actors. The goal is to reveal methods and explore new dynamics that have the potential to enhance interfaith dialogue and promote peaceful coexistence among people and nations.

Einstein once said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.” So our world will change when we change. A peacebuilding way of life invites each of us to take our place in generating that change.

Dr. Eliezer Glaubach-Gal is President, I. Foerder Institute for Democracy and Pluralism, Jerusalem, author of several books on resolving the Middle East conflicts. He was Senior City Councilor - the City of Jerusalem, holding the portfolio of bridging between faith communities in the City of Jerusalem. Founder of the W.H.O. The Healthy Cities Project in Israel, based on sustainable human & physical environment.

[1] Oscar Romero, The Case of Rumi Forum, Gulem Conference Papers: Washington DC, November 2008.

[2] Harold Coward and Gordon S. Smith, Eds., Religion and Peace Building, State University of New York Press, 2004.

[3] David Smock, “Religion and International Peacemaking,” The 2000 Perlmutter Lecture on Ethnic Conflict, Vol. 9 (4) 2001.

[4] Fragile Identities: Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality, Vol. 1, Moyaert, Marianne, Amsterdam, New York, 2011.

[5] Ahmadiyya Times, Malta, October 2010.

[6] Ven. Chodron teaching at the Seattle Interfaith Church on Buddhism.

[7] Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis, Peacemaking as an Interfaith Vocation, an Orthodox View.

[8] Principled Peace, United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC, 2012.