Common Ground in Inter-Religious Dialogue: A brief analysis of religion as a response to existential suffering


Philosophy of religion, approached from a comparative perspective, can be a valuable tool for advancing inter-religious dialogue. Unfortunately, “comparative religion” today is usually characterised by two extreme positions: 1) Comparing religions in order to come to the conclusion that one's own religion is superior 2) Arguing for a type of “religious pluralism” that relativises all religious truth claims. The former approach reduces religion to a confrontational form of apologetics, theatrical “debates” and polemics, while the latter reduces religion to a mere acceptance of pragmatically useful perspectivist narratives devoid of absolute reality or truth. Inter-religious dialogue should follow a middle path between these two extremes by engaging with underlying philosophical themes that are common to all religious traditions instead of emphasising the comparison of theological and soteriological arguments that may depend on justifications that are exclusive to a particular religious practice. The philosophical theme explored here is that of dissatisfaction and existential suffering in an imperfect world, a theme found in all “world religions”. Indeed, the diagnosis of this existential predicament and the hope that religious practice may allow one to overcome it appears to be universal, while its causes and the prescribed remedies differ considerably among religious traditions. Nevertheless, inter-religious dialogue beginning from a conviction that all religious practitioners strive for truth and salvation in response to a common existential experience may lead to a more compassionate and productive dialogue between religious communities. This type of inter-religious dialogue avoids accusations of falling into religious syncretism or relativism while encouraging diverse religious communities to address contemporary issues from areas of philosophical common ground. This allows for a more fruitful type of inter-religious dialogue and comparative study of religion that can be pursued while maintaining one's own distinct religious identities and particular religious truths

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