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Expert emphasizes interfaith dialogue as a tool to promote peace

| Monday, March 23, 2015

Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University, delivered a keynote address for the Catholic Social Tradition Conference on Monday in McKenna Hall Auditorium. In the address, he emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue in achieving peace and happiness in an increasingly global world.

“World religions have an important contribution to make as repositories of significant visions of human flourishing, significant visions of the good life,” he said.

“If we don’t find ways to live, plural that we are, in peace within the common political space under a common political roof, our lives — all of our lives — are going to be worse for it.”

During the talk, which is part of a three-day conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document “Gaudium et spes,” Volf said that religious exclusivism — which he explained as a religion’s belief in its exclusive access to the ultimate truth — initially seems to present an obstacle to the peaceful coexistence of different religions.

He said the problem, particularly, is that all world religions are fundamentally exclusive to varying degrees.

“There is no non-exclusivist position,” he said. “I don’t think there are non-exclusivists in this room.”

However, Volf said religious exclusivism does not necessarily lead to political exclusivism or the restriction of freedom of beliefs and expression in a certain society.

Indeed, he said, history provides examples of religious exclusivists who also supported toleration of other belief systems.

“It’s not just that religious exclusivists can be political pluralists, but as a matter of fact, historically, they have invented political pluralism out of their own interests.”

Furthermore, in some cases, exclusivism even encourages toleration, he said.

“You can be a religious exclusivist, and just because of your exclusivist religious convictions, you can embrace pluralism as a political project,” Volf said.

Unfortunately, exclusivism does not always engender pluralism, but requires certain conditions, Volf said. One such condition, he said, is an “interest in commonalities rather than differences.”

“We need the kinds of relations between religions in which they would be able to adjust their own expectations from each other in the context of living in the common space while staying true to their own identity and true to their own vocation,” he said.

While these relations might initially seem difficult to develop, Volt said they are actually very natural to humans.  He gave the example of family life, in which family members must take into account the needs and desires of each other in order to live together in harmony.

“You don’t make decisions without thinking how your teenage son’s going to react,” he said.

Volf said this approach to encouraging coexistence through a meaningful dialogue is particularly important in combatting nihilism, which asserts that values and value systems have no foundation.

In contrast to nihilism, he said, many world religions actually support many commonly held democratic values.

“Each world religion will have and can have resources within itself to embrace, say, freedom of religion, to embrace equality of others,” he said.

Lectures and panels will continue throughout the day today as part of the Catholic Social Tradition Conference hosted by the Center for Social Concerns.  A full schedule of events can be found at http://socialconcerns.nd.edu/mission/cst/2015ConferenceSchedule.shtml

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