No Easy Answers

The Necessary Challenge of Interreligious Dialogue

In 1995, I had the good fortune to take a stroll with Heinrich Dumoulin, the great Jesuit scholar of Buddhism, in the garden of the Jesuit residence at Sophia University in Tokyo. Dumoulin told me of a remark the historian Arnold Toynbee had made during a visit to Sophia in the 1950s.

Toynbee predicted that historians of the future would look back on the twentieth century with little interest in the Cold War, and would instead focus their attention on the dialogues going on between Buddhists and Christians in Japan. In the depths of the Cold War, the idea that religions still had a global role to play might have seemed fanciful. Yet in the ensuing half-century, Toynbee’s prediction—expanded to interreligous dialogue generally—has become more plausible. Times have changed. In not a few societies, religion is “going public,” no longer content to sit quietly in the private sphere of personal belief. “Religious nationalism,” to use a phrase from Mark Juergensmeyer, is on the rise. Postcolonial diaspora communities are globalizing their religions as well. Europe, long considered by many a post-Christian secular space, is now home to part of the Muslim diaspora.

These realities frame a debate in the Catholic Church about the theology of interreligious dialogue and the proper role for a church-in-dialogue today. Although much of this debate is happening off-camera, there is still plenty to watch. In 2008, for instance, during the Easter Vigil, Pope Benedict XVI...

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About the Author

James L. Fredericks in the theology department at Loyola Marymount University.