10.) Is “Human” Dialogue Possible

Scholars have distinguished among several forms of dialogue.[1] Eric J. Sharpe, for instance, distinguished between four types of dialogue,[2] which may also overlap:

(1) Discursive Dialogue: a candid exchange of opinions and ideas through discussion among participants of different religions;

(2) Human Dialogue: a “meeting in which persons are to meet as persons rather than as believers in a particular religious tradition; it is a meeting at the level of common humanity;”[3]

(3) Secular Dialogue: where secular concerns such as economic development overrule the religious differences of the participants;

(4) Interior Dialogue: which consists of a sharing of religious experience.

In respect to this classification the suggestion has been made by Robert A. Stephens that, out of these four categories, human dialogue as a category of its own right ought to be deleted. He adduces the following reasons for taking such a step:

(1) If we are dealing with dialogue in a religious context, then to “focus merely on common ground of shared humanity may not be religious in any sense of the word; it is the necessarily common ground between believers and non-believers.”[4]

(2) If indeed such a dialogue were to occur, “if there is a meeting on this common ground, what does one meet about—common humanity or aspects thereof? It could then be categorized as secular dialogue.”[5]

(3) Stephens argues, citing Sharpe in support that “it is somewhat unrealistic to prescind from religious conviction, one’s own or another’s. Is the other really treated as a fully human person, as a fully other, if we prescind from his fundamental convictions?”[6]

From these arguments Stephens concludes that human aspect of dialogue is so basic to any form of dialogue that it is virtually meaningless to treat it as a form of dialogue. He writes:

I would therefore see consciousness of common humanity (with the mutual respect that it should entail) as that which ought to be the presumed common ground in dialogue of any type…. human dialogue could hardly exist in its own right. If the term is used to refer to the “dialogue” of simply sharing in everyday living, then the word is being used in a very broad sense indeed. In an Indian village, Hindus, Muslims and Christians may live in harmony and respect each other, but this co-existence does not necessarily indicate the presence of any type of dialogue.[7]


In the rest of this paper I shall argue that the category of Human Dialogue be retained as a form of dialogue, because the arguments adduced by Stephens against it are capable of being rebutted and because fresh arguments in support of the category can be advanced.

(1) It is doubtless true that human dialogue need not be religious in the usually accepted sense of the term, but the crucial point to be considered here is the meaning of the word religion. If we restrict the meaning of the term religion to the usually accepted religious traditions of mankind[8] then his point has considerable force but if we take into account some “modern manifestations of religious instinct” such as Jungian “depth” psychology and Marxian Communism,[9] for instance, then the position may have to be revised. Next, if we could take the idea of Humanism[10] itself seriously or worked with “open definitions” of religion, then the point will have to be again re-assessed.[11] Moreover, a Christian-Marxist dialogue could possibly fall in this category if the common humanity of ideologically differing human beliefs is emphasized.

(2) One should not be too dismissive of common humanity as the meeting ground of dialogue because, to the extent that one particularizes oneself as a follower of a religious tradition, to that extent one does compromise one’s common humanity. One has only to recognize that Buddha did not preach to Buddhists but to human beings and likewise Christ, to recognize the force of this argument. It may, therefore, be not altogether out of place, even in a dialogue among traditional religions, to draw attention to the common humanity of the participants, which may be lost sight of in the particularity of one’s commitment to one’s own tradition.

(3) It might be an interesting point to consider what is left in common if everyone’s religious convictions are either rescinded or retained. For this would impart an interesting dimension to the dialogue. The Gandhian experiment in basic education under the so-called Wardha scheme is of interest here. In our modern terminology Gandhi would probably be considered strong on dialogue, and one disposed to encourage it. Yet in the Wardha Scheme: “Sectarian religious instruction was deliberately omitted from the plan, for which Gandhi was roundly criticized. Although he too was deeply convinced personally that all religions are true, he did not propose the teaching of a syncretistic universal religion but only basic morality. Gandhi wrote: ‘Fundamental principles of ethics are common to all religions. These should be regarded as adequate religious instruction so far as the schools under the Wardha scheme are concerned.’”[12]

(4) The concept of natural theology can also be related to that of human dialogue. Natural theology is usually contrasted with revealed theology[13] but if is taken in the sense of religious or moral consciousness in man as such, rather than as manifested in a particular religious tradition, then it becomes potentially relevant to human dialogue. Thus the Education Commission of 1882 in British India recommended “that an attempt be made to prepare a moral text-book, based upon the fundamental principles of national religion, such as may be taught in all Government and non-Government Colleges.”[14] The proposal was not accepted[15] but it is clear that the votaries of different religions relating to one another through such a book are probably best seen as parties to a human dialogue.


It is clear, therefore, that given the current religious situation of the world, the trends in the definition of religion and in the dialogue of world religions, the category of Human Dialogue serves a useful purpose.

[1] This aspect of dialogue has not been covered in Arvind Sharma, “Meaning and Goals of Interreligious Dialogue,” Journal of Dharma VIII (3) (July-Sept., 1983), pp. 225-247.

[2] See E.J. Sharpe, “Dialogue and Faith,” Religion 3(2) (Autumn, 1973), pp. 89-105; “The goals of Inter-religious Dialogue” in John Hick, ed., Truth and Dialogue (London: Sheldon Press, 1974), pp. 77-95.

[3] Robert A. Stephens, Religious Experience as a Meeting-Point in Interreligious Dialogue (unpublished Master’s thesis: University of Sydney, 1984), p. 5.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 10.

[7] Ibid., p. 10.

[8] John B. Noss, Man’s Religions (New York: Macmillan Co., 1956).

[9] R.C. Zaehner, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths (Boston: Beacon Press, 1959), p. 402.

[10] See Wm. Theodore de Bary, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition Vol. II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 362-363.

[11] W. Richard Comstock, “Toward Open Definitions of Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion L11 (3) (September 1984), pp. 499-517.

[12] Donald Eugene Smith, India as a Secular State (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963

[13] John Hick, Philosophy of Religion (third edition) (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1983), pp. 61-62.

[14] Arabinda Biswas and Suren Agrawal, eds., Indian Educational Documents Since Independence (New Delhi: The Academic Publishers [India]), p. 439.

[15] Donald Eugene Smith, op. cit., p. 344.

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7 Responses to “10.) Is “Human” Dialogue Possible”

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  5. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, this paper I presented at the 1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, held at The Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), Lonavla, Pune in 2006. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

    The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.


    ‘In Scientific Terminology Source of Gravitational Wave is God’ I have presented this paper at the 2nd World Congress on Vedic Sciences held at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi on February 9-11, 2007. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

    For Centuries, antagonism remained between science and religion. Science and spirituality require to be fused. An integrated philisophy is to be developed. It is written in the scriptures that entire creation is being maintained only through love or force of attraction. In Persian it is known as quvat-i-jaziba. It is on account of this force that the entire creation, which come into existence through the combination of small particles and atoms, is being maintained and sustained. The creation or universe includes everything that exists. In the universe there are billions and billions of stars. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of a galaxy, star and planet etc. and various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Gravitation force is the ultimate creator, sustainer and destroyer of the universe. These are the three attributes of God. Providence has located within the human body a spiritual faculty. When this faculty is developed like physical and mental faculties we find that Truth-the goal of science and God-the goal of religion are one and the same thing.

  6. Richard E. Hennessey Says:

    While I ponder the main point of this post, I have what is perhaps but an incidental question. It bears on the view reported of Gandhi, that “he … was deeply convinced personally that all religions are true.” But how can it be true that “all religions are true”? Classical Christianity holds to the following thesis: at least one person and at most one person has been both human and divine and that person is Jesus of Nazareth. For all other religions, that conjunction is false in at least one of its conjoined parts and therefore as a whole. How then both classical Christianity and those other religions for whom that conjunction is false both be true on that particular point?

  7. A Free Spirit Says:

    Making interreligious dialogue perhaps more difficult than it need be, those of us interested in the religious domain tend to miss the obvious: that we share an interest in the same domain. Our intra-domain differences, I submit, are dwarfed by the distance from our planet to others…such as the planet of the stock market enthusists. For more, if you are interested, pls see my post. http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/missing-the-obvious-in-religious-discussion-something-we-have-in-common/

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