Learning How to Participate in Interfaith Dialogue and Then Jumping Right In

Preparing for Interfaith Dialogue 2018
Faculty: Ted Brownstein, JoAnn Borovicka, Anne Pearson

“Hello, I am Sheila” was Sheila Idoine’s introduction of herself to her fellow learners in the Wilmette Institute’s 2018 course on Preparing for Interfaith Dialogue. Sheila is a Canadian pioneer from Hamilton, Ontario, who has been volunteering for the past seven years at the Louhelen Bahá’í School in Davison, Michigan, in the United States. Her summary of what she learned in the course was just as direct as her introduction:

At a local level, it seems that there are a few dedicated people who participate in discussion and attend interfaith events. Previously, this was my only point of reference. Now I am fully aware of the efforts across a wide spectrum of both macro and micro levels. One of the insights I gained was that we should visit other faith’s places of worship. I was not fully aware of the extent to which we are encouraged to do that. Another insight is that dialogue is more than an exchange of views. It can be a personal process of refining one’s own values—in other words, a transformation is taking place within oneself while one endeavors to understand another person’s values from their faith perspective. They may be getting a greater understanding of themselves and their faith perspective, too, when endeavoring to share their faith views with me.

Sheila’s New Feelings or Attitudes. A learner in the truest sense, Sheila expressed her excitement at her new-found truth: “This has, for me, opened an avenue for discussion that I would otherwise never have considered: being so engrossed in seeking another’s truth enables us to become detached from any preconceived ideas and to fully explore the information we have been given without judgment.”

How Sheila Is Using What the Course Offered. Sheila wrote about several ways in which she is using what she learned in the course:

  • My emphasis has been shifted to explore ways not only to initiate conversations about religion but also other topics and to explore active listening, which was a focus in the course.
  • I have gained confidence and knowledge, and I am looking forward to making a presentation to a discussion group on the topic of interfaith dialogue.
  • I have already attended an interfaith group in my local area, where it was interesting to see the dynamics of the group. They gave a brief account of the history of the group to three newcomers, and they shared a pamphlet outlining past events and details of their mandate, statement of purpose, goals, plans, and so on.
  • I visited an Anglican Church, where I was made most welcome by several people. It was quite different, much more casual, than how I remembered the Anglican service from years ago.
  • In a recent talk I modified my presentation called “The Use of Words, Communication” to include references to interfaith dialogue, the value of it, and how the principles used in conversation with people of other faiths could also be applied to any other meaningful conversations.

Sheila is certainly off to a good start, putting what she learned to good use in meaningful conversations in interfaith circles but also in a variety of situations.
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Those of you interested in taking Preparing for Interfaith Dialogue will have to wait until the course is offered again in 2019. But during the remainder of 2018, the Wilmette Institute is offering a number of courses that will increase your knowledge of religion in general and of other religions:

Indigenous Perspectives on the Sacred (4.15.18 – 06.09.18)
Exploring the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) (05.01.18 – 06.18.18)
Islam for Deepening and Dialogue (05.15.18 – 07.01.18)
One Common Faith (06.01.18 – 07.19.18)

For the courses listed below, watch for when they come online:

Buddhism for Deepening and Dialogue (07.01.18 – 08.19.18)
The Book of Isaiah (10.01.18 – 11.19.18)
Introduction to Shi‘i Islam (11.14.18 – 01.01.19)
Judaism for Deepening and Dialogue (12.15.18 – 02.12.19)

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