RELATIONS with people of other faiths impacts our understanding of our own faiths and selves.
I recently read of a project that the World Council of Churches has embarked on to consider how inter-religious dialogue challenges theology and Christian self-understanding, mission and witness as well as Christians' understanding of other religions.
It compares findings in Jewish-Christian dialogue with how Christian theology understands the nature and purpose of the church and, through consultations and the internet, tries to create space for these findings in Christian theology.
In dialogue with people of different faiths, it considers understandings of conversion with a view to producing a code of conduct on religious conversions.
And it studies Christian self-understanding in a religiously plural world.
The project works with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the International Council of Christians and Jews, the Bernardin Center at the Catholic Theological Union (US), the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at the Muhlenberg College (US), and the Centre for Christian-Jewish Understanding (UK), among other specialised institutions, as well as with the WCC Faith and Order Commission, the Roman Catholic Church, the WCC constituency and Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians.
Increased engagement with Buddhism has widened rather than narrowed the range of questions for Christian-Buddhist dialogue, say scholars of the traditions and their interaction.
In fact, says Clare Amos, recently appointed WCC program executive for inter-religious dialogue and co-operation, the very self-understanding of Christians is being modified in their encounters with Buddhists and Buddhist traditions.
Amos is editor of Current Dialogue, the WCC's international journal of interreligious dialogue.
She and her predecessor, guest editor Shanta Premawardhana, have published papers from a recent consultation on the topic in a special issue of the journal, now available in print and online.
The "rich feast" of this consultation, along with others on Christian encounters with Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, says Amos, will inform work on a report on "Christian self-understanding in the context of religious plurality" being crafted in 2012.
In Fiji, organisations such as Interfaith Search Fiji , offer limited but committed safe spaces for regular interaction between different faith groups.
In these gatherings participants share their faith traditions and scriptures on various themes and issues.
These have included values as well as urgent emerging issues such as HIV and AIDS.
There is much that inter-religious dialogue can contribute to, beyond discussions on differences and similarities of faith.
The dignity of work and workers is a common value among the faith traditions. It is also the focus of a policy handbook titled Convergences: Decent Work and Social Justice in Religious Traditions, for which the World Council of Churches (WCC) has collaborated with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In the handbook, the WCC and ILO encourage policy-makers to work with faith communities for social protection and security for all, especially in the area of labour.
Other partners in the project include the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The publication explores the concepts of solidarity and security expressed in the ILO's Decent Work Agenda (DWA), acknowledging the specific contributions and commitments of religious traditions for social justice, dignity in work and economic rights.
"When Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, and I met in 2010, we both felt that our organisations should engage in a common journey based on the conviction and knowledge that peace, social justice and the world of work were intertwined," says Juan Somavia, ILO's director general, in the book's Foreword.
"This handbook is the very outcome of that encounter," he added.
The handbook explains the commitments of various religious traditions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, showing that spiritual values are essential in the quest for a fair globalisation and wherever the subject of work is considered.
Inspired by the common religious concern for social justice, Somavia writes, "Human dignity, solidarity and above all the connection between work, social justice and peace put us on common ground.
"This handbook is a first step. I see much scope for future collaboration to expedite the dawn of a new era of social justice drawing on our shared values," Somavia said.
Tveit endorses Samavia's views, saying, "As Christians, we believe that work is given to us as a way to steward our talents and time for the common good.
"In a time when so many do not have work, we need to re-emphasise how work also contributes to justice and peace."
Through this collaboration, the WCC encourages churches to articulate the value of fairness regarding labour conditions and the market.
This approach has been part of the WCC Alternative Globalisation Addressing People and Earth (AGAPE) process, and was addressed in 2006 during the WCC 9th Assembly in Brazil.
The handbook also sheds light on the long-standing WCC engagement with the ILO in inter-religious dialogue initiatives.
This manifests the potential of dialogue in bringing diverse faith traditions together to work for common concerns for decent work and social justice.
To download the handbook Convergences: Decent Work and Social Justice in Religious Traditions, visit www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/pardev/civil/convergences.htm.
The handbook is available in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. (Source: World Council of Churches)
Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is currently based in Seoul, South Korea, studying at the Methodist Theological University's
International Graduate School of Theology. Email: email@example.com