About 125 years ago, Swami Vivekananda spoke to the western world on the role of religious dialogue to come up with constructive factors to unite the people who experience heavy divisions and inequality due to their faiths
There are certain things in life that remain a mystery for lack of exposure, experience and flow of information. Lack of exposure often hinders harmony, respect, progress, and well-being in life. Interfaith, interfaith dialogue and media connection and relation are still not known in Nepal. The concept stemmed about 125 years ago when Swami Vivekananda from India spoke to the western world on the role of religious dialogue to come up with constructive factors to unite the people who experience heavy divisions, inequality and lack of opportunities owing to their religions. If the media were to set aside some time in understanding interfaith and interfaith dialogue, it would help produce religious tolerance, peace, harmony and development at the grassroots level.
Ours is a pluralistic society, with the people following many religions, faiths, norms, values and traditions, which shape our perception and emotions. It would benefit amply if such emotions and perceptions led to peace, tolerance, fraternity, love and mutual well-being. However, such virtues are getting rarer by the day. In this context, interfaith has a great role to play in promoting reconciliation, development and encouragement.
Interfaith refers to mutual faiths and mutual beliefs common to all religions, a base where mutual tolerance, respect and love is created and united. Interfaith is to “create mutual tolerance among the followers of different religious denominations” and “to build a society of respect and tolerance without resorting to protests, harm, and loss to others.”
Though different communities follow different faiths, some sentiments, beliefs, traditions and perceptions are similar. These similarities should be adopted as guidance for humanity to move forward as one community.
Dialogue is a platform where arguments are put forward to come to a conclusion acceptable for both the parties. The purpose of dialogue is to remove the barriers of disagreement to bring the two parties to mutual conversation and acceptance. Interfaith dialogue is about finding similar virtues between the various religions to bring people closer.
It would be appropriate to say that this interfaith concept and principle have not yet started in Nepal in an effective way. Interfaith dialogue is meant to refer to an interaction that is positive and cooperative between the peoples of different faiths. And we have to understand that the goal of interfaith dialogue is not to convert people of other faiths. It does not seek to critique others or to win a theology debate.
The present world is the world of media, whose role is to inform. But the media has failed to understand the importance of interfaith dialogue. On the other hand, interfaith leaders and academics have also failed to educate the media and explain the value of spirituality to enable them to disseminate the well-understood concept of interfaith. As a result, the media has failed to provide much space and attention to the importance of interfaith dialogue. Things get even worse, when the media mixes up interfaith with religious matters. It’s not only the media, the general public and government bodies also don’t have a clear idea about what interfaith is and refers to it as a religious matter.
Such carelessness on the part of the social, religious, academic and political institutions has hindered the media from playing a visible role in interfaith activities. Instead of supporting news leading to improving religious tolerance to promote communal harmony, the media exaggerates and sensationalises the issue, leading to more controversy and intolerance, and targeting particular religions. This is against the sentiments of interfaith.
The void existing between interfaith and the media is wide because it is difficult for journalists and media enthusiasts to grasp and understand the high level of spiritual and religious knowledge of the religious leaders. What’s even sadder is that journalists don’t want to go deeply into interfaith and religious matters whereas interfaith experts and religious leaders wait for journalists in their sanctuaries to write on interfaith without making the right kind of information available to them.
There are divisions among people and various organisations in the name of religion. If interfaith dialogue and interfaith can address such issues with the aid of the media, then the norms, values, and importance of interfaith dialogue could be experienced by all. To promote the sentiments of interfaith and interfaith dialogue, the World Parliament of Religions (Interfaith) has been celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week on February 1-7 every year. This year marked its 126th anniversary.
The guiding principles of the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week are ‘love of the God’,’ love of the good’, and ‘love of the neighbour’. The very nature of world events today demands that effective religious leadership be able to identify and articulate the influence of religious traditions on these events. Interfaith harmony week is observed throughout the world with the objective of restoring justice, global ethics, climate action, faith instead of hate, educating religious leaders on media literacy, religious literacy for media people and interfaith conversation for cooperation.
Pande is researcher, Interfaith Dialogue and Media
A version of this article appears in print on February 10, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.