Deirdre Jonese Austin is an undergraduate student in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, class of 2019, majoring in culture and politics with a focus on religion and social justice. She is also pursuing a minor in African-American studies and a certificate in religion, ethics, and world affairs. Her research interests include reconciliation as a means for conflict-resolution to global problems, the role of the Black Church in society today, and how different religions conceptualize and understand social justice. Outside of the classroom, Deirdre is involved in several Protestant Ministry organizations and is also on the boards for the B.R.A.V.E. Summit and Resonant Essence Live A cappella Ensemble. At the Berkley Center, Jonese Austin is a student fellow in the 2017-2018 Doyle Undergraduate Fellows program.
In “The Significance of Inter-Religious Dialogue for World Peace,” Yoshiaki Iisaka discusses the importance of interreligious dialogue. For Iisaka, the purpose of interreligious dialogue is peace. Peace is defined as being in harmony with God, one’s self, others, and nature. It is important to look at interreligious dialogue as a means of attaining peace. Additionally, while many focus on interreligious dialogue as it relates to mutual understanding, for Iisaka, and for all of us, it should be more than that.
For Iisaka, interreligious dialogue goes beyond peace to reconciliation. Whereas many can work towards peace, reconciliation is radical. Although Iisaka mentions reconciliation in relation to peace with God specifically, it can be applied to the other areas as well. It is important to be in harmony with God, one’s self, others, and nature. It is also important to be reconciled to God, one’s self, others, and nature. As people of faith, we have been reconciled to God in our efforts to practice our faiths. However, it is reconciliation to ourselves, others, and nature that is most difficult. These acts of reconciliation are acts of social justice.
After reconciliation to God, we must be reconciled to ourselves. In dialogue, reconciliation to ourselves involves being able to articulate our beliefs but also being open to hear the beliefs of others. In interreligious dialogue, our personal spirit is strengthened as we work towards strengthening all involved in the dialogue. Reconciliation to ourselves involves moving beyond concern for ourselves and getting our point heard. We must move into a realm in which we focus on the greater humanity as represented by the varying faiths present in the dialogue. As it relates to social justice, interreligious dialogue is unique in that it strengthens the individual through exposure to differences. This exposure builds the compassion and empathy needed to take on social justice causes.
Interreligious dialogue sees differences as strengths. This is especially important as we work towards being reconciled to others. Being reconciled to others can involve sacrifice on our part. It can involve sacrificing our time, energy, and potentially our privilege as we take up social justice causes and the fight for world peace. Reconciliation to others requires action. This need for action is best articulated in interreligious dialogue, as justice is a common tenet of many faith practices. Reconciliation to others as present in interreligious dialogue requires a willingness to dismantle systems of oppression and to fight for the marginalized. It also requires the strength to forgive others as a self-care practice.
Finally, reconciliation to nature requires that we take care of the environment. In this age of increasing globalization, there is significant environmental degradation. Many of our actions result in the destruction of nature. Reconciliation to nature requires working to ensure that we aren’t just fighting for human rights but also advocating for the preservation of nature. Thus, interreligious dialogue that goes beyond peace to reconciliation provides us with the foundation needed to do social justice work.
For college campuses and youth leaders, one reason interreligious dialogue is important is because it builds empathy and understanding. In many faith practices, it is not common to interact with people of different faiths; interreligious dialogue can facilitate that. This helps us to realize that we are more alike than different. As the visionary leader and president of GU Sisters for Christ, I attended the Campus Ministry Student Forum retreat with all the student faith leaders on campus. It was a great opportunity because it allowed us to grow and learn from each other. Moreover, interreligious dialogue can help us to be better allies and learn how we can stand in solidarity with each other. Interreligious dialogue on college campuses provides us with the skills we need to build coalitions that will be vital in life in general, and in the fight for social justice.