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Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue Seen through an Emancipatory Theory

By Goosen, Gideon | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue Seen through an Emancipatory Theory


Goosen, Gideon, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


One way to promote new thinking about the (Christian) ecumenical movement and interreligious dialogue (dialogue among different faiths), is to use the emancipatory theory as advocated by Ruane and Todd, in The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland. (1) In spite of arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland, the theory can shed valuable light on the interplay of issues relating to ecumenism. It is the objective of this exploration to apply the emancipatory theory to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, in order to see the issues in a new perspective. I will apply the theory both to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in general and to Australia in particular, with the hope that others would extrapolate to their own contexts.

The above book is not only a detailed analysis of the dynamics of conflict in Ireland but also gives a valuable "emancipatory" theory that is applicable elsewhere. I will first briefly outline this emancipation theory (2) and then apply it to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue with regard to my experience. This approach has not only diagnostic but also strategic potential. Ruane and Todd identify three levels of relationships between groups of people living in conflict. The first level is that of the dimensions of difference, which, in Ireland, includes a number of aspects such as religion, ethnicity, settler-native, concepts of progress and backwardness, and nationality. The second level of relationships that the authors mention is that of dominance, dependence, and equality. In this section reference is made to the varying balance, in terms of power and dominance, among the British government, the Protestants, and the Catholics in Ireland. The third level of relationship is that of the tendency toward communal polarization. The hardening of people at the national level into two groups in Ireland solidified only toward the end of the nineteenth century, according to these authors.

The actual emancipatory theory calls for a dismantling of the system of relationships within the existing society. It requires that all who are part of the system cooperate in its dismantling. The dismantling process will bring an end to a mutually destructive power struggle and create a "realm of freedom" in which new social and cultural potentials could be realized. People will be free from the dead weight of the bigotry of the past and free to form new relationships. It is an exciting possibility and prospect. The steps to be taken are set out below as moderating differences; disassembling structures of dominance, dependence, and inequality; and defusing communal polarization. Each will be applied to both ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

I. Moderating Differences

Here one can list differences between groups and then prioritize them. Differences among Christians would include doctrine, rituals, practices, and style of worship but not necessarily in that order. The (Irish) issue of backwardness-progress may well be reflected in Christians from some countries, for example, those that used to be the colonial powers, who look down on Christians from Third World countries in their own denomination. Among Christians there are a number of differences such as matters of doctrine (eucharist, baptism, sacraments, authority), worship, Mariology, faith and good works, and requirements for salvation. These can be moderated by considering the actual differences, as is often done in commissions set up by church bodies. Examples of this would be ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission that produced the statement on justification (signed in 1999, and also ratified in 2006 by the World Methodist Council). (3)

One difference appearing in Australia relates to the style of worship. Some churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican, have a style of worship that is predominantly prescribed rather than spontaneous.

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