Toward a Christian Theology of Dialogic Communication at the Grassroots Level in a Multireligious Context

Article excerpt

Theologies in India

Over the years, theological thinking in the South Asian context has undergone many changes. At the beginning of the Indian philosophical schools, it was mainly Brahminical texts and thoughts that influenced the theological framework. (1) Later, contextual theologies emerged and critiqued some of the dominant Brahminical influences on Indian Christian theologies, because many South Asian Christians were from a non-Brahminical background. (2) Thus, on the one hand, Christian theologies in India have not often emerged from the theological seminaries and moved toward the churches and grassroots Christians because of the sophistication or ideological influence of these theologies. On the other hand, the churches are exposed to charismatic and evangelical theologies from parachurch organizations and preachers. It is quite likely that a parallel system of theological institutions, with evangelical and popular support, may emerge (and in many contexts have already emerged) to counter established theological colleges, thereby challenging the established churches in their basic theological and ministerial training. One of the reasons might be the strong emphasis on contextual theologies and a narrow academic approach to biblical texts on the part of these parachurch organizations and preachers. The aim of this essay is to go beyond such theologies and to explore a new methodology of "doing theology" in a South Asian context. This new approach has to take into account both people's experiences in multicultural and pluralistic contexts and the diverse competing narratives and their religious interpretations. The approach addresses how people can be committed to their own faith, tradition, and culture while recognizing, engaging, and interacting with the presence of the faith, tradition, and cultures of those around them. The aim is to create a dialogic space at the grassroots level to enable communities both to coexist and also to work toward a mutual coexistence involving respecting and recognizing one another's religious faith. Considering the present realities of religious conflicts, this approach becomes very important and relevant, particularly for South Asian contexts.

Interreligious Dialogue

Often, interreligious discussions at the leadership and intellectual levels have failed either due to a fear of accepting syncretism or due to an exclusive or pluralistic position taken by the participants. What may prevent Christian lay members from holding a dialogue with other religious communities is misunderstanding that dialogue is against their evangelistic mission or that they may have to give up their claims of uniqueness. Some Hindus may believe that dialogue is only for intellectuals who deal with Sanskrit texts and understand the relationships among religious texts and so on. Others may even think that dialogue means accepting the position that all religions lead people to the same God. (3) Interreligious dialogue is often misunderstood at the grassroots level for one or another of these reasons. I therefore want to highlight the need for an alternative method for engaging in dialogue among different religious communities.

My aim is to promote dialogue, at the grassroots level, among people who are strong believers living a simple faith of theft own, for previous attempts at dialogue have been carried out mainly at an intellectual or leadership level. Interreligious dialogue at the grass roots refers to establishing contact, presence, communication, relationships, and understanding between two persons or communities of different religions. This dialogue could enrich the process that already exists in many contexts such as tea shops, where dialogue among people of different faiths is already happening. Such a dialogic process may become the means to address many areas of religious conflict and social unrest. Instead of confronting one another, communities could work together to find a way to live in harmony. …