Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The "Dialogue of Civilizations" at the Tipping Point: The "Dialogosphere"

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The "Dialogue of Civilizations" at the Tipping Point: The "Dialogosphere"

Article excerpt

The year 2015 marks in general a number of milestones that lead me to reflect on how much has happened in the past half century or so--while I am still around to do so. It is now seventy years since the end of World War II (which, Deo gratias, I missed by two years--I was born at the beginning of the Great Depression year, January 6, 1929, so that I could with Louis XIV say: A pres moi la deluge!), roughly fifty years since the religion-rocking Vatican II, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, and about the same for the founding of Temple University's Department of Religion and my teaching here. On the other end of the time spectrum, this will also mark the beginning of the Journal's being published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Here, then, are some of my current thoughts about dialogue.

In 1992, Samuel Huntington of Harvard University made the idea of a "Clash of Civilizations" prominent. (1) Many have since pointed out that although there clearly is a clash among civilizations occurring in the world today. There is, in fact, a growing dialogue among civilizations. The question is: Which is winning? I want to argue not only that dialogue is beginning to win, that, in fact, we are at a "Tipping Point"--but also that, because victory is by no means guaranteed, I wish to contribute to dialogue's victory, as I have been endeavoring to do for over half a century. (2) I invite all who read my words or hear my voice to join in this desperately vital struggle.

To think intelligently about a "Dialogue of Civilizations" we need first be clear about what "civilization" and "dialogue" mean. Even before we can talk about civilization, however, we must recognize that at the heart of every civilization is religion, which both shapes and reflects that civilization. Hence, I would like to begin with a brief description of how I understand religion--and today, its functional equivalent, ideology.

I. Religion (Ideology)

There is much talk among scholars about what religion is, with a plethora of descriptions and definitions. Here is my definition, which I believe is relatively comprehensive, and yet sufficiently brief, clear, and memorable as to be a helpful tool in the study and understanding of religion:

   Religion is an explanation of the ultimate meaning of life and how
   to live accordingly, based on a notion and experience of the
   Transcendent.

Every religion normally contains the four Cs: Creed, Code, Cult, and Community- structure.

Creed refers to the "meaning" aspect of a religion, everything in the "explanation of the ultimate--not partial, like the biological, psychological, sociological, etc.--meaning of life.

Code of behavior, or ethics, includes all the rules and customs of action--what we should or should not do--that follow from the Creed.

Cult means all the ritual activities that relate the follower to the Transcendent, either directly, such as prayer or meditation, or indirectly, such as behavior toward "representations" of the Transcendent, such as Torah scrolls, consecrated hosts, Qur'ans, etc.

Community-structure refers to the relationships among the followers; this can vary widely, from an egalitarian relationship, as with Quakers (no clergy-- all members are equal), through a "republican" structure as Presbyterians have (representative presbyters or elders make the decisions), to a monarchical one (wherein one person finally makes the decisions), as Catholics have with a bishop in each diocese and the pope overall.

The Transcendent, as the roots of the word indicate--Latin: "trans," beyond; "scend," to go, as in "ascend" or "descend"--means "what goes beyond" the everyday experience of reality. It can mean spirits, gods, a Personal God, an Impersonal God, Emptiness, etc. The religious person not only "thinks" this is the case, but also, at least at some minimal level, "experiences" or "feels" this to be so. …

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