Week's Top Letter #3: Relook how interfaith dialogues are conducted

People walk across a busy junction of Cairnhill Road and Orchard Road, on Nov 24, 2017.
People walk across a busy junction of Cairnhill Road and Orchard Road, on Nov 24, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

Unfortunately, absent from the call "to educate our people to be a little more thick-skinned, to not be so easily offended by mere words or opinions" is an evaluation and specification of how religious and interfaith dialogues should be designed or strengthened (Going beyond religious tolerance, May 4).

The following need to be kept in mind: first, there are differing opinions within the same religions and faiths. It should not be assumed that any given congregation necessarily speaks for all counterparts of the same faith.

Second, other dialogues - with potentially more effective approaches and with more diverse representation - exist independently beyond the Government and non-profits like the Singapore Kindness Movement.

Third, those who do not identify with a religion or faith are often excluded from the process.

The discourse in religious or interfaith dialogues often appears to be disproportionately dominated by religious leaders who may or may not adequately represent the diversity of opinions held by the "lay people" who share the same faith.

Furthermore, dialogue themes veer too far either into the mundane (such as school-based exchanges or community engagement) or into the extremes (such as homosexuality or radicalisation and extremism), and as a consequence can feel too detached from the lived experiences of individuals.

Focusing on the representation of participants - including those who do not identify with a religion or faith - and the dialogue themes should offer a springboard to evaluate existing efforts and strategies to bring individuals together in conversation.

What is the most appropriate setting for participants to get acquainted with one another, and to what extent does exposure to various religious sites or places of worship facilitate the exchanges?

How do other demographic and socio-economic factors such as race, gender, sexuality and class feature among the participants and the topics covered?

How can dialogue formats be further diversified to go beyond those which are more conducive for the more-educated and the religious leaders?

And ultimately, what do participants across sessions collectively regard as their ongoing goals?

Kwan Jin Yao