Interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e. “faiths”) and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism, or alternative religion in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions or beliefs to increase others’ acceptance rather than synthesize new beliefs.
The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs defines “the difference between ecumenical, interfaith, and interreligious relations”, as follows:
- “ecumenical” as “relations and prayer with other Christians”,
- “interfaith” as “relations with members of the ‘Abrahamic faiths’ (Jewish and Muslim traditions),” and
- “interreligious” as “relations with other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism”.
Some interfaith dialogues have more recently adopted the name interbelief dialogue, while other proponents have proposed the term interpath dialogue, to avoid implicitly excluding atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no religious faith but with ethical or philosophical beliefs, as well as to be more accurate concerning many world religions that do not place the same emphasis on “faith” as do some Western religions. Similarly, pluralistic rationalist groups have hosted public reasoning dialogues to transcend all worldviews (whether religious, cultural or political), termed transbelief dialogue. To some, the term interreligious dialogue has the same meaning as interfaith dialogue. Neither are the same as nondenominational Christianity. The World Council of Churches distinguishes between ‘interfaith’ and ‘interreligious’. To the WCC, interreligious refers to action between different Christian denominations. So, interfaith refers to interaction between different faith groups such as Muslim and Christian or Jew for example.
Throughout the world there are local, regional, national and international interfaith initiatives; many are formally or informally linked and constitute larger networks or federations. The often-quoted “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions” was formulated by Hans Küng, a Professor of Ecumenical Theology and President of the Global Ethic Foundation. Interfaith dialogue forms a major role in the study of religion and peacebuilding.
United Religions Initiative (www.uri.org)
The United Religions Initiative (URI) is a global grassroots interfaith network.
It has local and global initiatives through more than 800 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights.
The organization was founded by William E. Swing, along with David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney. The URI Charter was signed by more than two-hundred people present, and hundreds more joining over the Internet, at a ceremony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA on June 26, 2000. URI also holds consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Before the formal charter signing in 2000, URI supporters around the world participated together in a project called “72 Hours for Peace”, in which more than 250 local organizations united in projects promoting peace and justice during the turn of the millennium.
Examples of global and member initiatives documented in the public record:
The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative has played a key role in promoting peace in war-torn northern Uganda. The Ugandan groups are also participants in the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund supported by the World Bank.
URI Cooperation Circles are self-organizing and self-governing, choosing what issues to take on and how. This Agenda for Action, inspired by a Javanese phrase, Memayu Hayuning Bawano, meaning “to work for the safety, happiness and welfare of all life,” is offered as guidance for CC activities.
Faith Traditions: Actions to promote daily interfaith dialogue, understanding and education. Healing and Peace: Actions to prevent and mediate religiously motivated conflict and promote reconciliation. Rights and Responsibilities: Actions to uphold and promote human rights. Ecological Imperatives: Actions to promote environmental welfare.
Sustainable Just Economics: Actions to close the poverty gap. The URI Community: Actions to support URI and its activities.
“URI is creating tools and methodologies that are allowing it to grow deep roots while its rapid global growth is sowing seeds for…cooperation and peace across the world” — Kevin Jones and Mark Beam of Collective Intelligence
URI is a grassroots, decentralized network for peace and social change that enhances local initiative through global connections. Our unique design allows for border-crossing among faith traditions, member organizations and regions; propels rapid, self-replicating growth; and extends our chartered principles into partnerships to transform communities and entire regions.
URI is comprised of hundreds of member Cooperation Circles, groups of at least seven members representing at least three different religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions who subscribe to the Preamble, Purpose and Principles of URI’s Charter. Cooperation Circles are connected to one another and the whole of URI by eight regional anchor points: North America; Africa; Asia; Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; the Middle East and North Africa; Southeast Asia and the Pacific; and Multi-Region, whose issue-based CCs span multiple geographic regions
Cooperation Circles participate in governance by electing Trustees to the Global Council, which oversees URI’s strategic growth. Decisions are made using processes that engage URI’s membership and follow policies and guidance provided by the Global Council. The Executive Director, through authority granted by the Global Council, manages staff and leads day-to-day operations.
Global Assemblies of the URI community are held periodically to give CCs an opportunity to deepen connections, share best practices, and align strengths. These important gatherings increase the community’s capacity to carry forward global initiatives; share and implement visions of collective actions for peace, justice and healing; build cross-regional partnerships; inaugurate a new Global Council, and celebrate the tremendous collective achievements of URI.
Rights and Responsibilities of Cooperation Circles
Each Cooperation Circle has the right, in accordance with URI’s Preamble, Purpose and Principles:
- To organize in any manner and around any issue or activity
- To determine its own process of governance and decision-making
- To choose to combine with or join any other URI CCs
- To participate in the selection of Trustees to serve on the Global Council
- To use the name URI and its related names, logos, and images
- To review and forward to the CC Approval Committee applications for membership from those seeking to join
Each Cooperation Circle accepts the responsibility:
- To act in accordance with the Preamble, Purpose and Principles
- To determine its own process of governance and decision-making
- To encourage and ensure that its own members act in accordance with the Preamble, Purpose and Principles
- To actively work toward achieving the Purpose in accordance with the Principles
- To adhere to bylaws and operating procedures as they evolve in the life of URI
- To communicate best practices, stories and highlights of activities with other parts of URI
- To develop financial and other resources to meet its own needs
- To share financial and other resources to help meet the needs of other CCs
- To pay any dues and/or offer such appropriate contribution as the Global Council may establish
- To keep accurate and current records of its members, financial transactions and activities
- To indemnify and hold the Trustees, URI, its employees and representatives, harmless from any liabilities arising out of or in any way caused by a URI CC’s breach of any provision of the articles, bylaws or operating procedures Global Council
The Global Council of Trustees (GC) is URI’s primary governing body. Elected by Cooperation Circles, its purpose is to help make real the vision and values of the Preamble, Purpose and Principles and ensure the long-term health and vitality of the organization. It is responsible for developing financial and other resources to meet the needs of URI, accepting applications for membership, and managing the organization’s affairs. The central spirit of the Global Council is not one of control, but rather one of service, informed by the aspirations of the whole URI community to be a positive force for peace, justice, and healing in the world.
We use the term trustee in its truest sense: URI Trustees carry the trust of the entire global URI membership, charged with representing their interests in the larger body. The Trustees of URI are exemplary leaders who manifest the vision and values of the Preamble, Purpose and Principles through their actions, and have a deep commitment to serve the whole of the URI community.
The majority of the Global Council’s seats are filled through regional elections in which Cooperation Circles select up to three Trustees for their region. The Global Council may also appoint several Trustees to ensure optimum diversity and to meet the need for particular expertise. Trustees are elected every three years. Founder and President Bishop William Swing and URI’s Executive Director also hold seats on the GC.
URI’s bottom-up structure means that it is constantly evolving as an organization, growing and changing to reflect the interests of its constituent members. Explore the links above and in the sidebar to learn more about our history and charter; click here to read our bylaws; or, for a closer look at URI’s creation, a four-year process that involved hundreds of stakeholders, we recommend that you read Birth of a Global Community, a book co-authored by Executive Director Charles Gibbs and Director for Organization and Regional Development Sally Mahé. To purchase this book, contact URI.
- We, people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world, hereby establish the United Religions Initiative to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.
- We respect the uniqueness of each tradition and differences of practice or belief.
- We value voices that respect others and believe that sharing our values and wisdom can lead us to act for the good of all.
- We believe that our religious, spiritual lives, rather than dividing us, guide us to build community and respect for one another.
- Therefore, as interdependent people rooted in our traditions, we now unite for the benefit of our Earth community.
- We unite to build cultures of peace and justice.
- We unite to heal and protect the Earth.
- We unite to build safe places for conflict resolution, healing and reconciliation.
- We unite to support freedom of religion and spiritual expression, and the rights of all individuals and peoples as set forth in international law.
- We unite in responsible cooperative action to bring the wisdom and values of our religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions to bear on the economic, environmental, political and social challenges facing our Earth community.
- We unite to provide a global opportunity for participation by all people, especially by those whose voices are not often heard.
- We unite to celebrate the joy of blessings and the light of wisdom in both movement and stillness.
- We unite to use our combined resources only for nonviolent, compassionate action, to awaken to our deepest truths, and to manifest love and justice among all life in our Earth community.
The purpose of the United Religions Initiative is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.
The URI is a bridge-building organization, not a religion.
- We respect the sacred wisdom of each religion, spiritual expression and indigenous tradition.
- We respect the differences among religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions.
- We encourage our members to deepen their roots in their own tradition.
We listen and speak with respect to deepen mutual understanding and trust.
- We give and receive hospitality.
- We seek and welcome the gift of diversity and model practices that do not discriminate.
- We practice equitable participation of women and men in all aspects of the URI.
- We practice healing and reconciliation to resolve conflict without resorting to violence.
- We act from sound ecological practices to protect and preserve the Earth for both present and future generations.
- We seek and offer cooperation with other interfaith efforts.
- We welcome as members all individuals, organizations and associations who subscribe to the Preamble, Purpose and Principles.
- We have the authority to make decisions at the most local level that includes all the relevant and affected parties.
- We have the right to organize in any manner, at any scale, in any area, and around any issue or activity which is relevant to and consistent with the Preamble, Purpose and Principles.
- Our deliberations and decisions shall be made at every level by bodies and methods that fairly represent the diversity of affected interests and are not dominated by any.
- We (each part of the URI) shall relinquish only such autonomy and resources as are essential to the pursuit of the Preamble, Purpose and Principles.
- We have the responsibility to develop financial and other resources to meet the needs of our part, and to share financial and other resources to help meet the needs of other parts.
- We maintain the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct, prudent use of resources, and fair and accurate disclosure of information.
- We are committed to organizational learning and adaptation.
- We honour the richness and diversity of all languages and the right and responsibility of participants to translate and interpret the Charter, Articles, Bylaws and related documents in accordance with the Preamble, Purpose and Principles, and the spirit of the United Religions Initiative.
- Members of the URI shall not be coerced to participate in any ritual or be proselytized