Reflections on Dialogue Theories

This review was first presented by Dr Athina Karatzogianni as part of the Dialogue Theories book launch at the University of Hull on November 28th, 2013, published here with the author’s permission.

This book makes a significant and engaging contribution to the literature on dialogue, while also being accessible to a wider public. Dialogue, whether between religions or cultures, is the central and crucial concept; it is at the heart of philosophical, religious and social studies: an existential focus point.

There is no one religion, one culture or one ideology or one discipline represented in this book. It is a cross-disciplinary look at inter-religious and intercultural dialogue. Each person’s contribution to dialogue is given attention in detail, but the book does really well also to provide biographical information on the thinkers, a look at their practice of dialogue, questions on their views and further reading. So the reader has a sense of the person’s life and work and how their theoretical or philosophical viewpoints have been practiced in the real world. Positive commitments to true principles of dialogue, such as trust, equality, tolerance and commitment to non-violent resolutions have affected people’s lives in diverse communities and forged better inter-faith understanding, as well as enabling sustainable conflict resolution.

A number of distinguished thinkers are included in this book. Their fields range from philosophy to religion and they include faith leaders. Martin Buber and Daniel Yankelovich find in dialogue the potential for a way out of the existential culs-de-sac of modern societies, Donal Carbaugh discusses the sensitivities of intercultural dialogue, Jurgen Habermas offers a model of transparent rational communication, while the physicist David Bohm uses a creative form of dialogue as a way to resolve world problems. Also religious scholars and practitioners, such as Karen Amstrong, a former Catholic nun, explore questions of compassion, while Maura O’Neill focuses on gender relations and inequalities. From the Islamic tradition, Fethullah Gülen uses dialogue to support peace and education initiatives, while Seyyed Hossein Nasr has an interfaith focus. The Dalai Lama is one of the stellar figures in this equation with his well-documented historical commitment to dialogue and non-violence.

Interestingly, some of these dialogue thinkers also talked to or influenced each other. For instance, Bohm talked with the Dalai Lama, and Yankelovich draws on Buber and Habermas. It is this exciting element of dialogue between scholars and practitioners that is so inspiring about this book. That, and the fact that it is explained in an accessible manner for a wider public that might not necessarily be aware of the specific debates in philosophical or religious intellectual circles. Great care is also needed in such work to show that a book about dialogue engages in an appropriately balanced and genuine dialogue itself, by engaging with different traditions and pointing to best practices. The Dialogue Society provides an example of the practice of some of these ideals.

Finally, the normative element is well balanced with a real life impact. And this really matters: books should have an impact on how individuals and groups engage with each other in building real partnerships for peace, for social change, which do not just reflect individual or group interests but the good of a common humanity in solidarity, and in peaceful exchanges between faiths, ideologies and peoples. Dialogue is about creating real partnerships. It is not just about co-existing with other people. I think this book shows why this commitment is crucial and sets out the ways in which each of these remarkable individuals have contributed, in thought and practice, to its development.

Dr Athina Karatzogianni

Dr Athina Karatzogianni

University of Hull

Dr Athina Karatzogianni holds a PhD in Politics from Nottingham, an MA in International Conflict Analysis from Kent, and a BA in International Relations with Politics from Lancaster.

Reader Interactions

Have Your Say