Professor Gary Bouma, UNESCO Chair in Inter-Cultural and Inter-Religious Relations, has published a recent article that broadens the challenges of interreligious engagements through a deepened understanding of the diversity of religions–those of ‘packaged’ and ‘lived’ experiences.

Abstract: The use of intercultural dialogue (ICD) to promote intergroup understanding and respect is considered as a key to reduce tensions and the likelihood of conflict. This paper argues that understanding the differences among religions – those between packaged and lived religion – enhances the chances of success and makes the effort more challenging. Religions contained and packaged are found in formally organised expressions of religion – churches, denominations, synagogues, mosques, temples and so on. For packaged religions, religious identity is singular and adherents are expected to identify with only one religion and are assumed to accept the whole package of that religion. ICD in this context involves communicating with religious groups such as organisations and encouraging different leaders to speak with each other resulting in platforms filled with ‘heads of faith’ – bishops muftis, ayatollahs, chief rabbis, swamis and so on. In contrast, lived religions involve ritual practices engaged in by individuals and small groups, creation of shrines and sacred spaces, discussing the nature of life, sharing ethical concerns, going on pilgrimages and taking actions to celebrate and sustain hope.There is some evidence that, although packaged religions are declining, lived religions continue at persistent levels. Violent extremism is more likely to be associated with lived rather than packaged forms of religion, making a more balanced intercultural competences approach to ICD critical to countering conflict.

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