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The Study of Religions and Interfaith Encounter

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The varied national and international events marking the centenary of the 1893 Chicago Parliament of Religions culminating in the gathering of about seven thousand five hundred people in Chicago in 1993 have involved many academics. Their presence raises afresh the issue of the relationship between the scholarly study of religions and meetings for interfaith encounter. The scholar can be seen as a participant observer in an area of religious activity of considerable interest and importance in the contemporary world. He or she can also be an advisor and consultant in the interfaith process, helping to raise and analyse questions about the balance of participants and the style of discourse being used. Interfaith activity can both change the scholar and be changed by his or her presence in a parallel way to that of the anthropologist in the field. The scholar of religion finds considerable interest in how, at interfaith gatherings, members of religions define and articulate their religion's essence, select and use teachings and scriptural passages. The reporting of meetings at which members of different faiths share ideas and sometimes worship acts as a positive balance to negative media coverage of conflict and intolerance associated with religions. But there is a need for careful and critical examination of an interfaith confessionalism which may develop at such meetings.

Affiliations: 1: Westminster College GB—Oxford OX2 9AT


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