The Urgency and Prospects for Intra-faith and Inter-religious Dialogue
in the World of the 21st century


Rev. Yoshinobu Miyake
President, RELNET CORP.

1. Dialogue or Encounter?

Why should intra-faith and inter-religious dialogue be an issue of such urgency as we approach the end of the 20th century? Hans Kung argued that "Without peace between faiths there can be no peace between states. Peace between faiths can not exist without dialogue between faiths." *1 But is he right? Can there be no world peace without inter-religious dialogue? Can we really consider such inter-religious dialogue as we have had thus far to be genuine inter-religious dialogue? In this article, I wish to consider the establishment of a methodology that might facilitate genuine dialogue between religions.

Humankind, having passed through two world wars and, now, the end of the cold war has more than enough economic, cultural and spiritual resources to create a better world, and yet at present there are on-going some 25 regional conflicts in which over 40 countries are involved. Science and technology make great leaps ahead, but poverty and famine and the destruction of nature continue unabated. Faced with these major crises, humankind needs a vision for peaceful coexistence. As can be seen from the major experimentation presently conducted in parts of Europe, the absolute character of that key component of international order in the modern era, namely the sovereign nation state, is under threat. The global approach has been introduced once more as a consequence of two factors: the increased role of NGO in the United Nations and the strident developments made in high quality communications. My analysis and comments on inter-religious methodology proceed with globalization as its key word.

Over the last twenty years or so, I have attended countless international conferences with my father and grandfather and have experienced life on the front line of inter-religious dialogue. My grandfather, the Most Rev. Toshio Miyake, was one of the first Japanese to promote inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. His activities began in the totalitarian state of Japan during WW2 when he offered help to an American Catholic priest, Fr. Patrick Byrne*2, who was detained on spying charges. My grandfather's position was that "even if we worship a different God; we are fellow religionists devoted to the service of humankind." Shortly after the war, he founded the Kokusai Shukyo Doshikai (International Religious Fellowship); in 1953, he toured Europe and America, meeting Pope Pius IXX, the Austrian President Coronell and US Secretary of State J.F. Dallas. He has since participated in more than 100 international conferences for peace through inter-religious dialogue all over the world. He devoted himself especially to the realization, the maintenance and development of the organization known as WCRP or the World Conference on Religion and Peace. From 1984 to 1994 he was an International President and the Chair of the Finance Committee. Since 1994 my father, the Rt. Rev. Tatsuo Miyake, has served in his place as an International President.

I was brought up in a family where, from my earliest years. I was aware of visits to my home in Osaka pretty well every year by leaders of other faiths from all over the world; and, from one month to the next, one member of my family or other would be disappearing overseas to participate at some international gathering. Moreover, brought up, though I was, in a family which was heir to a branch of a Shinto Sect, my parents advised me to attend the Protestant Doshisha University in Kyoto and to study Christian theology at Doshisha Divinity School. They also approved my marriage to a woman of the Buddhist faith. I grew up taking religious tolerance for granted.

The average Japanese will share Christmas with his or her partner or family, and a week later they and some 85 million other Japanese will head for a Shinto shrines to pay their first visit of the new year in a practice known as hatsumode. No one finds anything remotely odd in the fact that when a relative or friend died they will participate in a ceremony presided over by a Buddhist priest. In Japan, it is common enough not to discover until the funeral of a close friend, say, what religion he or she believed in throughout their lives. Nobody knows what the religion of the present Prime Minister is; nor that of one's boss at the company; no one wishes to know. Public institutions have completely severed their ties from religion, and religion is not allowed to interfere in political or economic decision-making processes. It is believed, in Japan, that religion belongs exclusively to the private realm. Conflict over religious differences or indeed religious conflict between states and peoples is unimaginable.

It is clear from a perusal of the world stage, however, that while all this might be common sense in Japan, it is most certainly not common sense in international society. To me, with my 20 years experiences of being on the front line so to speak of inter-religious dialogue, it is abundantly clear that inter-religious dialogue is a most problematic matter. I should like to proceed with an example that might help explain why it should be so problematic.

2. The Creation of Shared Values and a Common Language

In March 1996 I attended with my father, who was representing Shinto, a symposium on the commercial and sexual exploitation of children. It was held in New York at the UNICEF headquarters under the auspices of the WCRP. This symposium was designed to sound out the views of representative leaders of religions from around the world, and so give direction to an international conference of the same name scheduled for Stockholm in August. This latter conference was to be convened jointly by the Swedish royal family and UNICEF. Anyway, at the symposium were representatives of many different creeds: Bahai, Buddhism, Christianity (Catholic and Protestant), Hindu, Islam, Judaism, as well as Shinto and tribal faiths from central and southern America. Representatives debated the issue of the commercial and sexual abuse of children and even engaged in self-criticism for their past misdemeanors. It was a symposium of some considerable substance.

It was when we got down to the finer points, however, that problems arose. All matter of concrete problems were pointed out and solutions proposed by representatives of both developed and developing nations. Their observations and proposals, many of them of a supra-religious nature, covered social and economic origins for the emergence of those circumstances in which the commercial and sexual abuse of children had arisen. A decisive rupture occurred, however, over a matter of almost no consequence at all for the reform of the situation. It was over whether or not to introduce the idea of "rebirth" as an interpretation of the "religious" causes (such as fate, karma or what have you) that led to the abuse of the children concerned. The reason for the rupture was of course that, even if all this was of no social or economic consequence, it was an issue touching the roots of the doctrines of all these religions and their world-view, their view of humanity and their view of salvation. This was thus an issue on which no ground could be given. Finally, the representative of one monotheistic faith concluded the proceedings with these words: "The precondition for the establishment of inter-religious dialogue is the discovery of shared values and a common language. If we assume that our present dialogue has so far lacked these, then we should better term it not a dialogue at all but an encounter."

Here we encounter a suggestion of much value in the inter-religious dialogue context. When the speaker referred to a set of "shared values", he did not of course mean such ideological value systems as capitalism or socialism; when he talked of a common language, he did not of course mean English or Chinese. He referred, rather, to something akin to currency, to money in the economic world. Money transcends such differences in organizational form, in cultural backdrops and in ideologies as are manifest between, say, states and enterprises and individuals, or between Asia and Europe and America, or again between capitalism and socialism and nationalism. In a flash, money circulates everywhere; all actions may be evaluated according to its norms. Between enemies and allies, and between markets, money constitutes a shared value, a common language, through which information is exchanged and battles are fought. My topic here is the creation of an "exchange mechanism" (a set of shared values and common language) that does for religious dialogue what money does for the economy.

I wish to explore the method for creating a common concept, an equivalent for the religious world of money, and I take globalization as my model. From the outset allow me to explain that, when I talk of globalization, I do not of course mean the world standardization of Western society, or the world standardization of the Christian model. Below I investigate, rather, the applicability to religious dialogue of globalization theory.

In the 1970s, it was secularization, in the 80s post modernism, and in the 90s globalization that so conspicuously occupied the study of sociology of religion. Global is a world of some vintage, of course, but "globalization" is a more recent invention. Roland Robertson suggests that globalization means "the social shrinking of society" and "a growing awareness of the word as one totality".*3 The concept is altogether distinct from internationalization. Globalization develops in three dimensions of social life: economics, politics and culture. I wish to take up each of these issues in some detail.

3-1. The globalization of the economy

The globalization of the economy has its origins in trade. After the industrial revolution, world trade, taking the form of the exchange of commodities and services, expanded at a rapid rate. The dominant form of trade in the 19th century was imperialistic, and involved exchange between industrial areas on the one hand and regions supplying natural resources on the other. After WW2, the United States emerged as political, economic and military hegemony and, deploying what was known as GATT (present day WTO) as its main route, it constructed a free trade network suited to its own hegemonic requirements.

World trade implies the international division of labor. The world is divisible into developed and developing nations, modern states and traditional states, industrialized societies and non-industrialized states. Economic globalization both invited abhorrence of and raised expectations toward the activities of multinationals. For those who abhorred their activities, multinationals were a means of expanding globally their cruel, inhumane exploitation; for those with high hopes, multinationals were a powerful means to the end of investment, technical transfer, and the qualitative improvement of the labor force.

Then there is what we might call the "universalization" of the economic system. Ford's mass production techniques became, after WW2, a common formula for all the economies of the world. As is evident from a comparison of the "high tech" factories across the world, differences between cultures, cultural peculiarities, are tending to be subsumed under a unitary pattern of behavior. Naturally enough, there is evidence of the universalization phenomenon in the manner of management organization, too.

It goes without saying that nowhere in the economic world is globalization more advanced than in the financial markets. That is why in the present article, I identify modern nation states with individual religions and take financial markets as my model for the creation of a set of shared values and a common language.

At the same time, the opposite pole to the financial markets, where globalization is most advanced, is the labor market. The labor market in the modern nation state is bound by restrictions and is resistant to the influence of globalization. Indeed, globalization in the labor market was much more evident in the earlier stages of economic development. Slave traders between 1500 and 1850 dispatched some 9.5 million Africans to north and Latin America. Again, between 1845 and 1914, there was mass migration from Europe to the US, and 41 million white people moved to the new continent by their will.

In the world of religion, too, it was in the previous century that overseas missionary work was carried out with greatest fervor. What this seems to mean is that it is now no longer possible to transplant a geographical, historical, cultural climate, and the religion it has cultivated, into a different climate; and THAT explanations of the world that are confined to the "sacred canopy" woven by one religion and its world-view no longer hold water. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that all religions are now placed in an environment of pluralism where religion's absolute nature is under threat.

Immanuel Wallerstein has it that what we might justifiably call a "European world economy" emerged from the latter half of the 15th century through the early part of the 16th century. This was a world system which had the spread and the characteristics of an empire, and was greater than any institutionally determined political units.*4 In the world economy of the latter half of the 20th century, the powerful control mechanisms of the US, the EU and Japan are integrating national cultures, and it is thanks to that that they are in receipt of economic plenty.

3-2. The Globalization of Politics

In political science and international relations, there is a tendency to insist that the state occupies the position of prime importance in world politics, in questions, that is, of sovereignty and decision making. M. Waters, however, has challenged this approach and makes the following five points:

1. The expansion of economic and cultural links reduces the power and influence of governments at the level of the nation state;

2. Multi-national enterprises are frequently larger and more powerful than governments, and the state's influence decreases in proportion as supra-state processes expand in scale and number;

3. The realms of defense, communication and government, traditionally regarded as responsibilities of the state, now require international or intergovernmental adjustment;

4. Various states are ceding a portion of their sovereignty to larger political units such as the EU and ASEAN, and to multinational treaties such as NATO and OPEC and, again, to international bodies such as UN, WTO and IMF;

5. In other words, global control systems with their own politics and administrations are beginning to appear; and this connotes a significant shrinkage of state power.*5

Moreover, there is a globalization of problems to do with protection of the entire world. The basic principle, which sustained the system of international relations established by nation states in the 19th century, was the principle of sovereignty. In the world of religion, each religious group corresponds to a sovereign nation state. Just as giant states, like the US and China, and minuscule ones, like Monaco and Singapore, stand as independent sovereign states, so gigantic religious groups, like the Roman Catholic Church as well as minuscule cult groups with only a few score members, stand independently with their own doctrines (with doctrines corresponding to sovereignty). Just as there are despotic nations, like Iraq and North Korea, which are exclusionist with regard to the exterior, so too, in the world of religion, are there fundamentalist religious groups, which are similar to the extent that they, too, boast a thriving community even while provoking tensions with the periphery.

However, in the world situation of today, the idea that the sustaining principle of international relations is the sovereignty of nation states is frequently breached. It is breached on the grounds that the peoples of the globe are now confronting common problems that can not be solved by individual nation states. These issues, common to all peoples of the globe, include such as human rights, global environment, development, inequality, peace, and order. It is only natural that many religious groups, such as the WCRP, are giving due consideration to each of these issues.

3-3. The Globalization of Culture

Globalization in the realms of the economy and politics is proceeding fastest where relations are mediated by symbols. Economic globalization is mediated by the symbol of currency, and is progresses fastest in the financial markets where production is non-material. In political globalization, there are movements which seek to place greater weight on the values and problems shared across the globe than on material matters. To pursue this argument further, it becomes feasible to adopt the line that globalization is the culturalization, to coin a phrase, of social life.

Amongst the realms we can identify as cultural, it is religion that shows a particularly strong tendency toward globalization. Over the course of countless centuries, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, and other great religions of the world, established themselves as the source of universal values that transcended politics and economics. Modernization opposed this with great tales, by which I mean such progressive schema as, for example, capitalism, fascism or socialism. Until the end of the 20th century, the direction of modernization was clear to see. The globalization of modernization carried with it a range of phenomena: the universalization of western culture; the universalization of nation states that REFUSED TO accept the church or God as the object of higher loyalty; the secularization and increasingly abstract quality of laws underpinning the social order; and the establishment of multi-dimensional society.

Millennialism movements opposed themselves to the dead-end of modernization but, because they were unable to fulfil their promise of proffering greater material benefits than modernization, they ended in failure. However, the post modern condition demonstrates that the promise of the material flourishing of the modern world, and the social systems of class, mass production, mass consumption and nations states which constituted the foundations of the promise, lacked certainty. The globalized culture of the post-modern world appears to the proponents of modernization to lack order and to represent chaos. Post modernism accelerates the search for the single mythical truth which might sustain social norms and social activity; naturally enough, religious fundamentalism is a response to the post modern. F. Lechner describes fundamentalism like this: "Fundamentalism is a type of anti-modern, anti particularistic group activity which seeks out certain values; it is a social and cultural movement which has as its objective the restructuring of all dimensions of life in line with certain given values."*6

Another religious counter attack against globalization was ecumenism. As was most apparent at the 2nd Vatican Council, the 1960s and 70s saw a global dialogue, not just among the various Christian churches, in search of common spirituality, common principles and common scripture. Worthy of attention here is the WCRP movement which owed its creation to the initiative of Japanese religionists who had, till then, remained outside the "Western standard". The "miraculous" development of the post war Japanese economy was of historic importance because it demonstrated, for the first time, that economic development was possible by means other than those of the social and economic systems of the Western model that had already enjoyed some three hundred years of existence. Until the 1st WCRP meeting in Kyoto in 1970, ecumenism was confined within a structure where it meant intra faith dialogue by Christians or, at a stretch, dialogue between Christianity and other faiths. The inaugural WCRP was of great importance for a consideration of the globalization of religious dialogue, in the sense that it planted in the minds of participants the idea that Christianity was "but one among many creeds".

Industrialization spreads globally and promotes division of labor and functional specialization. These changes in structure bring about in their turn a transfer of values in the direction of individualism, universalism, secularization, and rationalization. T. Parsons insisted that the totality of these changes constituted modernization and that the changes would spread their tentacles throughout the world.*7 For thirty years after WW2 the idea that modernization would globalize stormed the world. Marshall McLuhan's observations on the global village were a penetrating insight into the issues of media and globalization.*8 For McLuhan, the definitive principle of culture was much less the content of a given culture than the media which transmitted it. Media implies all means beyond the senses, and so his position was one of technological determinism. McLuhan argued that the effects of electronic transmission and high speed communication were able to bring about the structural changes he referred to as "imploration". This was a reference to "people's ability to feel and to touch, in a flash, phenomena in far off places". With the procurement of contemporaneously and immediacy, the structure of the center and periphery of civilization would disappear. This is what he meant by the "global village".

4. Understanding the Limits of Globalization

So far, I have taken the model of globalization as it developed in three realms: economics, politics and culture, and have made reference to the possibilities of creating shared values and common language in order to bring about genuine dialogue in the religious world. It is my belief that religions can put to one side arguments about different doctrines and rituals, and engage seriously with such common issues CONFRONTING the peoples of this post modern world as human rights, global environment, development, inequality and peace and order; and that, by so doing, they can construct a set of values common to, and a language intelligible to, people of different religious backgrounds. In this sense, the study of global theory is of great benefit to a pursuit of intra-faith and inter-religious dialogue.

Finally, I have insisted uniquely on the affirmative aspects of globalization. Or rather, I have affirmed these developments ex post facto. Globalization is manifest typically in finance and business, which promotes global marketing; in communications networks which cross borders as they cover the world; and in environmental movements, which are supported in the search for the salvation of the globe. These various globalizing trends revitalize one another and influence one another, and thus the progress of globalization continues. Globalization, whether we like it or not, covers the entire modern world.

I do not know, however, whether or not we can say that globalization is a "good thing". The results of globalization are simply a world which is more uniformed and more systematized; there is no guarantee that it will lead to a better balanced world. Events in any part of the world may influence those in places far apart, but there is no assurance that this inter relationship will work constructively. It is clear, even without the example of the chaos of the international money markets, that a uniformed, systematized world may be torn asunder by conflicts far more difficult to contain than those between states.

Internationalization theory is the theorizing of those movements which define modern industrial society. However, globalization theory is evidently the theorizing about a phenomenon which is demonstrating the limitations of the globe in the post modern world. I would like to conclude my essay simply by pointing out that where the former stands for an optimistic, progressive Euro-centric, the latter, with regard to Euro-centric, is pessimistic and understands the former to be of only relative value in the world frame.


*1 Hans Kung , keynote speech, at the conference "In Search of New Values for the 21st Century". The conference was held in Kyoto in October 1998, and sponsored by the Asahi newspaper.

*2 Fr. Patrick Byrne, who became bishop after the war, was a missionary of the Maryknoll Society. He went to the Korean peninsular during the Korean war as a special papal emissary but was captured and murdered by communist guerillas.

*3 Roland Robertson, Globalization, London, Sage, 1992

*4 Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System, New York, Academic, 1974

*5 Waters, M., Globalization, London, Routledge, 1995

*6 Lechner, F., 'Fundamentalism Revised', in T. Robbins and D. Anthony (eds), In God We Trust, New Brunswick, Transaction, 1990

*7 Parsons, T., Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1966

*8 Marshall McLuhan, Explorations in Communication, Boston, Beacon Press, 1960