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Pathways for dialogue in the 21st century: what we learned at Assisi 2012.

At a time when dialogue between churches and faiths has been described as being in a state of impasse and decline for some time, as has that between faith communities and the wider world in which they live out their faith, sources of hope and inspiration for the transformation of such a status quo are much needed. Many reading this essay will be all too familiar with the fallout from the ecumenical winter that descended in the 1980's that has continued to blight the lives of churches ever since. The advances in interfaith dialogue made in the 1960's through the 1990's in particular were also tempered by ideological and methodological shifts as well as those political and cultural developments that undermined much of the progress made by the rum of the century. Various conflicts and September 11, 2001, and the subsequent responses to it have further damaged religious understanding, harmony, and coexistence.

In the past three decades or so, there has been an increasing shift in focus and attention to a broader understanding of the dialogue needed in these times. This has been described as the transformation to a "wider ecumenism." In itself, as an aspiration, this was not completely new, although the methodological and practical attentiveness now given to it was. (1)

In still more recent times, the urgent need for new pathways for dialogue has been accentuated even further--and not simply in light of global conflicts and ethnic tensions in so many societies. In addition to the strained relations across differing faiths that widen the imperative for ecumenism to be reenergized and for its outreach to be expanded, there is just as urgent a need for ecumenical and dialogical advances now to be developed and applied within particular churches and faith communities, as the increasingly fraught tensions and divisions within certain of them in recent years make all too evident, as do the intrareligious clashes between differing branches of the Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist families in many countries. Do the hope, will, and energy exist to reignite the ecumenical and interfaith dialogical flame for our century? A gathering in Assisi, Italy, in April, 2012, helped to demonstrate that they clearly do.

This gathering, organized and facilitated by the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network, took as its focus, "Where We Dwell in Common: Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century." It drew together over 250 participants from around the globe, from fife-five countries and from many different churches and faith communities, to explore the theme of dialogue from the perspectives of the past, present, and future. The overall aim of the gathering was to discern new ways, means, and methods of advancing the dialogical cause with renewed energy for a new century. It was intended to be not so much a conference, convention, or event as the beginning of a process--indeed, a series of ongoing processes. The intention was to identify, share, and shape, as well as to put into practice, productive pathways for dialogue for these times. The organizers wished participants not just to be speaking about dialogue but to be engaging in it on multiple levels--being together, interacting, sharing, and opening up to other possible perspectives.

We cannot overlook the fact that the world has changed in dramatic ways. Cultural, intellectual, and social trends and developments impact ecumenical and ecclesial life as much as they do any other area of human existence. We need to discern the numerous implications of the obvious fact that the world in the twenty-first century is very different from what it was in previous times. Therefore, in clearing pathways for dialogue we need to be mindful of this. Accordingly, such pathways need to be developed in innovative ways. Hence, the 2012 gathering was, above all else, aimed at encouraging ecumenical, interfaith, and faith-world "thinking outside the box." It brought together a richly diverse array of voices in order to help make this happen.

The venue of Assisi was chosen because of its long and instinctive association with openness, charity, dialogue, peace, harmony, and communion--with the particular charisms of the orders founded by Francis and Clare alike having helped to inspire countless ventures in promoting dialogue and openness among peoples. It was fitting that the event took place in the "Year of Clare," marking the 800th anniversary of the foundation of Santa Chiara's order. The organizing committee that worked long and hard for over two years to make the event possible formed a truly dedicated team from widely differing contexts and experiences. Speaking as someone who observed their work closely, I found their collective hope and energy to be truly inspiring.

We deliberately set out to bring as many people as possible to this conversation table from outside the confines of Europe and North America, so it was greatly encouraging to see many participants present from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. We especially wished to bring as many "emerging scholars" as possible to have their voices heard. These are the people who will have to deliver in the long term to ensure that the pathways for dialogue in this century will become fruitful ones, free of stultifying obstacles. We believed it best to get them involved in that work as early as possible. Many participants remarked on how inspiring and encouraging it was to see so many younger people interacting with the older generations and sharing their own wisdom and energy toward the furtherance of dialogue.

The Method of Assisi 2012

Following the opening day, where we introduced the theme of "thinking outside the ecumenical box," the gathering as a whole adopted a threefold division across the remaining three full days, (2) allowing participants first of all to explore "What Remains Divisive." Next, we explored "Where We Dwell in Common," and, finally, in light of a comparison of the two, we sought new ways to "Reenergize the Ecumenical and Interfaith Cause." What sort of dialogue were we engaging in at Assisi, then? It was dialogue in multiple forms and at multiple levels. It is helpful here to reflect upon some thoughts from Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a great pioneer of "thinking outside the ecumenical box," himself, who has reminded us of some of the different forms of dialogue that have been spoken about in recent decades. (3) He referred to the fourfold division set down in the Vatican's 1984 document Dialogue and Mission and succinctly summarized in the 1991 document, Dialogue and Proclamation (DP), (with neither document prioritizing these forms in any particular order): (4)
   The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and
   neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human
   problems and preoccupations.

   The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate
   for the integral development and liberation of people.

   The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to
   deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages,
   and to appreciate each other's spiritual values.

   The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in
   their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for
   instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of
   searching for God or the Absolute. (5)


DP then notes that these differing forms of dialogue are mutually interdependent, before singling out the special relevance of dialogue to the causes of human liberation, social justice, and integral development. (6) To his own account, Fitzgerald added a brief reflection upon the necessary "dispositions needed for dialogue," among which he included openness to the truth (through which dialogue can become a deep learning process), patience, perseverance, and an awareness of what obstacles might stand in the way of dialogical progress. (7)

We encountered each of those forms and tried to encourage further such dispositions throughout our gathering in Assisi. There are, of course, still more differing forms and levels of dialogue within churches and other faiths, between churches and faiths, and between faith communities and their wider societies. There are also many analogous forms of dialogue in other faith traditions and obviously many that transcend faith divisions altogether--many of which were also encountered at this Umbrian assembly. (8)

While our default modus operandi for the gathering was "thinking outside the box," it is important to stress that, in terms of the understanding of such in the organizational and methodological deliberations, this does not at all mean jettisoning the past or rejecting or neglecting other forms of dialogue and ecumenical and interfaith achievement. At Assisi 2012, the intention was not only to encourage innovation but also to learn from the best of the past. Therefore, at this gathering, we sought to revisit, learn from, renew, and adapt some of the methodologies employed to great effect in dialogical conversations in the past. We also sought to learn from more recent successful dialogical ventures and from different ways of approaching dialogue from both within and outside of the formal ecumenical and interfaith movements. Where particular pathways for dialogue have proved innovative and successful, despite the challenges faced in ensuring that genuine conversation takes place, we wished to learn from these stories. We wished also to learn from and encourage dialogue "from below" and from the margins as much as from the institutions and communities pursuing and promoting dialogue in more formal ways. All in all, we hoped to discuss, to enhance, and to promote the "science of bridge-building" for our contemporary communities and for their shared tomorrows.

Bridges between Differing Forms of Discourse: From Tracks of Diplomacy to Pathways for Dialogue

One distinctive methodological area on which we focused, in particular, concerned how we might bring together actors involved in some of the differing forms of dialogue in order that their interactions and exchanges might benefit all concerned and might therefore increase the overall energy and dynamism toward fruitful ends. It is well known, of course, that there has been an enormous amount of discourse about dialogue at the official level generated by formal bodies and committees and institutions, just as there has been much literature about grassroots initiatives and collaboration. What there is relatively little attention to at present, however, is how a bridge might be made between these two levels. The good folk of Assisi 2012 were an experiment in building such a bridge. This requires some further explanation.

No participant attended Assisi as an official delegate. This was because we were engaged in something necessarily different from but complementary to official processes of dialogue between churches and faiths. Here, one of the most illuminating ways of understanding what we were trying to do comes from drawing upon the language and terminology of the ongoing work being undertaken in situations of peace-building and conflict-resolution. In order to explicate the methodology of Assisi 2012, it is especially helpful to draw an analogy with processes of diplomacy in situations of conflict in the political realm. A framework in recent years has been developed that delineates different processes and practitioners in such diplomacy and situations of conflict and tension. It is called the Tracks of Diplomacy Framework.

One recent study and survey of the distinctive forms of such diplomacy helps illustrate the nuanced distinctions and areas of focus that the differing forms take on; in particular, they help show that the dividing line between official and unofficial diplomacy is no longer so clearly demarcated as once believed, that such a dividing line is no longer rigid--whether in effect or even in terms of how such should be perceived. In my opinion, the ecumenical and interfaith efforts for our times might learn a great deal from reflection upon such a framework and the issues that have led to the emergence of this discourse. Let us consider a particularly instructive passage and set of definitions from that study of diplomatic processes:
      Peaceful resolution of international conflict is the objective
   of both official and unofficial diplomacy. The distinction between
   Track 1 and 2 diplomacy ... captures the idea that these are
   parallel forms of intervention. Track 1 practitioners are foreign
   service professionals who primarily implement the policies of their
   governments; they are representatives of the state. Track 2
   practitioners, on the other hand, are citizens from a variety of
   sectors who consult with parties on all sides of a dispute; they
   are nonstate actors. These practices have developed separately, as
   have the corresponding academic specialties of diplomacy and
   international conflict resolution (ICR)....

      In more recent years, the practices have, at least to some
   extent, converged. Official and unofficial practitioners often work
   together on the same conflict. Recognizing this development,
   several international conflict resolution scholars have noticed a
   new type of practice emerging where the tracks meet ... Others have
   suggested ways to connect the activities of the tracks within the
   same negotiation process ... or within official diplomatic
   institutions and cultures ... As a result, the idea of a track that
   bridges official and unofficial activities has been proposed. It is
   referred to as Track 1 1/2. This emerging ICR practice is defined
   by Nan ... as unofficial intervenors working with official
   representatives of the conflict parties. However, little research
   has been done to establish a strong empirical basis for this idea.
   An attempt is made in this study to provide the evidence necessary
   to support the concept. (9)


So, essentially, Track 1 involves official voices--such as foreign-office personnel. Track 2 involves unofficial and grassroots voices and practitioners. What has emerged recently is a "Track one-and-a-half diplomacy," which tries to bridge the gap between T1 and T2 and to encourage a two-way exchange of insight and inspiration between the two. (10)

Tobias Bohmelt's account of the literature is this field helps expand upon the definitions and offers much food for thought in terms of the analogous insights that ecumenical and interfaith dialogue might draw upon from such research. He tells us that "T1 is essentially an interstate process where communication goes from one official party directly to the decisionmaking apparatus of another actor," whereas "T2 is an unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversarial groups or nations with the goals of developing strategies, influencing public opinions and organizing resources in ways that might help resolve the conflict." Such "can be more subtle, personal and free from the constraints of T1, as it involves NGO activity and back-channel measures." Indeed, key studies suggest that "value-based conflicts about identity, survival and fears of the other can only be effectively addressed by T2 diplomacy that seeks to change the underlying relationships so as to promote a mutual understanding and acknowledgement of each other's concerns." (11) Here, in particular, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue might have much to learn, given the nature and characteristics of many disputes and conflicts within and across faith communities.

These forms of dialogue might also find a great deal to learn from the emergence of Track 1.5. (12) While it is clear that not all T1.5 does or must involve third parties, the Ecclesiological Investigations Network has sought to fulfill such a role from its inception and was

especially concerned to do so (albeit in somewhat differing terms to those described by Bohmelt), in and through the Assisi process. (13) The expanded definitions offered by Nan and her colleagues appear to widen further the understanding of T1.5. (14) They point toward a key distinction between T2 and T1.5 initiatives as being frequently indicated by differences in "the level of society engaged." (15) Across both tracks, they also found "the distinction between diversified and process-focused projects," with the former embracing multiple goals and the later focused "more specifically on interactive processes and attitude change." (16) Bohmelt's survey also underlined how the success of Tracks of Diplomacy lay in their ability to create "turning points" and to provide incentives to overcome conflict. (17) Again, ecumenical and interfaith pathways for dialogue mirror every one of these scenarios. (18)

Assisi 2012 was an experiment that sought to test this theory about bridge-building between differing forms of dialogue in practice. We sought to bring together people with experience of official discussions as well as those from grassroots ecumenical ventures in order to build a bridge between the two. Instead of speaking about "tracks of diplomacy," however, we chose to speak about "pathways for dialogue"--which is more evocative, open-ended, and existentially engaging than the more formal-sounding diplomatic language. Of course, tracks can meet, but the problem is that they run parallel or in different directions for the most part. Pathways are always intersecting or being cleared anew.

We did not wish Assisi 2012 to be seen as an event where differing factions and competing interest groups came together merely to rehearse overtly familiar arguments about lines in the sand that divide people of differing faith communities today. Indeed, there were neither delegations nor official representatives speaking and acting on behalf of any faith community, group, or organization at this gathering. Thus, "formal scripts" were neither required nor desired at this event.

Of course, many participants had been and continue to be involved in official Track 1 modes of dialogue, and they were encouraged to speak out of their experiences of such, albeit not to a party line but, rather, to an existential orientation toward discerning what pathways will work best in our own times. (19) Stepping back to a still earlier stage in the processes of dialogue, people have spoken in the past of a movement "from encounter to dialogue," and in many ways such an approach mirrors the charism of Saint Francis, something we hoped would inspire all gathered in his ancient city.

This is why it was especially significant, with the exception of the event's gracious hosts, Archbishop Sorrentino and the custodians, friars, and sisters of the local Franciscan and Clarissan houses and churches, that all participants were invited to this gathering in their capacity as private individuals--that is, not as representatives and spokespersons of particular churches, religions, traditions, and organizations. We wished every participant to feel free to be able to voice opinions and reflections without fear or favor--that they could offer observations, safe in the knowledge that they would be taken as constructive contributions rather than definitive and representative public pronouncements.

Returning to the Tracks of Diplomacy, it is significant that there have also been distinctions made between differing types of ecumenism, from the official to the grassroots to the broader conceptions mentioned at the outset--and this also proves complementary to the method we were hoping to shape. Indeed, throughout the four days of the event, we also wished to include important considerations of the task of "wider ecumenism" (macro- or "total" ecumenism)--that is to say, of dialogue across the human family with people of all faiths and none, addressing a multitude of challenging contexts. While it is true that the majority of participants were coming out of Christian communities or at least from a Christian background, nevertheless, the widely differing varieties of such that were brought together proved especially valuable in the ensuing dynamics.

Assisi 2012, then, had its own framework. We first explored ongoing causes of division, within or across particular religious communities, including disputes that are doctrinal, sacramental, or organizational in character, as well as those that are moral, social, ethnic, and cultural in character. We then turned to sources and features of commonality--pertaining to shared or complementary beliefs, commitments, ethical and social endeavors, our common humanity, and our shared concern and responsibility for the earth. Through engaging in a qualitative comparison of the significance of the two, the intention was to encourage participants to set their hearts and minds toward reenergizing the ecumenical cause (20) through resolutely pushing our thinking outside the box to new levels.

Each day of the gathering explored three thematic areas of focus: exploring the issues brought to the table from intrachurch as well as interchurch perspectives, exploring these issues from interfaith as well as intrafaith contexts and perspectives, and, finally, exploring relations between faith communities and the wider world in which such communities must live out their faith.

This returns us again to the notion of the "wider ecumenism" and the necessity to address that perennial dialogue between faith communities and the cultures and societies in which persons live out their faithfulness to their religious traditions. Not least of all, we wished to feature reflection from and upon the various forms and methods that have emerged in recent decades pertaining to "public theology" and intracultural, as well as cross-cultural ethical and social discourse in the age of globalization. In a post-secular age, in which all faith communities are challenged by pressing moral and social issues such as racism, migration, war, globalization, etc., along with sociocultural and intellectual developments such as militant atheism, it was important to remember that dialogue with people of no particular faith is equally as important as shared concerns for our world that transcend religious divides.

In all of this, then, it was anticipated that the gathering would partly involve what we might call Track 2 ecumenism and, perhaps to a much greater extent, what we could term Track 1.5 ecumenism. What participants were particularly engaged in and what we hoped each of them would continue to energize when they left at the end of the week was an intermediate stage or process toward goals that were not yet defined in explicit terms beyond the seeking of greater understanding, peace, and harmony.

Therefore, in Assisi, "dialogue from below" also featured prominently as a method and as a reflective resource--not simply the grassroots levels of ecumenism in recent times, though these are most important and did, indeed, feature as the focus of many contributions, but also historical examples of ecumenism "from below" and of genuinely heuristic, explanatory, and exploratory pathways for dialogue. We hoped that the "Spirit of Assisi" would infuse our conversations throughout, and we were not disappointed.

In many ways there have been forms of Track 2 and Track 1.5-type dialogue in ecumenical and interfaith ventures in the past. Doubtless before the Council of Ferrara-Florence in the fifteenth century, much work behind the scenes had been going on for some time to try to bring the Greek and Latin branches of the Christian family back to closer union. During the religious controversies of the sixteenth century, many noble souls worked tirelessly to overcome the polemics and increasingly unchristian divisions raging across Europe. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed some such ventures, and the early twentieth century certainly did. Aside from such ventures as the World's Parliament of Religions, which first met in 1893, one could say that, for the greater part, interfaith initiatives, at least on a larger scale, have mostly taken on the form of Track 2 engagement (with the movement concerned with the quest for a global ethic in the 1990's and beyond perhaps being one notable example of a 1.5 initiative). More specific initiatives on the part of the World Council of Churches in cooperation with leadership organizations from other faiths, alongside further official dialogues across religions--for example, between the Catholic Church and individual world religious groupings--on one level resemble Track 1 processes most closely. Specific dialogue processes between particular faith groups within specific regions or countries and such initiatives as the Pluralism Project at Harvard University share certain features in common with Track 1.5 processes up to a certain point.

At Assisi, however, we believed that today's world needs more explicitly intentional Track 1.5 and Track 2 initiatives that would move the cause of dialogue forward more positively for this twenty-first century. Indeed, among the most pressing challenges that confront us today is how the different strands of ecumenical and interfaith endeavor can be brought together creatively.

We wished the Assisi event to be something very different from a traditional conference. We sought to build on the value not just of what Asian contributions call a "triple dialogue" (with the cultures, with the peoples, especially the poor, and with the religions of one's own contextual setting) but also to expand the scope of dialogue further still, so that any given participant's dialogical loci might become consciously manifold. Perhaps such loci might best be understood as a series of concentric circles. We wished Assisi 2012 to be something truly transformative of the perspectives, methods, and approaches to dialogue that every participant held.

Thinking outside the Dialogical Box From Where We Dwell in Common to a Third Naivete

The method that guided our conference was also, to a significant extent, informed by recent insights from comparative theology, as well as from ecumenical and comparative ecclesiology. Most particularly, in relation to the motto, "Where We Dwell in Common," we were inspired by the work of the gathering's final plenary speaker, Fr. Roger Haight, S.J. He offered an extended reflection on this theme in his 2008 work Ecclesial Existence (the practically oriented third volume of a lengthy historical and comparative ecclesiologicai treatise. (21) He suggested there that the more opportunity Christians have to reflect upon and to come to appreciate just how much they share in common and the importance of what they already have in union, then, despite the remaining significance of overcoming what doctrinal, cultural, and practical differences remain, Christians will come to appreciate that such differences are of much less enduring importance that what they share--than "where they dwell in common."

For the Assisi gathering we sought to expand Haight's method from Ecclesial Existence beyond its interecclesial and Christian application and to take it a stage further, applying it within particular churches, across differing faiths, and between members of faith communities and the wider societies in which they live, as well as in relation to the global human family.

In aiming to try to help reignite the ecumenical flame in a positive fashion and provide renewed dialogical momentum, we were seeking to develop dialogue in various different ways but, perhaps above all else, in the sense of laying some groundwork toward shaping a method for "Track 1.5 ecumenism," that is, as a bridge between official and grassroots initiatives and as a way of bringing together the various strands of interaction in between.

In terms of longer-lasting outcomes, the hope was that all participants would go back home and be animators on behalf of dialogue at multiple levels in their own communities and local contexts--more specifically, to be animators on behalf of accentuating those areas where we dwell in common and helping to demonstrate how they are of infinitely greater importance than those areas that remain divisive. In so doing, those divisive issues and challenges might readily recede in their impact, and new ways of overcoming and resolving them would emerge.

Back in the 1990's, David Tracy, the Chicago Catholic theologian, spoke of a new situation that was emerging for ecumenism, noting that two stark choices presented themselves at the extreme poles--to go the way of retrenchment (foundationalism) or to take flight (the path toward relativism)--or to seek to progress via a third route:
   what Paul Ricoeur nicely named a "second naivete" toward one's
   tradition (enter critical philosophy and revisionary theology)
   allied to a genuine openness to otherness and difference.... The
   only serious question becomes: is a second naivete possible? If so,
   how? Any of us may rediscover our traditions ... in and through
   discovering others, their difference, and their truth. But is it
   possible to honor the truth of one's own religious tradition while
   being genuinely open to other great ways as other? Clearly the
   answer must be yes, or we are all lost in a Hobbesian state of the
   war of all against all. (22)


Such talk of naivete brings to mind Francis of Assisi once again. Not that Francis was anybody's fool, as such, but there is a touching (almost) innocence about so many episodes from his life: from his refusal to rewrite his order's rule when the pope kept rejecting it because it was so simple, scriptural, and attentive to a life free of possessions, to his willingness to reach out to all, especially the poor, to those of other faiths, to other animals, to all creation. This was a long-distant precursor both of Ricoeur's second naivete and of what we have been describing here as wider- or macro-ecumenism.

A still more striking example of what might have been presumed not simply as naivete but even foolishness or outright stupidity in the eyes of some at the time and even since was the idea of Saint Francis's traveling from Umbria in the heart of Italy all the way to Egypt to visit the then-ruling Sultan al-Kamil. This was at a time when one of the crusader armies was encamped nearby, so it was an era of great tension and conflict between peoples of differing cultures and faiths. There is little historical detail about what transpired between Francis and the sultan, except to say that Francis was received graciously and that perhaps the visit impressed upon him the importance of mutual respect, peace, and, yes, dialogue between people of differing faiths. He took a great risk in thinking and acting outside the box, for he wanted to accentuate commonality instead of difference. To this day it has inspired Franciscans who work for peace, as well as many others, both Muslim and Christian. Might we even deem this an early form of Track 1.5 diplomacy?

"Where we dwell in common": Accentuating this pushes even beyond Ricoeur's second naivete--in fact it can bring us to the stage of a third naivete. The twenty-first century demands a whole new mode of existential engagement and being, wherein our own place, our context, and our tradition(s) are enhanced at the same time as those with whom we engage--whose own existential, contextual, and traditional loci are also transformed. (23) It presupposes a willingness to transcend positions of polarity and territorial entrenchment (be this doctrinal, spiritual, in terms of power, or even in social and existential terms), no matter how counterintuitive or, at times, "unrealistic" such a course of action might seem. This demands thinking outside the box, the courage to take the necessary risks. Francis was ridiculed on all sides for his naivete in making that long, arduous journey to see the sultan. Today, perhaps secretly, many Christians even continue to scorn what they might presuppose was his hopeless idealism, but it was a much deeper commitment on his part. Negative and overt "realism" and expediency are usually the enemies of the values and visions of a faith being put into practice. Many of Francis's later followers discovered this at considerable cost, but they persevered with the vision, nonetheless. Faced with a choice between the Grand Inquisitor and the Lesser Brother of Umbria, today's world demands clearly the path chosen by the latter. (24)

The mission of Francis--and that of Clare, also--was grounded upon compassion. Francis realized that compassion offered a profound explication of the mysteries of the universe. It grounded his metaphysical sensitivities, his theological orientation, his moral and pastoral principles and activities, and his all-embracing social ontology. It represented a fundamental option manifested in total commitment to love of neighbor, of the poorest, most oppressed, neglected, and despised of neighbors above all else.

Leonardo Boff has spoken of the striking relevance of the vision of Saint Francis of Assisi for our time, calling him "Postmodern Brother," because he represents "The Triumph of Compassion and Gentleness." (25) In the twenty-first century we see that aggression, domination, oppression, and exclusion have a strangulating grip on so much of our world. Sincere and genuinely effective care for others is frowned upon in many quarters. The triumph of neo-liberal capitalism and the neo-imperial tendencies that feed the triumph of dehumanizing globalization and the social decay and damage to communities that accompany it represent the antithesis to a metaphysics grounded upon compassion. We see that domination and exclusivistic mentalkies--indeed, a net reduction in compassion--have become all too prevalent once more, even within our faith communities.

Perhaps Peter Phan had something similar to this "third naivete" in mind when he penned his wonderful essay about "The Path of Foolish Wisdom" (Morosophia), drawing on the tradition from many faiths of the "wise fool" who transcends fleeting concerns and anxieties of the humdrum world to "penetrate more profound truths than the lettered and the learned." (26) It is a path that "has an ancient and distinguished pedigree--from Socrates to Jesus to Paul to the Cappadocian theologians to Dionysius to Nicholas of Cusa to Erasmus of Rotterdam, as well as adepts of Eastern religions and contemporary philosophers and theologians." (27) It is a path where love, instead of power, becomes the "light of knowledge." (28) "Ultimately," Phan concluded, invoking the example of Francis,
   foolish wisdom is a gift, a revelation, received in humility of
   mind and simplicity of heart. Only then has it the power to
   convince and transform more effectively than the sword and
   rhetoric. It is no accident that Saint Francis of Assisi, a
   prototype of foolish wisdom, who regarded himself as a frater
   minor, a fool deserving nothing but contempt and dishonour, is also
   celebrated for his tender love for God and for God's creatures,
   great and small. (29)


At Assisi 2012, then, one burning question was this: Are there pathways that can actively help people put aside the divisive ways of discourse and the territorial mind-sets that foster animosity and distrust and accompany so many interactions across religious and social boundaries? We sought to apply a comparative method throughout the Assisi gathering, above all else in that dialectical comparison between what remains divisive and where we dwell in common, which leads us toward the synthesis of risking a harmonious future through thinking outside the box.

It is important to stress that a comparative ecumenical method in general does not seek to dissolve differences or to avoid the "hard questions" that remain within and between churches, within and between faiths, and between faith communities and the wider "world" but, rather, to put these into their proper perspective when viewed alongside the commonality shared by the members of differing faith communities and others besides. (30) We saw, also, the need to engage with the "conflictual" forms of encounter, historical and contemporary, and to learn from these. Further, we saw the need to be mindful of lessons from those who have traveled the pathways of dialogue in recent decades with great success and failure alike. In the second volume of his memoirs, Hans Kung recently reflected upon the need to discover "a way of speaking unpolemically" about what we cherish "at home" and learning what is most dear in other homes. (31) This resonates very well with the comparative method employed at Assisi, particularly once we entered into the second day and beyond. (32)

Questions for Future Pathfinders

The conversations, questions, and moments of dwelling in common at Assisi 2012 provided a veritable treasure trove of food for future ecumenical thought. The task now is to prioritize how best such energy, dynamism, and momentum can be taken forward into the future. This raises many further questions that are empowering rather than restricting to the future of dialogue. Perhaps here it is most helpful to considerations of the future focal points for pathways for dialogue to return to the research on the "tracks of diplomacy."

In his assessment of these tracks' respective levels of effectiveness, Bohmelt's wide-ranging study appears to offer a number of suggestive conclusions that could, once again, be applied analogously to forms of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue within, across, and beyond specific faith communities. First of all, he suggested "that the leverage and resources of ToDs determine effective outcomes." (33) The useful implication of this is that, because TI forms of diplomacy have greater resources, they have greater leverage, but his conclusions do not stop there.

In fact, we would here add an important observation that works against reading such a statement in a deterministic way, namely, that official actors can also facilitate and grant leverage and resources to other and very different, less centrally determined and controlled forms of diplomacy (as Bohmelt's own study indicates). Therefore, applying this to the Assisi method, we might suggest as a key point here that, if pathways for dialogue are to be truly effective, they will require considerable facilitation, support, funding, and organizational resources on the part of (by and large) the official bodies and supporting foundations, charities, and religious communities involved. Such bodies will need to "let go" of control and live with the knowledge that the outcomes and future of dialogical initiatives are undetermined and may bring surprises.

However, Bohmelt's research also suggests that, sometimes, "less leverage in some instances can promote more effective outcomes." For example, at the T1 level competitiveness and position bargaining often take over, leaving less room for flexibility. (34) An atmosphere of coercion may enter the flay. Who, at first, exercised less leverage than Francis of Assisi? Yet, there are truly few who influenced the Christian church and indeed the world community in as wide-reaching and positive fashion more than he did.

This further resonates with Bohmelt's findings, leading him to conclude: "In order to fully deploy effectiveness, unofficial tracks must have some opportunity to influence T1 actors through introducing ideas and results into official peace negotiations." (35) What he did not stress, but what in ecumenical and interfaith ventures is vital, is that T1 actors must also be prepared to listen and reevaluate their stances and must also be willing to change in situations where such change might benefit dialogue and harmony. Bohmelt also spoke of "track integration," which helps differing actors establish channels of communication and "which facilitates coordination and decreases uncertainty." (36) Again, initiatives in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue could benefit significantly from greater attention to such "track integration" and to better channels of communicative interaction across the differing forms of dialogue.

A further conclusion Bohmelt is that "if official T1 diplomacy is facilitated by unofficial approaches, then mediation effectiveness is likely to be higher, as it helps actors pooling their individual resources, decreases uncertainty and ensures support at the grassroots level." (37) Transferring this to the pathways for dialogue involving faith communities, it suggests clearly that a multifaceted approach will be the most effective and that official-level dialogue ("dome ecumenism") is greatly in need of the other forms of dialogue as well. Perhaps, above all else, it reinforces the hunch we had when organizing Assisi 2012 that building a bridge between grassroots and official forms of dialogue might hold a key to greater success for all forms.

Bohmelt also pointed out that the particular value of T2 and T1.5 forms of diplomacy frequently lies in their being able "to foster support for agreements at the local level." (38) In ecumenical and interfaith terms, this mirrors the approach "from below" and brings greater understanding and, hence, agreement at more local levels. Indeed, "T2 efforts can be effective through convincing actors, appealing to their common understanding and establishing a peaceful settlement in private discussions." (39) In an assessment that especially mirrors the approach that the Ecclesiological Investigations Network has tried to foster throughout its work, but especially through the Assisi gathering, Bohmelt explained that such can be achieved
   on the one hand by developing and maintaining a wide network of
   contacts, able to spread respect and trust among the disputing
   parties in the intermediary and the intermediation process.... as
   well as providing a neutral, lowkey, safe and non-judgemental
   environment, such as in workshops or reconciliation programmes to
   facilitate interaction. (40)


This creates an environment wherein participants feel freer to speak, can transcend official positions, and can know that what they say has no binding force, so they can be more flexible. (41) It was a specific intention of Assisi 2012 to create such an atmosphere of freedom and thereby provide an environment conducive to forwardthinking that might transcend some of the logjams that stall dialogue in particular contexts, (faith) communities, and societies at present. The feedback from participants demonstrates that this was very welcome and successful.

The study by Nan and colleagues reinforces these findings concerning the "best practices" for tracks of diplomacy. (42) They also stress that "contextual considerations may play a role in judging best practices." (43) In other words, what might be best for one context may not necessarily be so for other contexts. One of their most important and suggestive findings was that, rather than rigidly labeling one initiative as specifically being Track 2 or Track 1.5, what might prove more important is the ability to identify whether that initiative is a diversified one by nature or a more specifically process-focused initiative (in terms of identifying best practices). (44) This might prove especially valuable to ecumenical and interfaith reflections when seeking to discern the most effective and fruitful pathways for dialogue in our times. It also confirms a long-standing hunch I have held about ecumenical ventures. Of course, there has been much cross-fertilization between processes for peace-building and conflict-resolution in the past, and, in many respects, the road is a two-way thoroughfare with the achievements of ecumenical and interfaith processes also being valuable resources for peace-building and conflict-resolution, whether historically or more recently. Certainly, the number of actors involved in both areas has been increasingly fluid at various stages throughout the twentieth century. We see such fluidity once again in our present century, in the wake of September 11, 2001, and in response to the "war on terror" (which seems only to have exacerbated the net amount of terror that plagues our planet today).

Indeed, there are some individuals, such as John Paul Lederach, who have moved from an explicitly religious context for enhancing the possibility of dialogue to become especially influential theorists and practitioners in the world of peace-building. Studies such as that mentioned above by Fitzgerald and Borelli--which details multiple processes, methods, and divergent initiatives at the official, middle, and grassroots levels of societies, churches, and faiths, as well as identifying "prophets of dialogue" and differing historical, contextual, and comparative perspectives--could already be said to be contributing to the multifaceted approach we wished to encourage further at Assisi. An example of an invaluable comparative study pertaining to one faith community's various forms of dialogue internal and external alike is Bradford Hinze's work on the Catholic Church. (45) Nor should we forget the value of scholarship, in addition to educational initiatives. In terms of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, such can prove invaluable in laying the foundations for the dialogical conscientization necessary for our times.

In relation to this, a further yet related insight from the recent literature about conflict-resolution and peace-building concerns the "role of the scholar-practitioner." (46) Of course, in interchurch and interfaith dialogue, there have always been, in effect, scholar-practitioners involved in practices of dialogue. Some would say that too many academics spoil the broth and that that has been part of the problem. However, there has been less sustained and systematic reflection--a helicopter perspective if you like--upon the exact role and form of scholars' engagement when they enter into offering contributions to dialogical processes. Furthermore, this also lends itself to the involvement of academics in intrachurch and intrafaith conflicts and tensions. Finally, it can only be beneficial if further reflection comes into play concerning the relationship between scholar-practitioners in interchurch and interfaith dialogue and other practitioners, at both the official and the grassroots level, and how differing starting points and differing contexts can prove more complementary instead of, as has all too often been the case in recent times, proving problematic and contradictory. Scholars do have something worthwhile to contribute, and one suspects that, in terms of scholars of religion, theology, and ethics, countless such scholars are longing for their work and focus to be able to offer something toward more practical-oriented and life-giving outcomes.

It should be noted, also, that there are echoes in all the foregoing of similar methods pursued by many involved in some of the great pioneering ecumenical movements and moments in the late nineteenth and early-to-mid-twentieth centuries, just as a great deal in common with the approaches adopted by many involved in Vatican II might also be identified. Indeed, one could say that placing the emphasis upon where people dwell in common was Pope John XXIII's explicit intention when he called the council. Indeed, we can go back to John's encyclicals, Mater et magistra (1961) and Pacem in terris (1963), to see further epitomizing examples of similar, relentlessly positive, and unyieldingly open and constructive approaches. However, as is sadly all too evident in subsequent decades, many theologians and faith community leaders, particularly among Christians and perhaps especially in the Roman Catholic Church, have rejected such an approach and favored accentuating difference first and foremost to the detriment of dialogue and commonality.

Assisi 2012 and Beyond

The number of contributions that were shared during the Assisi 2012 gathering was far too great to do them justice here. (47) We mention but a small sampling of the wonderful engagements in dialogue that were brought to the table. From the outset, thinking outside the box was evident in thought, word, and practice. The gathering was graciously opened by Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, the local ordinary, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Degli Angeli, who spoke movingly about the need for greater dialogue and cooperation between bishops and theologians. At our host venue of Domus Pacis, in the shadow of the Franciscan Order's mother house, Paul Arthur, Professor of Peace Studies Emeritus at the University of Ulster and veteran of various conflict-resolution initiatives around the globe, then sought to share some lessons that ecumenical and interfaith dialogue might learn from building peace processes.

Our gathering also featured reflection on the "ten commandments" of Franciscan contributions to shaping dialogue and ecumenical vespers in the Basilica of San Francesco, followed by a procession of prayer and chant where all gathered around the tomb of this saint who cared so passionately for peace and harmony. We heard from Jean Molesky Poz about the inspirational "relational spirituality" legacy of Saint Clare in the Basilica of Santa Chiara. The gathering also featured explorations of various ecclesial themes in the Convent of San Francesco, interfaith issues in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore (a church built on top of a pagan temple), and ecological challenges in the Garden of the Sisters of the Atonement, overlooking the rolling Umbrian Hills. The Cathedral of San Rufino brought together speakers from South Africa, Vietnam, the Philippines, England, and the Czech Republic. (48)

A few further examples of such thinking outside the box to emerge included the notion of Track 1.5 ecumenism. Other insights shared included proposals conceming the promise of ecumenical and interfaith communities for our times by Hinze (Fordham University); Iranian Muslim Bahar Davary's call for a more fully engaged theological and social dialogue between Christians and Muslims; the exemplary work of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, wonderfully explained by Fulata Mbano-Moyo from Malawi; and Mary McClintock Fulkerson (Duke Divinity School), who called for a focus on "doing as a way of knowing" for making difficult dialogue possible, whereby we come to understand one another more fully through engagement with and being alongside the religious "others" in our societies. Phan's call for us to reimagine the Oikoumene today in a way that gives due recognition and priority to the cultural and spiritual realities of the whole world, not just of two privileged continents, was especially poignant. Contributions from South Africa (John de Gruchy, Edwin Arrison) focused on overcoming seemingly insurmountable differences through persistently not letting the burdens of history and religious tribalism prevail over our futures.

The time appears to have come to help an older generation move beyond the logjam and lethargy of recent times by looking backward and forward alike: by learning from the pathways of dialogue in the past, placing present initiatives under differing forms of scrutiny to understand better what methods and means of promoting dialogue are proving fruitful (and those that are not)--all the while looking to the future. This future is not just in abstract terms of "what might come to pass" but, crucially, in helping to ensure that positive developments and initiatives do come to pass.

There is another important reason that the Assisi gathering sought to engage the younger and emerging generation of ecumenists as fully as possible: to ensure that their voices and experiences are heard and that they, in turn, are better supported, facilitated, and prepared to take up the torch of dialogue into the future in a more energized and positive direction. These are the people whose fresh perspectives and ways and means of interpreting experience can help move beyond the logjams and enhance the emergence of that necessary "third naivete."

When we set out on the organizational path for Assisi 2012, what did we hope to learn, and what did we hope participants might learn? We hoped we would all learn that thinking outside the box collectively can be seen as a good thing and not as a threat, that new methods, including the overall threefold structure adopted, can really help move things forward. We hoped that we would also learn that difficult questions must be on the table, but so, also, must be the areas of commonality--and the two compared to see their relative merits. We hoped all would learn from people who have worked in conflict-resolution and from the perspectives of others from widely differing churches and faiths that have experience of difficult situations and the demand for new methods. One thing we especially hoped was that emerging scholars would more fully appreciate and embrace the fact that they are the generation that must deliver on dialogue and greater global harmony and that it is time for them to become part of taking responsibility for the future of the wider ecumenical agenda today.

Throughout our gathering, pluralism was demonstrated to be as much a descriptive term of the world in which we live and its many communities and societies as it is a methodological standpoint. Finally, so many of our contributions and conversations throughout that week demonstrated the necessity for all pathways of dialogue to be shaped by and sensitive to a preferential option for the poor and marginalized. Indeed, this is demonstrated to be more than ever necessary as our century unfolds.

Assisi 2012 was a gathering during which we listened, shared, and learned together. Indeed, we laughed together often, as well. It was a gathering where participants mutually inspired one another. Our great hope was for the participants to return to their own contexts--geographical, ecclesiai, religious, and societal-renewed and reenergized in their commitment to dialogue. We hoped in earnest that local, national, and regional initiatives to further dialogue will develop out of the conversations begun in that very special part of Umbria, just as we hoped that what people experienced will impact existing ventures in dialogue at every level and of every diverse kind.

As the participants wound their way through the hills and mountainous splendor that is the terrain of Umbria, their imaginations would no doubt have been captured. As one looks across the landscape, the wondrous horizon can appear to stretch on and on and to change momentarily, depending on one's vantage point. Our gathering together was about looking beyond the contemporary ecumenical and interreligious horizon--seeking understanding, sharing differing perspectives, looking beyond the narrow and confined viewpoints that remain divisive, being inspired by ongoing conversations from many different countries and many different contexts and faith communities.

(1) See, e.g., Peter c. Phan, "Introduction," in Peter C. Phan, ed., Christianity and the Wider Ecumenism, A New ERA Book (New York: Paragon House, 1990), p. ix.

(2) Here, building upon Roger Haight's methodology in ecumenical ecclesiology, as will be explained below.

(3) He is, of course speaking from within a Roman Catholic standpoint.

(4) DP, no. 42; available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents /rc_pc_interelg_doc_19051991_dialogue-and-proclamatio_en.html; emphases in original.

(5) Michael L. Fitzgerald, "The Catholic Church and Interreligious Dialogue," chap. 1 in Michael L. Fitzgerald and John Borelli, Interfaith Dialogue: A Catholic View (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books; and London: SPCK, 2006), p. 28, he here cites DP, no. 42.

(6) At DP, no. 43, which is titled "The interdependence of the various forms of dialogue.'"

(7) Fitzgerald, "Catholic Church and Interreligious Dialogue," pp. 34-35. He also spoke about the particular standpoint necessary for those of religious conviction and the need for a contemplative spirit.

(8) Fitzgerald noted that the typology he cited "is not exhaustive, nor are the definitions perfect." He expressed a preference, e.g., to speak of a "dialogue of discourse, or of formal exchange" instead of a "dialogue of theological exchange," because "the subject may not necessarily be confined to theological issues" (ibid., p. 28; emphases in original).

(9) Susan Allen Nan, Daniel Druckman, and Jana El Horr "Unofficial International Conflict Resolution: Is There a Track 1 1/2? Are There Best Practices?" Conflict Resolution Quarterly 27 (Autumn, 2009): 65-66. I am most grateful to Professor Necla Tschirgi for advising me on some of the pertinent literature in this field.

(10) As another summary definition offered by Tobias Bohmelt, in his "The Effectiveness of Tracks of Diplomacy Strategies in Third-Party Interventions," Journal of Peace Research 47 (March, 2010): 167.

(11) Ibid., p. 168.

(12) Bohmelt's definition of TI.5 is perhaps narrower than that of others and does not exhaust the types and forms of TI.5 (thankfully so, for the purposes of ecumenical and interfaith analogies): "T1.5 emerged as a response to the problem when official actors have no incentives to engage in a conflict and/or T2 efforts show no effect at the grassroots level.... As an unofficial track, 1.5 is public or private interaction between official representatives of disputants that is mediated by a third party not representing a political institution" (ibid., pp. 168-169). T2 "relies mainly on communication-facilitation" and is an "integrative strategy" (ibid., p. 170).

(13) A further difference emerges with Bohmelt's statement that "the main difference between T2 and T1.5 as unofficial mediation interveners lies in their level of operation"--the former involving "solely" grassroots/middle leadership, while the latter "operates with the top leadership or official diplomacy level" (ibid., p. 169). The examples he gives of T1.5 actors (e.g., Jimmy Carter, academics, religious institutions) and processes (e.g., the Oslo Accord, Sant' Egidio in Mozambique, the Sudanese Guinea Worm Ceasefire mediated by the Carter Center) suggest that involvement of '"top level" leadership is not a perquisite for T1.5. Indeed, he later states that T1.5 "is a track that partly relies on the top-down approaches and coercive techniques of T1," but it may also "rely on lower-level mediation forms to gain the trust of the parties when a direct, high-level intervention is not possible" (ibid., pp. 170-171). Both approaches may have their downsides: mediators too closely identified by actors with official parties, or, sed contra, being perceived to have insufficient high-level influence.

(14) Speaking of Track 2 initiatives, Nan and her colleagues also discussed studies that focus upon a multitrack approach encompassing the work of both "private citizens, business and religious groups, educational institutions, and the media, as well as by official government representatives" and the functions performed by third party mediators, including those of "consensus builder, empowerer, communicator, reframer, and facilitator" (Nan, Druckman, and El Horr, "Unofficial International Conflict Resolution," p. 66.

(15) Ibid., p. 74, and see Table 3 (pp. 75-76). See also p. 79.

(16) Ibid., p. 74.

(17) Bohmelt, "Effectiveness of Tracks of Diplomacy," p. 169.

(18) Of course, often situations of life-threatening conflict will also take on religious and ethnic dimensions, so the boundary lines are not always clearly demarcated between the differing forms of dialogue analogously under consideration here.

(19) Naturally, some participants in Assisi would have experience of both, but less common would be attempts to set down reflective thoughts on how the two areas should relate to and inform one another.

(20) Here, meaning the "wider" ecumenical cause, including interfaith dialogue and dialogue between people of faith and those of no explicit faith community.

(21) Roger Haight, Christian Community in History, vol. 3: Ecclesial Existence (New York and London: Continuum, 2008).

(22) David Tracy, "Beyond Foundationalism and Relativism: Hermeneutics and the New Ecumenism," chap. 12 of David Tracy, On Naming the Present: Reflections on God. Hermeneutics, and Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books; and London: SCM Press, 1994), p. 138.

(23) Here, see Haight's discussion of the three achievements of a transdenominational ecclesiology (Haight, Ecclesial Existence, p. 27). Again, these can be applied in a still wider sense, beyond Christianity. Because of the dramatically changed situation of relations between and among cultures, faiths, and ideologies brought about by the realities of globalization, the technological revolution, and the conflicts and social revolutions of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the need has never been greater to discover new ways of humble engagement with other traditions, cultures, and ideologies, as well as with our own.

(24) The present essay was originally written in Spring, 2012; as of April, 2013, the signs of the very first Pope Francis are proving to be of great encouragement to many around the world. In choosing such a name, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio knew full well the heavy responsibilities that would weigh upon his shoulders in order to live up to that name and vision.

(25) Section title in chap. 1 of Leonardo Boff, Francis of Assisi (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006 [orig.: Sao Francisco de Assis: Ternura e Vigor (Petropolis: Vozes/Cefepal, 1981; E.T.: St. Francis: A Model for Human Liberation, tr. John W. Diercksmeier [New York: Crossroad, 1982])]), p. 16 (p. 17 in 1982 version).

(26) Peter C. Phan, "The Wisdom of Holy Fools: A Way to the Love of Truth in Postmodernity," chap. 1 in Peter C. Phan, Being Religious lnterreligiously: Asian Perspecta, es on Interfaith Dialogue (MaryknoU, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 9.

(27) Ibid., p. 1 8.

(28) Ibid., p. 21; here Phan drew upon Karl Rahner, Hearer of the Word, tr. Joseph Donceel (New York: Continuum, 1994), p. 81.

(29) Phan, "Wisdom," pp. 21-22.

(30) Haight's own method, outlined in Ecclesial Existence, entailed concluding each chapter with the "hard questions" that remained pertaining to each distinctive area of transdenominational ecclesial being that his study explored.

(31) Hans Kung, Disputed Truth: Memoirs [11], tr. John Bowden (New York and London: Continuum, 2008), p. 35.

(32) See DP, no. 46, titled "Tensions and conflicts." See also Mannion, Ecclesiology and Postmodermty, pp. 142-146, discussing the contributions

here, in particular, of Gregory Baum.

(33) Bohmelt, "Effectiveness of Tracks of Diplomacy," p. 167.

(34) Ibid., p. 170.

(35) Ibid., p. 171.

(36) Ibid.

(37) Ibid., p. 168; see also p. 171.

(38) Ibid., p. 170.

(39) Ibid.

(40) Ibid.

(41) Bohmelt's findings were further developed at greater length, and he explored still wider questions relevant here, in his International Mediation Interaction: Synergy, Conflict, Effectiveness (Wiesbaden: Verlag fur Sozialwissenschaften, 2011).

(42) Nan, Druckman, and El Horr, "Unofficial International Conflict Resolution," pp. 77-78.

(43) Ibid., p. 79.

(44) Ibid., p. 78. All the projects they explore were long-term-focused, with the majority involving "several partnerships" and "multiple outcomes."

(45) Bradford Hinze, Practices of Dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church (New York: Continuum, 2006).

(46) See, e.g., Herbert C. Kelman, "The Role of the Scholar-Practitioner in International Conflict Resolution," International Studies Perspectives I (December, 2000): 273-288.

(47) A significant number of them will be featured in several forthcoming publications.

(48) Respectively, Edwin Arrison, Peter Phan, Agnes Brazal, Paul Avis, and Ivana Noble.
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