Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週三, 03 三月 2010
週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

Cup of tea, TV and religious dialogue

The plane on which religious dialogue occurs is too often conceived as occurring at a high level.  Leaders of faiths occasionally meet in public, be it in front of an audience or a camera.  Within a community, a church may come together with a mosque or temple as part of a festival.  At a lower level, it is not uncommon for neighbours of differing faiths to discuss matters of faith with each other.
Dialogue within the family is an additional part of the spectrum of religious dialogue that deserves attention.  The construction of family units can be incredibly diverse.  While several generations might live under one roof, it is not uncommon for family ties to stretch across countries and even between them.  Within the myriad of family dynamics that exist, there are a few key concepts that I wish to focus on.

Whether through choice or destiny, many of our closest bonds are with our family members.  Our family members are the ones who we see on a daily basis, the ones with whom we share the tribulations and triumphs of day-to-day life.  For most of us, the support, understanding and care provided by family members is the necessary foundation for a happy life.  Shared religious conviction can form much of the basis of this stability.  When family members have a faith in common, religious dialogue can almost appear to be a given.  However, when family members have different beliefs or varying levels of commitment, religious dialogue can become an issue.  In the close confines of the family, this can be particularly acute.

In recent decades, religious mobility has become increasingly common, both in Asia and across the world.  New religious movements (NRMs) continue to appear, either offering fresh interpretations of established beliefs or something altogether new.  And beyond the more organised NRMs, there are the nebulous sectors of new age beliefs, self help and spirituality, concepts that are expounded in books and seminars rather than in more established places of worship.

Not only do religions continue to innovate, people across the world are switching their religious allegiance or modifying their beliefs, often in the face of long-established family tradition.  This is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

Such lofty ideals do not necessarily filter down to day-to-day reality.  Conversions can cause schisms in the family.  When someone—be they parent or child—converts to a new religious belief, the rest of the family can be traumatised.  The faith of the convert, something that had always been taken for granted, has changed, calling many things into question.  When a member appears to have turned his back on his family, it can be as if they are cutting off the chance for dialogue, rejecting an important part of the family’s identity.  In many cases, this is true, especially when the convert conscientiously chooses to distance himself from his family.

[dropcap cap="T"]he reasons for converting are manifold.  The once common notion that members of NRMs had unhappy relationships with family members has been debunked.  There is just as much likelihood that the convert is from a happy family as from a troubled one.When someone adopts a new faith, it is not always an attack on his family.  [/dropcap]While the convert might be more content with his newly chosen faith, family members too can be happy that their kin has found a faith that suits him better.  However, such realisations can only be reached through discussion and demonstrating the love that the family members hold for each other, not an inherently easy task.
Intra-familial religious dialogue is not limited to circumstances where one family may have members of two or more religions.  Tension can arise when members share a faith but differ in the extent to which they adhere to the set beliefs or scripture.  Agreement on financial matters and reproductive health are fundamental to family stability.  If one member interprets (or ignores) his family’s faith on a matter such as these in a way that upsets or alienates other members then it can be unsettling.  For the family to continue to remain together, or at least do so fruitfully, dialogue must occur.  Where one point of view is taken as an absolute, either through doctrinal definition or mere tradition, then it can be difficult to find middle ground.  However, when the long-term well being of the family is at stake, these absolutes should be given a bit of leeway, at least in as much as it can help reach a point of understanding.

Religion can be a powerful force for bringing families together.  However, if the stability of a family’s religion is shaken by a member either not sharing the same level of devotion or leaving the faith, and possibly converting, then there is a risk of a serious breakdown occurring.  For there to be continued coexistence and hopefully a point of agreement, the members must come together through dialogue.  For members to challenge, and possibly change, long held (or in the case of converts, newly acquired) beliefs is no simple task.  But to help ensure the chances of the family’s ongoing happiness, this dialogue is essential.

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan during August and September 2009 was ostensibly religious.  Accepting an invitation from the Democratic Progressive Party in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s worst typhoon in 50 years, he arrived and explicitly stated that while he admires Taiwan’s democracy, his visit was non-political. And it appeared that way.  The Dalai Lama conducted prayers for the hundreds who perished in the typhoon and offered comfort to their family members.  Twenty thousand people attended the prayer service in the southern city of Kaohsiung.  Furthermore, the Dalai Lama held a public religious dialogue with Catholic Cardinal Paul K. S. Shan.  They discussed the ever-relevant values of mutual tolerance and respect and the importance of using shared religious values to reveal the qualities of humankind.  Both leaders noted that the material development of nations should not occur at the expense of religious or spiritual values, whether by neglect or by suppression.

As representatives of organisations (the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Catholic Church) with strained relationships with Beijing, this final comment carries some weight.  Even more so given the Chinese government’s strongly worded condemnation of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan.  These statements are routinely issued whenever the Dalai Lama visits, or prepares to visit, a foreign country. Given Taiwan’s delicate relationship with China, visits by the Dalai Lama are especially controversial.  Ignoring any political statements that the Dalai Lama may make, and most seem carefully worded to avoid antagonising Beijing, his visits routinely involve dialogue with local religious leaders and often luminaries in science, business or human rights.  He has even gone so far as to declare that the 21st century should be one of dialogue so as to avoid the bloodshed that typified the 20th century.

The Dalai Lama acts as a catalyst for dialogue among local religious leaders.  For the most part, these leaders would not get together too often to discuss matters of faith, community and tolerance.  When the Dalai Lama juggernaut rolls into town, all of a sudden the media spotlight focuses on religion.  Beyond any sympathy that the general public might have for the plight of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has a huge following, both through those who adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and those who find solace in his advice on life as published in a large number of easy-to-digest books.  It can be easy to scoff at these events as feel-good hyperbole.  Nevertheless, they are an opportunity for local religious leaders, in the company of a global religious superstar, to search for universal truths, and do so in front of audiences of thousands of people.

In recent decades China has become indispensable to foreign countries, both as a consumer of raw materials and as the world’s factory of manufactured goods.  Somewhat mirroring this rise, the Dalai Lama’s constant foreign jaunts have increasingly become diplomatic issues.  Foreign governments do not wish to offend China, but at the same time, do not wish to be seen to be denying the Dalai Lama freedom of speech and as being bullied by Chinese threats.  Whether or not trade balances suffer will be of concern to leaders, however the civil benefits are also worth considering.  Inspiring local communities to seek and recognise commonalities in large public forums is a role that the Dalai Lama has evolved into being rather adept at and one that can offer much to communities across the world.


週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

Black, red and gold: harmony in Jogja

There tends to be a higher level of social cohesion in societies where there is near uniformity on religious beliefs. For example if everyone thinks that stealing in any circumstances is wrong; then stealing in any wrong. If a new or reformed version of a different religion comes along and claims that stealing is ok, so long as it's stealing from the rich to give to the poor, then we have a Robin Hood dilemma. Various other examples of moral uncertainty often lenick_baliad to arguments, hatred, unneccesary death, religious repression and conflicts. Alas in the modern, globalised world we are confronted with this dilemma; most communities are becoming more religiously diverse, and this trend shows no sign of reversing. And thus the neccesity of progressive, deeper interreligious dialogue, understanding and diplomacy.

Indonesia is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. Although its over 80% Muslim, there are huge communities of Hindus, Protestants, Catholics, Bhuddists and various indigenous Animist religions. That said, Indonesia is no panacea of religious and cultural harmony, indeed there are many inter-religious and inter-ethinic conflicts ongoing, particularly in the regions further from the centre; however, beneath the questionable reputation abroad, and a sputtering of regional conflicts, there are many admirable examples for other parts of Indonesia and much of the world of how to be united by diversity and plurality with loose common aims of development and peace. Some examples in Indonesia also demonstrate to sceptics the universals present in Islam which allow for a very tolerant framework based on a few less disputable religious values.

The ever popular tourist destination Bali is one example of traditional Hindu culture, which whilst being an integral part of the Indonesian republic maintains a large degree of autonomy from the national government on cultural and religious issues. Huge amounts a of unique cultural resources, accompanied by the help of tourist dollars Bali Island has maintained a strong self-identity and a wealth of cultural resources.


nick_yogyakarta2[dropcap cap="T"]he culture of tolerance in Yogyakarta or "Jogja" as the locals call it, is particularly strong. The pillars in the Emperors palace in Yogyakarta represent the three colours of the different major religions which have greatly influenced Yogyakarta and Javanese culture: The Black, Gold and Red symbolise the harmony and synthesis in the old Javan kingdom, of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. Jogja is also full of Muslim, Christian and non-affiliated universities, some of them even have their own institutes focusing on inter-religious dialogue, and though other regions aren't always as successful as Jogja at realising a multicultural friendly environment, Jogja sits in the middle of Java as a symbol of a freer, more harmonious future. In fact the only beliefs not so welcome in Jogja are the fundamentalists and anything that tries to make the citizens conform, such as those that apply restrictions on quotidian religious and creative freedoms. Differences are welcomed with interest.[/dropcap]Due to its role in the formation of the Indonesian republic, Jogja was granted a degree of autonomy during the repressive Suharto era (1965–1998). Therefore it found itself assuming the role as the comparatively tolerant liberal hub. The tolerance doesn't just stop with the religious freedoms and it fully embraces various cultural influences and modern arts, preferring to add depth, character and variety to its heritage. If one searches around Jogja just looking at the walls, bridges etc, it nevernick_yogyakarta3 takes too long to notice the political murals and the sheer energy put into expressing ones creativity in this city. The activist, artivist energy, has been providing education and civil resistance through art around the city and activities in the surrounding areas as well as up and down the country where integration isn't always so strong (often with villages or towns divided specifically on religious grounds, usually muslim/christian) from the times of the great poet Rendra standing up to the New Order up until the present day.

Though it is not always the case elsewhere in Indonesia, in Jogja not only does religion fulfill a role in maintaining social order, but it is also a place of abundant intercommunity dialogue. The poor seem relaxed and without bitterness and everyday actions are filled with a set of moral distinctions which tend to be easy to follow. Furthermore their is a sense that they all are all children of God, who through various social and economic backgrounds have adopted slightly different paths in search of the ultimate truths; that there are also universal 'goods' present in all the major religions here.
週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

What is 'dialogue'?

The use of the word 'dialogue' is remarkably elastic. Does this mean that it should be abandoned in favour of a more rigorous concept? Actually, the flexibility of the term might stem from the variety of our experiences of exchange and communication, while finding within them some commonalities.

The very term dialogue introduces us into the field of verbal exchanges. Exchanges test knowledge; they check the agreement of stakeholders on the content of the knowledge they are supposed to share and in some cases they are testing the validity of knowledge itself. Knowledge may be of two kinds - either it refers to a given science such as physics, or else it refers to human beings considered in their nature and their social setting. In the first case, dialogical exchanges are at the same level of reality as those induced by mathematical formulas by which the progress of knowledge on the material world is ensured. In the second case, the truth is not primarily mathematical. The locus of truth is set into histories and cultures, a setting to which only dialogue gives access. Thus, dialogical exchange is no more a mechanical process, it centres on establishing relationships between "Others": verbal exchanges imply experiencing listening as a transformative process that cannot be separated from the one through which truth is reached.

[dropcap cap="I"]n other words, the determination of 'categories of truth' is intrinsically linked to that of dialogical styles. Let me suggest the way through which categories of truth may be associated with an array of dialogical styles:[/dropcap]- Dialogue understood as a logical exercise will generate propositions that are meant to be universally valid and part of a truth system based on the principle of non-contradiction. It does not differ fundamentally from the soliloquy that a scientist would lead with himself in order to determine the truth of a scientific demonstration.

- Dialogues within philosophical or theological schools work along similar principles except that the reference to 'universal' principles grounded on the natural light is replaced by a reference text - the one accepted by the school. The principle of non-contradiction is exercised within the reading of these texts.

- In contrast, the type of dialogue initiated and exemplified by Confucius’ Analects is first a dialogue of life which seeks to ensure that the disciple’s deeds coincide with his system of moral and cosmological beliefs. Dialogue is the gateway through which to match truth and life.

- The Gospel’s dialogical style is somehow similar to the preceding category, with the difference that the stress is put less on acquired wisdom than on the transformative process through which a decision is to be reached by the one who enters into a dialogue of life.

- We can group together several cultural and literary settings in which dialogue is meant to lead to enlightenment, as shown in the peculiar dialogical styles found in Zhuangzi, in Zen writings and in some Indian schools: the dialogue is pushed to a breaking point that challenges the principle of non-contradiction, bringing one of the participants to a sudden transformation of his consciousness or worldview.

- And there is of course the broad category that gathers variants of 'democratic dialogue', which applies not only to politics but to some models of inter-religious dialogue for example: the point here is that the process of listening is supposed to be mutually transformative for the partners once they enter an empathic understanding of the argument and experiences vis-à-vis the other, this in order to find a position on the basis of which to allow a common decision or, at the very least, ensure continued coexistence.

[dropcap cap="I"]n conclusion, true dialogue is always 'performative'. It does not merely determine one true position among all the ones championed; other procedures might lead to this result better than dialogue does. Instead, dialogue leads to a change in worldviews, practices and situations - and the depth of the change that dialogue generates is the real measure of the 'truth' it contributes in bringing to light.[/dropcap]




週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

Experiences of a pilgrim in dialogue

Twenty years ago in 1991 Jerry filmed and conducted a documentary Pilgrims in Dialogue, on interfaith dialogue in three separate places in Asia – Sri Lanka, Philippines and Japan. Since then he has worked in TV in Taiwan making many programs which promote religious exchange and understanding. Here he recounts some of his experiences from his years in dialogue.

Higher education (HE) is an ancient institution. Generation upon generation of students have graduated from all manner of HE institutes trained in the skills required to serve society. While fields such as biology, philosophy, religion and mathematics have long been taught, advances in technology, breakthroughs in research and societal change constantly challenge HE. In order to respond to the needs of society and reflect contemporary thought, HE must forever be adapting. Globalisation and the growth of information technology are two rapidly evolving forces that that HE must not only just respond to, but also influence.

In considering HE in the early 21st century, it is important to question what benefit it should provide. Is HE nothing more than a transition between school and the workforce, a repository of technical information that if absorbed correctly, makes graduates alluring to employers? Or do the (sometimes rarefied) halls of knowledge train students in more abstract disciplines, that while stimulating for the mind, are less focused on equipping students with the skills to work in a modern office? Being the broad church that it is, there is no reason why HE can’t do both, and then some.

HE has the ability to train students in life skills. Beyond problem solving and critical, independent thought, these skills should extend to the interpersonal realm (communication, negotiation) and even the personal (stress management, self awareness). Furthermore, ideally HE should assist in the creation of a modern civil society - the layer of interface between public and private interests. In shaping graduates who have both knowledge and the ability to reason, HE aids the creation and maintenance of a healthy civil society.

While globalization may appear to have ironed out many long held differences between cultures and nations, significant differences remain, both in opportunities and expectations. In HE, this difference is manifested in university rankings. These influential indexes are eagerly examined each year and are dominated by universities in America and Europe. Foreign students are courted by universities and HE is proving to be a boon to domestic economies. In the rush fill lecture halls with students, administrators must be cautious not to compromise that quality of education that their faculties deliver.

How far do HE institutions in Asia go in educating students, both academically and as people? How does education vary between China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and the West? Where do institutions fall short and what space is there for further development? Is there gender equality in Taiwanese education system? We ask foreigners studying in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore to talk about their experiences of higher education in Asia.

As always, we invite you to reflect on these issues and offer your own opinions.





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