The Seven Stages of Deep-Dialogue

By Paul Mojzes and Leonard Swidler

Outlined below are seven stages that many people experience in the process of dialogue with other religions and cultures.

Stage One          Radical Encountering of Difference

Early encounters with those of other religions are inherently challenging and even threatening as I face a new worldview, a new way of interpreting reality, and new ways of responding that are clearly other. I am tempted to appropriate the other to my own worldview. I soon realize that this disruption to my worldview and ways of responding won’t go away, nor will it accommodate my own worldview and ways of responding. I may be tempted to withdraw from the situation, only to discover that my place in society may not allow for such withdrawal. The decision to proceed moves me on into the second stage.

Stage Two          Crossing Over — Letting Go and Entering the World of the Other

As I make the decision to engage the world of the other sincerely, I find myself called to explore, to learn anew, and to reassess my norms regarding adequate and appropriate expressions of values, and to critique my traditional attitudes. I find that I need to approach the new worldview with openness and a bracketing of my stereotypes and prejudices. As I do this, I find myself moving into stage three.

Stage Three          Inhabiting and Experiencing the World of the Other

The experience of empathy and interest then expands into a sense of freedom that opens doors to learn many things from this other world: what is of greatest importance, modalities of interaction, what causes suffering to those in this world. As I experiment with integrating ways of thinking and acting in light of my discoveries, I sense an excitement and a deepening relationship with those of this world. At a certain point, after I have gained some competence in negotiating this environment, I discover that this is not my true home. This moves me into the fourth stage.

Stage Four          Crossing Back with an Expanded Vision

The new knowledge I have gained in alternative ways of thinking and acting is now part of my repertoire as I regain my sense of belonging in my own world. I am able to think and act from both perspectives as the context may require. My own sense of identity has deepened, has changed, and no matter what choices I freely make to believe and to act, I can no longer assume that my former unilateral way of being in the world is the only way. My attitudes and concerns are irrevocably reshaped to hold the other in view, in relationship. This moves me into stage five.

Stage Five          The Dialogic Awakening — A Radical Paradigm Shift

I experience a profound shift in my worldview as well as expanded consciousness of concerns and needs and causes of dysfunction in world realities and viable ways of human response. I can no longer return to my former worldview that did not have a place for this other. Further, I am irrevocably shaped to the possibility that there is a plurality of viable worldviews, concerns, and human responses. This changes my sense of myself. I become aware of the interconnectedness of myself and many/all others, including Earth and all her needs and potentials. This awakening is what moves me into the sixth stage.

Stage Six          Global Awakening — The Paradigm Shift Matures

This stage of Deep-Dialogue opens me to the common ground that underlies the multiple worlds with which I am surrounded. I can perceive that the unique differences essential to these worlds are contained in a field of unity. My own inner world is now apparent as a range of perspectives and unique to myself. I am increasingly open to dialogue with others in my various communities of life, to a transformed relationship with them and an embrace of the context in which these communities are situated. There is for me an expanding world of communities of life with greater potential for ongoing dialogue, new learning, and deepened relationships. This moves me to stage seven.

Stage Seven          Personal and Global Transforming of Life and Behaviour

One of the most significant transformations that has taken place on this journey is a greater and more encompassing moral consciousness and ensuing practice. The communion that I experience with all — self, others, and the Earth — is profound. I sense that my care for myself, instead of being in competition with concerns for the welfare of other realities, is integral to the care of the whole. As I come to deeper self-realization and greater self-fulfillment, I experience deeper meaning in relationships and in my whole life.

Paul Mojzes is an American professor of religious studies.

Leonard Swidler is an American professor of ecumenical and interfaith studies.



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