​Deconstructing Dialogue: New Perspectives on Religious Encounters: Ancient, Medieval and Modern

Deconstructing Dialogue:
New Perspectives on Religious Encounters: 
Ancient, Medieval and Modern

January 21-23, 2010

University of Chicago Divinity School
Swift Hall
1025 East 58th Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60637


Religious dialogue is an important feature of the modern religious experience. Closely related to liberalism, ecumenism, ideals of tolerance and mutual understanding, it seems to be a product of the Enlightenment. Or is it?

Under the title of "Deconstructing Dialogue," the goal of this conference is to initiate a new, critical, multi-disciplinary approach to the phenomenon of religious dialogue, and to problematize the Enlightenment origins and meanings of "dialogue." Starting with questions of origins and development - what is dialogue, how has it been defined and conceived, by whom and in what context - the conference will examine the genealogy of modern ideas and practices of religious dialogue in comparison to pre-modern traditions (of polemics and disputation, heresiography and heresiology) thus providing a broader framework for studying the ways ideas are discussed and debated across time and geographical or cultural divisions. A secondary aim is to shift attention away from a contemporary theoretical preoccupation with religious conflict solely apprehended through symbolic and physical violent confrontations. Religious interaction through dialogue - even in seemingly "positive" ways - is perhaps a far more subtle form of religious conflict and certainly a rich (if unexplored) site for scholarly investigation.

The conference participants represent a variety of scholarly disciplines, including the social sciences, history, history of religion, philosophy, literature, music and the arts. They will raise questions about the definition of dialogue (established from above by scholars, philosophers, religious or political leaders) vs. the lived practice of dialogue (dialogue "on the ground," as it were); geographies of dialogue - sacred spaces and counter-spaces, where does dialogue take place and why; political motivations: when does dialogue occur and for what purpose; methods and vehicles of dialogue and strategies of representation; inter-religious vs. inner-religious dialogue, or even the internal dialogue of religious converts; dialogue in fiction and fact - especially in relation to the literary genre of dialogue; the ethnography of interfaith, its politics and aesthetics (dialogue in art and architecture, music, or culinary and other practices).

The conference will be colloquium style. Each session will have one or several respondents who will push toward more general or theoretical conclusions based on case studies. Each panel (3 papers) will be 2 hours long. Each speaker will take 20 minutes to present his/her paper. A discussant will discuss the papers and conversation between panelists and then between panelists and the public will follow.

Cosponsored by The Divinity School, the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, the France Chicago Center, and the Franke Institute for the Humanities. Questions may be directed todeconstructing.dialogue@gmail.com or call (773) 702-8230.