„We thought it was important to better understand how the interreligious dialogue field is connected and what opportunities exist to further deepen cooperation. In conversations with partners in interreligious dialogue, we noticed the presence of many existing networks and yet also a desire among people to connect and learn together.“
How connected and cohesive is the global field of interreligious dialogue? This was a key question that triggered this research, sponsored by Porticus and conducted by FASresearch. In the recent past there have been a number of efforts of varying magnitude to map the field of interreligious dialogue. However, a mapping of this scope, going beyond the geographic location of organizations and capturing also the working environment and peer organizations, is a novelty. Offering a sample of data on active IRD organizations as well as a deeper understanding of the structure and self-organization of IRD, this study aims to be a contribution to the field itself. Practitioners are invited to understand and use this map as a tool that allows them to strengthen their work by developing new strategies and forms of cooperation.
Over the course of four months (February to May 2021), 134 interreligious dialogue experts from 45 countries around the globe were interviewed. During these 30-minute interviews, interviewees shared their experience and expertise in regard to two sets of questions: First, interviewees were invited to name or “nominate” organizations that they considered to be key actors, newcomers (organizations that recently emerged on the scene) and formal networks. These nominations generated a network of 831 organizations located in 96 different countries. They are organizations of different types – NGOs, religious institutions, humanitarians & peacebuilders, online platforms, networks, even documents and theatres – that were identified by interviewees, themselves IRD activists and experts, as important contributors when it comes to interreligious dialogue. On average, respondents nominated some 11,2 organizations – which is remarkable compared to studies we did with a similar scope – and shows that experts can easily think of other relevant actors, which itself indicates a strong networking capacity. Below, you can interactively engage in this network through the Interreligious Dialogue Network and the Georeferenced IRD Network.
The second set consisted of four open questions about the respondent’s intentions to participate in IRD, the hot topics that currently have their attention, the perceived need as well as opportunities for cooperation and the quality of the networks they are part of. Interviewees were highly interested and enthusiastic about participating in this study, an impression underpinned by the high response rate to the interview requests (89,2%).
„This study is very important. There is a strong need for partnership, and for that, we need accurate data. There is a lack of basic awareness about others in the same or neighbouring country. It is important to share experiences and best practices and create visibility.“
Interactive IRD Network
How to use the network map
The network map shows IRD organizations that we collected in this study, and their connections. The connections are the result of interviewees’ responses to the questions whom they view as key actors, newcomers (organizations that recently emerged on the scene) and formal networks. The network as a whole reveals the structure of the field of interreligious dialogue: Whether organizations are close to the centre or embedded in their own subclusters, with whom organizations commonly interact and who they recognize and appreciate – in short: what their ecosystem looks like.
If you hover with the cursor over one of the organization or nodes, the connections of that organizations are highlighted – namely, whom they nominated as a key actor/newcomer/network and by whom they were nominated as such.
Alternatively, you can use the search bar to look for your own organization or other organizations that you know of or are interested in. Once you click on that organization, you are guided to its location in the network map. Use the zoom function to get a better overview over the organization’s ecosystem. Who are the connected organizations? Are they familiar, or completely new to you? What are communalities and differences of the organizations in this subcluster?
A click on the node provides more detailed information about the specific organization such as the full name, the country, the number of nominations it has received etc. Furthermore, the info box shows what issue the organization currently considers to be a “hot topic”. By choosing a hot topic, other organizations that are also interested in this issue are indicated with a red circle around the node.
We further included three filter options – religious affinity, type of organization and hot topic. You can select several categories within one filter. For instance, if you are interested to see the connection between “Jewish” and “Muslim” organizations, select those two categories and the map only displays organizations of that religious affinity and their (dis-)connections. You can also cross the filters. If you select, for instance, “Christian” and “Humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations”, the network map displays the connections between Christian IRD organizations and humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations. It is not possible, however, to display only those humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations that are Christian.
Finally, make use of the “Select all/none” function to get back to the unfiltered network map.
„In 2010, the Arab Spring happened. And I said that religious leaders have failed in helping the public, the man on the street, to use interfaith values to call for respect and human dignity. Even now, there is so much hatred. That’s why I shifted the mandate from interfaith dialogue to working together, to interfaith cooperation.“
How to use the geo-map
The geo-map displays all organizations that are also included in the network map – but this time, they are arranged according to their geographic location instead of their network position. By clicking on an organization, you can see which other geographic areas the organization is connected to. Are they more strongly embedded in their own region, or do they have far-reaching connections to organizations in other parts of the world? The basis of these connection is the same in the network map: It is the result of interviewees’ responses to the questions whom they view as key actors, newcomers (organizations that recently emerged on the scene) and formal networks.
„What I see with a lot of international organizations is that they come into Nigeria, wanting quickly to go into building bridges, so they look for the usual names of Pastors and Imams to organize a dialogue. They are trying this without getting to the community to handle those who are burning bridges every day.“
The IRD Network has a strong core and several stable subclusters that are connected to the centre
The IRD network is single-peaked and highly centralized: Instead of having several centres, the network has one single core with few highly visible and prestigious organizations. Organizations in the semi-periphery of the network are well-embedded in their own stable communities or subclusters which are directly or indirectly connected to the centre. The subclusters are primarily defined by geography – organizations are engrained in their regional or local communities, rather than for instance, around certain topics.
Newcomers and women are well-integrated into the field
While there is a moderate amount of both newcomers and women in the network, the network position of these actors tells another story: Women and newcomers are by no means on the margins of the field. When captured in the network map, both are visible and well-integrated in all areas of the network - the centre, the semi-periphery and the periphery.
The field has many established as well as recent good-quality networks
Many networks date back to recent years such as KAICIID (2012) and the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) (2016), but there are also several well-established ones such as the Parliament of World‘s Religions, which dates back to 1893, or Religions for Peace (established in 1970). 73.6% of the interviewees consider their own networks to be of high or medium quality. Interviewees also provide indicators on what makes a good network such as the diversity of actors (connecting actors from different geographic regions, different levels or different types) or the space for sharing best practices through Cooperation and exchange.
IRD is a means to another end: The majority of IRD actors focus on how religions can contribute to solving problems
IRD is not so much an engagement between religions about religion, but a field in which people seek to leverage their religious resources to bring about change. While only 10.4% of the interviewees see IRD as a way to engage in scholarly study and theological debate, most organizations intend to solve specific problems and tackle societal issues such as Building peace (44.8%), fighting hatred like antisemitism, anti-muslim sentiments and racism (18.7%) and improving mutual understanding (35.1%).
Topic-based cooperation is the order of the day!
Cooperation is the very fabric of IRD and it is no surprise that almost 70% of respondents welcome and support more cooperation. The field is very much driven by action and tackling societal issues and likewise, the most important opportunity for cooperation is seen in working together on current topics. Despite the recent pandemic, the issue that attracts most of the attention of the actors in the field remains gender, followed by radicalization & violent extremism, and ecology.
„I would like to shift the culture of discourse about how we perceive religious communities in a way where the other is not the enemy, in a way where there is more collaboration between religions than a strive for conflict.“
Two typologies were applied to characterize the network: type of organization and religious affinity. These typologies are an attempt to provide orientation and help you navigate around the IRD network. Multiple points of view are possible as organizations always carry different identities and fulfil multiple functions at the same time. We rise no claim to completeness, unambiguity or exclusivity.
The leading criteria for these typologies, particularly in the case of religious affinity, is the self-identification and self-presentation of organizations. Important sources were the mission statement or profile on the organization's website. For those actors that interviews were conducted with, their self-descriptions in the interviews were taken into account.
In cases where no unambiguous self-identification was found, an assessment was made based on several indicators and sources relating to the dialogue activities of said organization.
„Interfaith is a slow burn. You cannot tell what comes out immediately of 2020, but maybe in 10 years time, someone gets up and remembers that one good encounter and that person goes on and helps solve local tensions.“
Through this participatory process, we learned that…
… there is appreciation for the research and the maps as a starting point:
The five insights and the network map provide a first glance into opportunities for cooperation, alignment, and joint action. Insights such as the organization’s interests in specific hot topics – with gender and LGTBQI being the No1 issue – have the potential to create new interactions.
… there is criticism of and open questions around the research:
An important discussion point was how to bridge the gap between a map and having impact. Each organization appears as a dot – but how can these dots be connected? How can organizations be activated to get in touch? For this, more specific knowledge about the concrete activities of each organization as well as newly formed initiatives would be helpful.
… there are still some “to dos” for the IRD network
IRD is often risky for women, and female religious leaders need to be brought to the table. Another gap is formed between different levels. For instance, one question was how to bring grassroots organizations and global research institutes together.
You can also find a recording of the presentation of our key study results here.
Do you have any further questions?
Lisa Bertel, MSc, BA
Project Management, Politics & Civil Society