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July 08, 2007
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July 08, 2007

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Home > 2007 Issues > July 08, 2007


Dialogue of civilisations in the global context

By Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi

The conflict among religions themselves is found to be perhaps the most difficult conflict, since each religion goes about the task in its own exclusive manner?and this seems to create deeper conflicts in civilisations and cultures.

The clash of civilisations and cultures is rooted in the differences of visions that aim at relating individuals and collectivities.

The Girnar edict of Ashoka says, ?Concord or harmony is the right attitude.? Tolerance and dialogue are the essence of this approach. India has been defined as the country living with the most ennobling experience of spiritual coexistence.

(Based on the speech delivered at 7th International Likhachev Scientific Conference from May 24 to 25, 2007, at St Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences, Russia)

The clash of civilisations and cultures has increasingly been recognised as a central issue of the contemporary world. This clash has for its settings the irreversible globalisation of the world. The world has grown global; and even though global consciousness has not seized humanity, the ideal of human unity has begun to figure largely among the determining forces of the future.

The scientific discoveries have made our planet so small that civilisations and cultures cannot grow in isolation from each other. At the same time the angularities and the sharp edges of civilisations and cultures are now openly in battle with each other. And the Time-Spirit demands that these battles are worked out in a new way.

It is in this context that the method of dialogue must be accepted and practiced to its logical conclusion, otherwise this clash can prove to be perilous; it can be even disastrous. Mankind, therefore, must practice the art and science of learning from each other. In this process we have to be extremely cautious to overcome the tendency towards exclusivism and the tendency towards uniformity which is intolerant of diversity.

It may be pertinent to ask the question: What is civilisation? In its ordinary sense, civilisation means the state of civic society governed, organised, educated, possessed of knowledge and appliances. It is an evolved state of society which also seeks to infuse knowledge in all aspects of life. And by culture we usually understand the entire way of life of a society; its values, practices, the way it defines its relationship not only among the members of the society but also with the environment. In defining the values of a society religion has an important role. Civilisations and cultures as meaningful entities can thus be understood as shaping the minds through which people view and experience reality and interact with others. As Orlando Patterson has argued cultural models are the sociological models of biological stem cells. Thus culture plays a major role in shaping human behaviour and progress of a society. The clash of civilisations and cultures is, therefore, rooted in the differences of visions that aim at relating individuals and collectivities.

And what is a dialogue? A dialogue accepts that one has the capacity to listen and to accommodate. Such an approach permits us to accommodate any different viewpoint without abandoning ourselves. Dialogue does involve a risk, a moral risk, but is worth taking.

The twentieth century world was tormented by serious conflicts and humankind witnessed and suffered two bloody wars. The First World War was fought with a view to ending wars but it did not happen. From the womb of the Second World War was born the ?Cold War? and an era of sharp ideological conflicts. World was more divided than ever before; There are three worlds now, witnessing and suffering perilous conflicts.

It was argued that the post-Cold War era would witness the emergence of a new techno-economic world-order leading towards the elimination of the major conflicts in the international politics. Francis Fukuyama presented his ?end of history? thesis and argued that the end of the Cold War signalled the end of the war of the ideas and also the emergence of the Western, liberal democracy which would be universally adopted as the form of government. It was argued that in a unipolar world competing powers would be transformed into cooperative partners. Did it happen? The growing international trade did not decrease conflicts and tensions rather increased them.

The conflicts of cultures and civilisations have various aspects among which economic and socio-political aspects loom large and have begun to affect the life of humanity in a very disturbing manner. There is, first, the old idea and philosophy of expansionism which, taking the advantage of globalisation, aims at exploiting the opportunities for purposes of domination and competitive economic gains. Whereas we are required today to develop global consciousness, what is being developed is global market and hegemonistic formations of economic and political groupings. While there is a need to develop sustainable economies that would favour equity for the undeveloped and developing countries of the world and restore the balance of an out-of-balance world, what is being developed is the philosophy of consumerism. But what is most disconcerting is the global push of extremism and exclusivism under the irrational pressure of passions of the philosophy of violence. Globalisa-tion has unwittingly generated the tyranny of global terrorism. This has rendered all the countries of the world, and innocent people in particular, helpless spectators who are obliged to remain and live in fear and at constant risk. If modern means of communication and transport and technology are placed at the service of guerilla warfare, the very roots of civilisations and cultures begin to be shaken. To live in constant fear and to allow people to live in constant fear is a brutal defeat of civilisation; and this should awaken all the leaders of politics, ethics and culture to create a climate where the ends of civilisations and cultures can triumph. Indeed, the movement of dialogue of cultures and civilisations can become an effective answer to the philosophy of violence, but what has been done so far is a beginning, even though a most welcome beginning. Much more needs to be done, and the dialogue must become more and more effective.

The time has come when the dialogue must be much more analytic and much more synthetic than what has been hitherto. We should therefore address three problems: firstly, the problem of the truths of individuality and collectivity and their harmonization; secondly, the problem of the truths of various methods and forms of governance and their harmonization; and thirdly, the problem of the truths of cognition, conation and affection and their harmonization. It will, however, be found that, at the present juncture, dialogues are likely to manifest one overarching concern on which the entire humanity can be welded in unity, and that concern is related to the quest for the loftiest peaks of knowledge and noblest means of action that seek the highest welfare of all members of humanity.

In this connection, we shall need to go deeper and notice the role that religions have sought to play in harmonizing philosophy and science with conflicting standards of conduct and various modes of creation and enjoyment of works of arts and crafts. It seems that a point has been reached in our study where all religions stand today with their great promise to heal the world of its conflicts. And yet the conflict among religions themselves is found to be perhaps the most difficult conflict, since each religion goes about the task in its own exclusive manner?and this seems to create deeper conflicts in civilisations and cultures. We need to address this problem as a problem of central focus.

In recent times, there have been a number of studies that aim at the solution of religious conflicts. In a recent work by Cottingham, entitled The Spiritual Dimension, the author argues that the conflicts of the religions can be resolved not by comparing and contrasting and attempting to reconcile various prepositions of religious beliefs, which are not rooted in one?s own culture. He goes farther to lay a special emphasis on praxis rather than on doctrines of religions, and he points out that the praxis of religions consists of deepening of our inner awareness which can lead to integration of our being. It is noteworthy that Cottingham seems to come very close to the solution of pluralism of religions in the context of Indian experience of religion and spirituality. For what has been most important in India has been the religious spirit rather than theological credo.

The Indian thinkers came to admit that the deepest core of religion transcends the intellectual formulation, rituals and ceremonies. They also came to recognise that the highest object of the religions is the reality that is infinite and it is in its nature many-sided and therefore capable of being experienced through various doors and expressed through varieties of intellectual formulations. This view not only accepts and tolerates diversity but goes beyond that, to celebrate diversity and declares that diversity is expression of life. The process of reconciliation among religions has been inspired in India by the spirit that declared that there are no true and false religions but rather that all religions are true in their own way and degree. But above all, the Indian experiment encouraged the pursuit of spiritual praxis. As a result, we find in the Indian religion varieties of schools or sects developing and living side by side under a general consensus that spiritual realisation and spiritual praxis are one thing needful. The Girnar edict of Ashoka says, ?Concord or harmony is the right attitude.? Tolerance and dialogue are the essence of this approach. India has been defined as the country living with the most ennobling experience of spiritual coexistence.

If religions cannot resolve the conflicts among themselves, we shall have to fall back on the state of crisis that humanity is confronted with today.

(To be concluded...)

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