Sometimes I have the feeling that some (of course not all) people, who are involved in interfaith dialogue, are afraid of theology. They seem to think that theology is making the dialogue unnecessary difficult and that the people should just get rid of complicated traditional believes (like for example the Christian trinity) and then they can assume that “in the end we are all the same”. For many people, especially those who are no studied theologians, theology seems to be a barrier between the different religions and their believers. I’m not sure whether this is because people are afraid of saying something “wrong” about the traditional believes or if they just consider theology as not important.
From my point of view theology must be a part of every deeper interfaith dialogue. “Theology” in it’s original meaning (it’s a Greek word) means: “Talking about God”. Of course the word “God” in this case comes from a Western (Mediterranean) thinking tradition and not all religions share the believe in a somehow personal thought god. But if you use “God” in a more general way in terms of “the absolute”, “the highest” “the infinite” “the ground of all being” or similar the term “theology” becomes (hopefully) open even for believers from faith traditions without a personal god.
In this meaning theology happens always when people talk about their believes and not only in dogmatic discussions at universities, in sermons or between high representatives of religions. If the aim of interfaith dialogue is to gain a deeper understanding of each other, than theology is an essential part of every dialogue. And theology itself has only a meaning if people are discussing it and talking about it, because theology is always about talking, discussing and arguing. That means that a theological dialogue can be very personal and maybe it doesn’t bring everyone to a deep agreement about certain questions (even if this is hopefully possible), but in a way a theological dialogue is more honest than one, where theological thoughts are excluded. If religion is a about the relation between human beings and god (which I would consider as an appropriate rough description), than this relationship must me part of the dialogue. In this case interfaith dialogue must be also about the “difficult” questions like “is there a god?”, “how is god?”, “why are we humans here?”, “what happens after death?”, “why does evil exist?”, “what is a good life?”, “how should we treat the world/creation?”, “how should we treat non-believers?” and so one. The result of such a “theological” dialogue could be, that there is a really deepened understanding of the partners in dialogue.
Of course there are risks in this kind of dialogue. It is difficult if there is a large difference in the knowledge about their own religion between the dialogue partners. These difference can at least make the “lesser-knowing part” feel uncomfortable and in the worst case make one partner dominating the other. But this risk should not be the cause for ignoring the above mentioned “theological” questions. As long as the dialogue partners treat each other with respect it should be possible to have a theological dialogue between any kind of persons.
So when you have a dialogue with someone of another faith, why not try to talk about the “difficult” theological questions? I’m sure that it will be very interesting to have a look at the deep questions, which might be the core of each of your believes – even if you don’t find a finale answer!