Cultures and Religions in Dialogue

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Raimon Panikkar
Milena Carrara Pavan
Opera Omnia VI: Part 1
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , June
     320 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The second offering in Raimon Panikkar’s “Cultures and Religions in Dialogue” series focuses on the necessity of interreligious dialogue in the modern world. In Cultures and Religions in Dialogue Part Two: Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue, Panikkar begins with the claim that interreligious dialogue today is unavoidable, and offers both diagnoses and solutions to common issues that such dialogue encounters. For Panikkar, the theory of dialogue must commence with an acknowledgment that participants hold irreconcilable truth claims. He focuses on ways to continue after noting this conflict. The beginning of interreligious dialogue is not inter, but intra, in which an individual drops the misconception that one must “bracket” their own faith in order to learn and experience another’s. Rather, Panikkar claims that one must engage in self-reflection to understand their own positions and convictions before dialoguing with another (9).         

Leading up to his thesis, Panikkar first explains the different “attitudes” of dialogue and their stances on who should dialogue and how. The attitudes lead to particular dialogical methods that we might see in practice. These “attitudes” consist of: exclusivism: a belief in one’s own religious conviction as the only viable; inclusivism: a belief in one’s own religious convictions as ultimate truth with the recognition that other convictions exist; parallelism: feeling firmly rooted in one’s own tradition yet recognizing the limitations of it and finding common themes in other traditions; interpenetration: a deeper recognition of the interrelatedness of religions without noticing difference; and pluralism:the ultimate recognition that dialogue can and should proceed despite the admission that religious beliefs inherently disagree (16-22).

The five dialogical models that Panikkar suggests illustrate the promises and issues embedded in each attitude. The geographic model assumes that religions work toward the same goal (the peak of the mountain), yet use different paths to reach said goal (ascend the mountain); the physical model sees religions as different colors on a rainbow; the geometrical model assumes that all religions are different and irreconcilable, unless an invariant is intentionally sought out; the anthropological model puts forth the idea that each religion is a set of symbols that can be discussed across traditions by developing a common language; and the mystic model doesn’t name a difference at all (22-31). After defining the attitudes and models, Panikkar reveals his thesis, arguing that dialectical dialogue, or dialogue that allows one to evaluate the beliefs and traditions of others given that there must be no contradiction between systems of belief, fails the goal of interreligious dialogue. Rather, the dialogical process sets up the correct context for dialogue participants when the attitude and method allow for contradiction and do not demand translation, or fitting a tradition into a box. Panikkar derives his thesis from the most central claim in his work­­—that humans inherently lack full truth and, consequently, no single religion can claim superiority. For Panikkar, religion is a human endeavor, and is not simply a set of beliefs, but rather a living community (35-40).

As the emerging academic field of interreligious studies takes shape, Panikkar’s work represents an excellent bridge between the comparative religions theories and methods rooted in Christian theological comparisons to a field actively questioning foundational epistemologies and methods. The heart of this text is chapter 9, in which Panikkar delves into the necessity of interreligious dialogue as a religious activity (132). Through three levels—personal, religious traditions, and historical—Panikkar asserts that the essence of dialogue is cultivating mutual understanding among peoples (115) through shared questions of human existence, challenging all religious orthodoxy, and the link between peoples of the past, present, and future. To achieve dialogue’s purpose, the process must be open, interior, linguistic, political, mythical, religious, whole, and unfinished. Here, dialogue as unfinished means that the process continues within a person and among participants, as humans lack ultimate truth. In this chapter, Panikkar takes interreligious dialogue beyond comparative religions in two ways. First, he insists that all religious traditions, considering that they are a human endeavor, are limited and thus can open space for dialogue while dropping claims to exclusive truth. Second, Panikkar shows that dialogue is always taking place, as humans grow, and that the process of continual dialogue catalyzes one’s own religious growth (135-140).

Through Panikkar’s work we can engage the broader field of religious studies to ask important questions of how we know, and why. Without a doubt, Cultures and Religions in Dialogue challenges colonialist epistemologies common to the field of religious and theological studies by pushing back on any knowledge that scholars might take for granted, including privileging text as a main authority. Though Panikkar discusses the incompleteness of every religious tradition, and further notes that “religion” itself limits our scope of understanding, Panikkar’s work leaves little room for potential dialoguers who are not rooted in a particular religious tradition—especially those with little knowledge or experience in self-reflection. We [DKD1] wonder if the growing number of unaffiliated Americans, for example, can contribute to dialogue if they do not feel adequately “rooted,” and have not done the internal work to understand their faiths, beliefs, and lived commitments. Panikkar might agree that dialogue would be a difficult space for these folks, but that everyone holds the potential to practice intra-religious dialogue if they are willing to engage their own human limitations.

About the Reviewer(s): 

jem Jebbia is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at Stanford University. 

Date of Review: 
September 16, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) made pioneering contributions in the areas of interreligious dialogue, comparative theology, and the phenomenology of religion, while bridging different religions and cultures (Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism), and effected insightful conversation between the so-called sacred and secular worlds. These diverse contributions were tied together in a unifying vision he called his “cosmotheandric intuition,” the deep interconnection of the Divine, the Cosmic, and the Human.

Milena Carrara Pavan is an Independent Scholar.



Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.