Respect is a key topic in interfaith dialogue. It is the most frequently cited objective in the many different dialogue projects in which our Centre works.

As the Director of the Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue at Griffith University, I have long pondered on the idea of respect in the work that I do. I speak about respect quite often and respect is the most commonly expressed desire in the many dialogues and disputes with which I work. I frequently say that the ultimate object of my work in interfaith dialogue is respect between different parties, individuals, communities. I say that the purpose of the principles for cross-cultural collaboration that I teach are to establish an environment of respect so that the ‘other’ will be willing to share their differences, with the objective of using those differences as resources for unique solutions. 

But is it really possible to have respect for another who is different from you? In particular, is it possible to respect someone who believes differently from you? Take, for example, the experience I had a couple days ago. I was working in northern Burkina Faso, training a group of religious leaders from the Sahel on conflict resolution skills. I was the only Christian present in the training, either as participant or trainer. After a few days, one of the participants approached me with a desire that I convert to Islam. We had a frank, friendly discussion on some fundamental differences between our faiths and why, because of these, I would not accept his invitation to convert. 

This is a relatively uncommon example of an encounter between incompatible differences, but it illustrates the challenge in the question posed above. Is it really possible to have respect for another who believes differently from you? In my opinion, it is possible to respect in this situation, but that it is rarer and more precious than I originally thought. I say this is possible because I genuinely feel I have respect for others. One source of my respect for some is that I recognise in them the same sincerity and faith and conviction that I have to certain things in my life, like my religion and my family. Thus, while I don’t understand how they can believe what they believe when it is clearly opposing that which I sincerely and with conviction hold to be true, I can at least understand their conviction, sincerity, faith and, therefore, respect them. 

But then I must ask myself, is the respect I have for them as individuals, or does it also include their group/culture/religion? In other words, do I have respect for their culture or religion, which is so different from mine and which contains elements with which I do not agree or even strongly disagree? It is perhaps easier to respect an individual, because we can always find those we like and to whom we can relate in any culture or religion. We can identify certain traits that we find respectable, like sincerity, honesty, faith. And thus, despite the fact that they believe in things that we don’t, we can understand and humanise/personalise this difference. 

I think the answer to this last question is, “Yes.” And for me the respect doesn’t come from a theoretical, abstract investigation of another culture or religion, however interesting and invigorating this is to me. The respect comes through getting to know and understand individual representatives of that group and then can spread to the broader group overall. 

Perhaps that is the crux of the discussion, which becomes the focus of my work. Respect and understanding are developed through individuals speaking of and living their beliefs, not by hiding them from others.

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Comment by Libby and Len Traubman on February 1, 2014 at 3:25pm

Brian, thank you.  Your experience is exactly ours of Experiencing respect by Experiencing diverse others face-to-face. The intellect alone, as you say, is inadequate for sustainable humanization, reconciliation, and living together.  It seems that the Heart Connection enables fear to atrophy and the brain to finally begin working properly.


Some of the time-tested, citizen-driven examples of this newly-found face-to-face respect include:


Cote d'Ivoire --
Dozos-Guerre Tribal Reconciliation in Cote d'Ivoire (June 2013)
64-mn documentary video
DR Congo (West) --
DR Congo (East) --
Nigeria (North) --

Comment by Sheunesu Hove on January 31, 2014 at 6:50pm

Hi Brian

I agree with you that respect is a difficult concept yet it is important in our interrelationships and connectivity with the other. While we embrace respect as an important element in facilitating dialogue processes between us as a people of different faiths, believes, religions and so on, the challenge comes when we operate at the collective rather the individual level. You rightly said that at individual level you had an honesty conversation with one of the Moslem guys and you agree to disagree when he wanted you to convert to his faith. It is more easier to respect each other at that level than it will be when the same guy is or yourself is operating at the collective levels where collective norms are more pronounced than individual norms. My point is that at the collective level compliance with group norms and identity becomes more compelling than individual choices and respect then becomes a function of collective behaviour. The challenge is inherent in the fact that dialogue processes take place more at group level than at individual level, especially interfaith dialogue.

Comment by Brian Adams on January 31, 2014 at 5:06pm

Yes, I agree, Jennifer. I've often viewed/written about respect as more of a continuum of manifestations rather than a single coherent concept. And thanks for the lead on the Respect Research Group in Hamburg. I will check them out. 

You might also be interested in the G20 Interfaith Summit we are holding in Brisbane this year. The topic is Freedom and Economic Development. It is largely an academic and policymaker conference looking at the ties between religious freedom and economic development. We have a number of Muslim partners from Australia, South Asia and the Middle East. 

Comment by Brian Adams on January 31, 2014 at 5:01pm

Hello Oluba. That is a great observation. In all my ruminations, I have not made a connection between respect and humility. I'll have to throw that into the mix. 

Comment by Jennifer S. Bryson on January 31, 2014 at 2:13pm

I think it can be helpful to consider that there are different types of respect.  I explain more about this idea here:

Comment by Oluba Anthony on January 31, 2014 at 10:15am

Dear Brain, your question and observation is ok but I will quickly add that the issue of respect [as you rightly pointed out] is very difficult. Respect is a form of humility and a proud man finds it difficult to do that. Again it is a form of submission. If our modern society today imbibes this culture of respect, then that will be a step towards global peace. Respect is a key issue in peace building and peace making. So, I think what is urgent now is to begin to learn and teach the art of respect. Thanks for raising this issue.

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