I have been toiling in the vineyards of Interfaith Dialogue for a long time, and I find the terminology stifling. It is a technical academic term which describes a process of comparing and contrasting with members of another faith tradition who believe in the same kind of effort. This is useful work, but it isn't very accessible to the average Joe and Jane who want to know how to avoid saying the wrong thing to someone who they know is different from them. Where do I start talking to a Buddhist when I don't know any Buddhists?
I now prefer the term Spiritual Diversity, as a means by which we can describe how to talk to each other when we are unsure of another person's spiritual orientation. It is less about talking than it is about listening.
Spiritual Diversity is akin to other forms of diversity work. It recognizes people are different from each other, and respects that. It recognizes that some people are shy and untrained in knowing about other people's faith lives, and seeks to create a comfort zone where these things can be discussed. It excludes proselytization - trying to convince someone to "convert" to your own spiritual beliefs - and is instead focused on Deep Listening, where one engages the other in learning and knowing, without challenging or arguing. Then, when one has access to a basic understanding of the other person's "spiritual location," one can share what they know and practice to the degree that the other wishes to hear. It's not an argument, it's not a battle. It's more of a co-operative learning session.
Why is this an important distinction? Because in seeking an understanding of Spiritual Diversity, we seek to learn, to know, and to be changed by the person we are listening to. We are not in an actual conversation unless we are open to be learning from, and being changed by, the one we are conversing with. We don't have to give up our faith to understand that someone else has some good ideas that we can accept and recognize. And both sides have to have this quality of openness in order for the process to succeed.
I come from Norwegian Lutherans, who are painfully shy, and who are worried about saying the wrong thing. The opportunity to learn about another faith tradition could be overcome by the feeling of being in error. A gentle mutual appreciation for Spiritual Diversity starts with understanding that mistakes will be made, but the intention is valid and honorable. Mutual respect and patience are marks of the spiritual practice called Hospitality.
I teach classes on this in college, and I pursue it through the arts. People are hungry for a chance to learn about other faiths, in my experience. If people can recognize the promise of experiencing another faith through a performance, through dance (for example, the Hindu orientation of Ragamala Dance Company), or through storytelling and drama, through painting or sculpture, the shy ones are relieved of the duty of saying anything at all. They can sneak through the portal of access to meaning. Theater came out of church ceremonies in English culture, and from funeral oration in Greek culture. Theater and church services are intertwined in that both present an event that conveys deep meaning. The shy one can pick this up and move forward with some appreciation for the culture they have encountered, and they have taken the first step to overcoming a reluctance to engage.
We are scared of a gay person until we meet a gay person. We are scared of a Muslim until we meet a Muslim. We are scared of a Jew, a black person, a white person, an Indian, a Native American, an evangelical, an atheist, a Lutheran or Catholic or anyone who is different from us, until we meet one and have a little contact. Recognizing that it is okay for them to be who they are, and it is okay for us to be who we are, that neither one has to go over to the other side, but that both can learn about something outside of one's own experience - this is what makes for a meaningful exchange of views.
In our world, it isn't just an interesting thing to do at a party. It may be central to how you make your living, who you marry, how you teach your children, how you live your ethical life. This is what it means to recognize Spiritual Diversity, and to use its methods for enriching our minds, our souls, and our lives.