Definition of Terms: Interreligious, Interfaith

Beverly Lanzetta Articles

In today’s world the various concepts relating to interfaith and interreligious issues are often used interchangeably, and are employed to address similar ideas and practices. All of these terms–many of which are defined below–emphasize a self-conscious commitment to four areas: a) importance of personal faith experience as a foundation for authentic dialogue; b) communal discernment of truth as a necessary element in clarifying the claims of one’s own tradition; c) recognition that an interreligious vision cannot be achieved at the expense of historically marginalized groups of people; and d) the need to apply this shared wisdom to pressing historical circumstances.

To clarify something of their historical usage, the following definitions are offered.

Interreligious Dialogue: Term used to convey the exchange of ideas, practices, beliefs, and cooperative work for social justice among representatives of the world’s religions. Leonard Swidler contends that dialogue takes place on the cognitive, practical, and spiritual levels and encourages the respectful listening and sharing that leads to: unlearning misinformation and learning who we are; appropriating other traditions into our own; and exploring new areas of reality, meaning and truth neither partners in dialogue have been aware of before.

Ecumenical Dialogue: Ecumenical is an adjective meaning “universal,” derived from the Greek word oikoumene, “the inhabited world” or “the whole world.” However, the term “ecumenical” most often today is used to refer to dialogue between and among Christian denominations.

Intrareligious Dialogue: Developed by Raimon Panikkar to express that dialogue among traditions and the challenges of understanding a different religious worldview take place not only between traditions, but first and foremost within oneself. [See additional information at]

Interfaith Dialogue: Term used interchangeably with Interreligious Dialogue, but tends to emphasize the sharing of the specific faith dimensions, inner motivations, spiritual practices, ritual expressions, and personal religious experiences across traditions. It also highlights the search for a common basis of spiritual experience and faith among all people.

Intermonastic Dialogue: Discussion among monastic representatives of various traditions – for example, Christian and Buddhist monks – that is specifically concerned with the dialogue of spiritual experience and spiritual practice. It emphasizes that the journey of dialogue is itself a spiritual path that naturally evolves into a profound discussion of the interior dimensions of the spiritual life and its implications for humankind.

Interspirituality: A term coined by Wayne Teasdale to express the assimilation of insights, values, and spiritual practices from the various religions and their application to one’s own inner life and development. Further, the prefix inter in “interspirituality” expresses the ontological roots that tie the various traditions together and the essential interdependence of the religions.

Intercontemplative: A term I developed that builds on all of the above definitions and sometimes used interchangeably with “interfaith” in my writings. Highlights that the mature depth of the inner life is not confined to those who practice a formal monasticism or mysticism. Rather, monastic/contemplative consciousness and the capacity to dwell in silence is intrinsic to being human, allowing us to think of the monk or the contemplative as a universal archetype present in all people.

Monastery and Monastic: These terms are used in my writings to express an inner dimension of silence and solitude where we come to rest in our divine source. They convey the idea that we contain within us a holy hermitage, a point of openness, and a place of intimacy that belong to the divine and cannot be co-opted or trampled by the world.

Via Feminina: From Latin, meaning the way of the feminine or the feminine way.  A term I coined to express the distinctive mystical path of the feminine. Rooted in ancient cultures, yet consciously emerging today, via feminina refers to the inner life, techniques of contemplation, ways of knowing, alleviation of oppression, and the path one travels to liberation or ultimate divine union.

In using these concepts in my work, my intent is to convey the intrinsic and holy unity of life that we strive to discover and experience in our own spiritual lives and practices.   ~Beverly Lanzetta

What, then, is the purpose of interreligious cooperation? It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help one another; to share insight and learning,. . . to search in the wilderness for the power of love . . . What is urgently needed is the courage to cooperate in trying to bring about a resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive the divine sparks in our souls, to nurture openness to the spirit of the Psalms, reverence for the words of the prophets, and faithfulness to the Living God. ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Copyright © 2008  Beverly Lanzetta. All rights reserved.  Fair Use citation for educational purposes only. Please cite author’s name and source.