Dialogue Principles

Dialogue in the interreligious, interideological sense is a conversation on a common subject between people with differing views undertaken so that they can learn from one another and grow. These principles (originally called the "Dialogue Decalogue"), formulated by Professor Leonard Swidler, set forth some fundamental ground rules for dialogue.

Click here to download the full version of the
original "Dialogue Decalogue," along with some suggested probes for further exploration.
(see below for various translations)


The essential purpose of dialogue is to learn, which entails change. At the very least, to learn that one’s dialogue partner views the world differently is to effect a change in oneself. Reciprocally, change happens for one’s partner as s/he learns about her/himself.


Dialogue must be a two-sided project: both between religious/ideological groups, and within religious/ideological groups (inter- and intra-). Intra-religious/ideological dialogue is vital for moving one’s community toward an increasingly perceptive insight into reality. 


It is imperative that each participant comes to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity. This means not only describing the major and minor thrusts, as well as potential future shifts of one’s tradition, but also possible difficulties that s/he has with it. 


One must compare only her/his ideals with their partner’s ideals and her/his practice with the partner’s practice, not one's ideals with one's partner’s practice.


Each participant needs to describe her/himself. For example, only a Muslim can describe what it really means to be an authentic member of the Muslim community. At the same time, when one’s partner in dialogue attempts to describe back to them what they have understood of their partner’s self-description, then such a description must be recognizable to the described party.


Participants must not come to the dialogue with any preconceptions as to where the points of disagreement lie. A process of agreeing with one's partner as much as possible, without violating the integrity of one's own tradition, will reveal where the real boundaries between the traditions lie: the point where s/he cannot agree without going against the principles of one's own tradition.


Dialogue can take place only between equals, which means that partners learn from each other—par cum pari according to the Second Vatican Council—and do not merely seek to teach one another.


Dialogue can only take place on the basis of mutual trust. Because it is persons, and not entire communities, that enter into dialogue, it is essential for personal trust to be established. To encourage this it is important that less controversial matters are discussed before dealing with more controversial ones.


Participants in dialogue should have a healthy level of criticism toward their own traditions. A lack of such criticism implies that one’s tradition has all the answers, thus making dialogue not only unnecessary but unfeasible. The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn, which is impossible if one’s tradition is seen as having all the answers.  


To understand another religion or ideology one must try to experience it from within, which requires a “passing over,” even if only momentarily, into another’s religious or ideological experience.

Download a full version of the original "Dialogue Decalogue" in any of these languages: