The Journal of Ecumenical Studies (J.E.S.) was founded by Arlene and Leonard Swidler in 1964 as the first peer-reviewed academic journal in the field of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Born out of the ecumenical spirit of the Roman Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, J.E.S. began with an emphasis on dialogue among diverse Christian traditions. Its focus quickly broadened to Christian-Jewish dialogue and soon thereafter to interchange among a wide array of religious traditions.
In 1978, as a companion arm to J.E.S., Professor Swidler established the “Institute for Interreligious, Intercultural Dialogue” (IIID) with the first International Scholars’ Abrahamic Trialogue (ISAT). These conferences brought together leading scholars from each of the Abrahamic faiths in regions where interreligious understanding was crucial to promoting stability and peace. The gatherings began with a six-year series held at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics in Washington, DC, 1978-1983, and expanded in 1989 with a gathering of international scholars in Philadelphia. Additional ISATs were held in: Atlanta, United States; Orlando, United States; Graz, Austria; Jerusalem; Jakarta, Indonesia; Skopje, Macedonia; Philadelphia, United States (jointly with the 35th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches). The most recent ISAT, which focused on interreligious cooperation in relation to socially responsible global business, was held in Amman, Jordan, in May of 2008. It was hosted by HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal, a long time ISAT member and Chair of the board of Jordan’s Royal Institute of Inter-faith Studies.
The initial organization created in 1978 evolved into the “Global Dialogue Institute" and eventually, in 2008, to the Dialogue Institute (DI). For the past 40 years, this work has translated the cutting-edge research published in J.E.S. into concrete activities and partnerships around the world. Beyond the ISATs, numerous other conferences have been sponsored on specific issues in the arena of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, including groundbreaking seminars on Jewish-Christian Dialogue in German universities (East and West) and throughout the United States; Christian-Marxist Dialogue in the United States and Europe, the former Soviet Union, and China; and an International Buddhist-Christian Dialogue Conference in Japan. More recently, extensive, customized dialogue training programs in a wide range of disciplines and cultural contexts comprise the core focus of DI activities.
Through its Philadelphia-based programs, the DI works to identify, train and support leaders who can counter intolerance and violence by advancing the values of religious freedom, gender equity, dialogue and mutual understanding. Working with partners around the globe, in contexts as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Israel, Congo, Egypt, and Iraqi Kurdistan, the DI/J.E.S. is equipping leaders with the skills to respond positively and creatively to these global challenges.