Role playing Bibliodrama and intercultural competence

How can we enrich and develop traditional way of conducting an intercultural and interfaith dialogue? Bibliodrama (Biblos = book) offers a unique opportunity to search for commonalities and links between cultures and religions in the holy scriptures from various sources.

(a wide selection of bibliodrama/intercultural scenarios available in English, Polish, Hungarian, Icelandic and Turkish at: and

The workshop took place on 18 September 2013 in Angelus Silesius House of Meetings (Dom Spotkań im. Angelusa Silesiusa) in Wrocław, Poland. The group consisted of 8 participants – adult educators from a few European countries. Trainer: Maria Schejbal

DSC_0098 (Large)

Specific intercultural aims of the workshop
The workshop aims at:
• reflecting on conflicts resulting from cultural and religious diversity;
• enhancing empathy, respect and tolerence towards people who are “strangers” for us;
• encouraging the group to learn about other religions and cultures;
• finding similarities and links between different religions;
• analyzing the essence of communication in the context of difficulties and problems faced during an intercultural encounter.

Structure of activities
1. Pulse with scarves
Pulse helps group members to focus on themselves and on their current needs. At the beginning of the session everybody gathers in a circle to share emotions and thoughts. The trainer places a bunch of scarves in the middle of the circle and invites each participant to choose the one which, through its color and texture, indicates a proper content (a completely different feeling is evoked by a light delicate fabric in pastel colors, than by a piece of thick, black material). Then, all participants talk about their feelings, explaining the choice of their material. The trainer asks them to speak also about their attitude towards so-called “strangers” – people representing other religions and cultures.
2. Warm-up: “Physical starter”
This exercise requires intensive teamwork from all the members of the group, and teaches them to react to the needs of others, at the same time, it makes them moving. All the participants stand in a circle. The trainer asks them to look at their neighbours, standing on the right and left sides, and to remember those people. Another thing to remember are three commands. “One” means moving at a normal, ordinary pace, “two” – very fast and “three” – very slowly. Participants must also remember to make use of the entire space, such that there is no unused spaces, or “holes”, and to maintain equal spacing between them. When the trainer gives the signal, the participants disperse, walking in different directions and exchanging a brief “hello” or “good morning” and a handshake with the person they are passing. The pace of movement is determined by the trainer’s commands. After a few minutes, the trainer brings this phase to a halt with the command “stop”. Now everyone looks around to find the person who was standing to their right at the beginning of the exercise. Having found them, they extend their right hand as far as possible toward that person, without leaving their place. Then, in the same manner, they locate the neighbour to the left. The participants all – very slowly, as if pulling arms – join hands. Joining with their original neighbours in this new formation, they form a knot, which now must be undone, without anybody letting go of any hands. It is usually possible to return to the original circle.
3. Studying Text – Buddhist parable
Everybody reads the text in silence and then writes down a few words describing his/her own castle. Participants can also make rough drawings of their imaginary buildings. After a while the trainer reads the text aloud.
4. Group game: Our castles
The group is given building material: cardboard boxes, brown paper, old newspapers, sticky tape. Each participant builds his/her own castle which represents their religious traditions and convictions or just the world views and beliefs. When the castles are ready, the leader plays the role of a stranger coming from far away with an important message – he speaks for this new character: Tell me about your castles. Which one is the most beautiful? (the participants answer, playing the roles of children from the story). And now, listen to me! I am offering you a great reward for all your good deeds and for being faithful to what you have believed in. But you cannot really see what is waiting for you before you cross the border of my kingdom, so you have to close your eyes. And now just follow my voice and the sound of the bell. Please keep your arms stretched forward to protect yourself from bumping into each other and into the walls. Be careful not to get hurt and not to hurt someone else. Stop when I ask you to stop. Now, the reward, the treasure has moved somewhere else, it is tempting you and calling, so follow my voice. Open your eyes and get back to reality. Look around – what happened to your castles? Put all the remains in the middle of the room.
5. Discussion
All the participants gather in a circle to share their feelings and reflections about the whole working process. Special emphasize is placed on discussing intercultural issues raised by the workshop activities.
Examples of questions facilitating the discussion:
• Can this Buddhist parable be compared with other stories we know from different religious scriptures?
• What is the main message of the story to each of you?
• Did you learn something new about your own convictions and believes?
• Are we so much focused on our own “castles” – believes, traditions, rituals that we are not interested in learning about the others?
• Will you be able to use the techniques proposed in your own educational practices?
6. Summing-up the session: Map
The group again uses colored scarves. Everybody stands up, surrounding the “ruins” of their castles and the scarves scattered on the floor. The task is to create a symbolic “map” representing elements which can be found in every religion. The trainer gives an example how it should be done. He/she chooses three scarves and places them, one by one, in three different spots, naming each of them and explaining what they represent. For instance: This big piece of red silk represents CALLING. This is how I see something tempting, alarming and calling for an answer. This small and blue one is appropriate for MYSTERY. It has the color of the sky. And the third multicolored, square scarf means RITUAL, because it reminds me of an interior of the church where I usually go. Everybody can add his/her own visual representation to the common map.

Source text
Castles in the Sand
Some children were playing beside the river. They made castles of sand, and each child defended his castle and said, ‘This one is mine.’ They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose. When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else’s castle and completely destroyed it. The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child’s hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, ‘He has spoiled my castle! Come along all of you and help me punish him as he deserves.’ The others all came to his help. They beat the child … Then they went on playing in their sand castles, each saying, ‘This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away! Don’t touch my castle!’
But evening came, it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home. No one now cared what became of his castle. One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both hands. Then they turned away and went back, each to his home.
From Yogacara Bhumi Sutra 4, quoted from World Scripture. Taken from Thus Have I Heard edited by Minh Thanh and P.D. Leigh.


  1. Maria

    24 January 2014

    I was recently asked to lead a bibliodrama workshop during an inter-religious event and I offered to explore “Castles in the sand” together with the group. However, the organizes rejected my proposition saying that this particular story invites people to leave their traditions and religions and to become “relativists”. That was surprising! I am really curious how other people understand this parable, so please give me some feedback. Maria

  2. Árnadóttir

    27 January 2014

    Hello Maria and thank you for sharing your scenario.

    I find your box-exercise very interesting. I would like to try it as a participant. I consider myself open-minded towards faith systems and I don´t find my Lutheran religion more important that other religions. But what would happen if I had to defend my religion in a situation like the one you describe in your scenario? Or if I would be forced to convert to another religion? I am sure all kinds of feelings would show up inside me.

    What I found interested in the BASICS bibliodrama project we participated in was to have the opportunity to talk about different religions in the same conversation trying to look at them in the light of understanding, free from prejudises . We had the opportunity to see religion more like our own feelings than like a box someone else had created.

    What BASICS intercultural bibliodrama project gave to me was the feeling that religion is not only something that was written thousands of years ago but something that is still being written with the words, thoughts and deeds of the people of today. Religion recreates itself every day. Since I don´t live in an orthodox society I feel that I have the privilege of choosing the best from different religions to create my own faith system. It does not matter where good things come from if they reflects my way of thinking. That is how I understand the word interfaith – to be able to give and take wisdom from each other.

    Maybe some people find my way of thinking weird, post-Christian relativism. But this is how I feel and many of us Nordic people: The religions of the world are treasures we can use in everyday life. I am Lutheran but I respect other religions. Or do I? Maybe I would find out about my profound prejudices if I had the opportunity to work with your box-exercise. Which I hope I will get some day.

  3. Yael

    30 January 2014

    Hi Maria,
    This is an interesting parable, and I think the conversation it might invite about how religions and nations attach to their own “castle” and feel protective of it against others, and about what we think the ending means, *could be* a valuable one, as long as the parable is not taught as if it is giving over a *true and absolute* message, which would indeed be irritating to me as a person of faith.
    For indeed the parable does seem to be implying that, like immature little children, we all attach to our own particular castle and get very aggressive towards others… but that when dark comes (=after death?) no one cares any more about such “petty and small things” that we leave behind (as we move to enlightenment?)
    Hence, perhaps this parable needs to be juxtaposed with a text of some sort that is its opposite – that validates embracing one’s own religion in a loving, yet flexible fashion in that we are still open to sharing and learning from others. The dialogue that could arise from this – and hearing people be honest about where they DO resemble the children in the parable – could be intriguing…

  4. Maria

    3 February 2014

    Well, I had another chance to explore and “test” the parable. Yesterday, we worked on this story with a group of educators – drama practitioners, psychologists, interfaith workers, coaches and theatre instructors. There were Christians, Muslims, one Zen Buddhist and people who declared no specific religious affiliation. A really interesting mixture of views and life experience which contributed to an interesting, yet tense course of the bibliodramatic play and exchange of reflections/emotions afterwards. The opinions about the parable itself and my way of using it in the workshop were truly diverse. I hope that some of workshop participants will share their experience here, on the platform. The workshop was part of United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week in Warsaw organised by the Polish Sufi Foundation.

    • Andrzej

      25 July 2014

      thank you again for the workshop. I would have love to have it repeated next year in February on the occassion of the World Interfaith Harmony Week. You and Piotr were excelent facilitators, and we could use the story “Castles in the sand”, agains with a different set of people. Story constains great potential for evoking diverse reactions and emotions. Off course another story you select might be also good. I am working of some selections form Masnavi of Jelaladdin Rumi. We already have half of the first volume translated, so we can use some of the stories from there.
      Greeting to you, Piotr, and to all form us at the Sufi Foundation.

      • Jarmila

        25 July 2014

        I read all activities and I very regret I finally could not participate on the workshop. I am joining my voice to Andrzej and would be happy if the workshop could be repeated. “Castles in the Sand” seems to me very inspiring on more levels. We as individuals are often playing on our smallish sand with no connection to others. It is valid also for homogeneous groups regardless way of their linkage (religion, nationality, sex, age etc.). And last, but not least also nations or countries are good example for these “plays”.
        Thanks for tips and I hopefully use it. However, reading is not the same as “experiencing” and “feeling”, so I will wait for new workshop:-))

  5. Birgitta

    12 February 2014

    Hi Maria! Thanks for sharing this interesting scenario. Nice to meet Björg and Yael here too. I have given some thoughts to the parable itself. i find it a lovely parable, full of wisdom. As far as I understand Bibliodrama gives every participant a choice to interpret the text according to his/her own life experiences. The way I interpret it, the castles are our individual or cultural constructions of thought, while the river itself can be interpreted as a much larger phenomenon, truth, life itself or God if you wish to use that word. Those who have experienced interreligious dialogue usually have found that the dialogue itself tends to strengthen the participant’s belief in his/her own tradition. The result will not be relativism or leaving one´s own tradition. It doesn´t say in the story that the castles were levelled out by the water during the night but this could also be read into it. Like in a psychodrama session when the group becomes totally flooded by the drama of the protagonist (something larger than ourselves), each individual, both the protagonist and the group, will rise from the experience with a little more wisdom about his/her own life. If the story had continued it might have said that the children returned the next day to build new castles that would be destroyed again, and so on. I find the castles built by the children a wonderful image of mankind´s perpetuous strivings to define the truth, life itself or God. The parable can also be interpreted as a specific Buddhist interpretation of the inconstancy of the everchanging flow of life.

  6. Ulrich

    26 February 2014

    Dear Maria,
    for me it has been very interesting to share the comments and contributions on this platform.
    Concerning the parable which has been chosen for an intercultural/interfaith dialogue I do understand, that irritations and diverse understandings might arise. I received the parable as a frame, in which workshop-participants can explore and discover personal interculturalism (personal feelings or actions in a described situation). Within the story I read three main acts:
    – the building and cultivation of identity (building a personal castle)
    – defending an own identity, which has been built, and destroying another one’s
    – letting go a constructed identity and recreating it all over again (every new day).

    In my understanding these three levels of dealing with ‘identity-building’ are very much connected with intercultural/interfaith dialogues. Therefore I think, the parable opens quite well the theme you want to share in the workshops. The fact, that within the parable conflicts are performed or that identity is introduced in a moveable and fluid condition, might be uncomfortable, but this is another cup of tea.

  7. ron wiener

    21 May 2014

    Hi Maria – liked the exercise and the parable – however as a sociodramatist I’m interested in how religions and the exercise relate to religions wider world – e.g. Marx’s comment that religion is the opium of the masses?

  8. Peta

    17 June 2014

    I really love the activities associated with this bibliodrama and believe that the workshop would have been a wonderful experience for participants. My problem is with the text – specifically about presenting the text as a religious source.

    According to the reference, the story of the sand castles is taken from a book of Buddhist sources but I am having trouble seeing this as a Buddhist ‘sacred text’. It does not contain any elements which make it ‘Buddhist’ nor any spiritual references which take it out of the realm of human interactions and broaden or elevate it to a transcendent level of discourse. Usually, religious texts require exploration and explanation, have multiple meanings and levels of meaning; they cannot be understood or fully absorbed with one reading. There is place for interpretation. That is why they are such rich sources for bibliodrama. Every person will find challenges in the text and every person can, eventually, find a personal reading that gives meaning to them. As far as I can see, this story only has one reading. Humans behave badly – and their bad behaviour is not really rational. True, it can raise questions as to why children behave in a particular way but that sort of speculation does not really arise from within the text. The story is, of course, also a parable about adult behaviour – as are most fairy-tales.
    Ultimately, it is a simple little story that speaks about the nature of human beings – and we all nod our heads, recognising the behaviour. But it lacks the subtlety and complexity of an authentic Koan or traditional text. Consequently, I am not convinced about the value of the story as a source for Bibliodrama in an interreligious context, if one of our purposes is to raise awareness of the values (or cultures) by which others live. If we want to stress our common humanity, this is fine. If we want to go beyond and to explore diversity, such stories do not achieve this for me.

    I trust that the above comments will be taken in the light of constructive criticism, in which they are intended.

Add a comment

You must be logged in to comment.