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Symposium on Interfaith Education
of the World’s Religions, 2004)
[transcribed by Ann
Pathways to Peace ~ The Multiple Contexts of
Day 1: 8:00-9:00 a.m.
Namaste. Welcome to CIE.
We are delighted to have Mr. Kiran
Vyas who is from Paris, France, and has ashrams in Paris and Normandy for the
study of yoga, meditation, and cultures of India. His father was a friend of
the Gandhi-ji and he has studied all the religions with deep knowledge of yoga
Namaste. I am very happy to
be here for this interfaith gathering. I am a practitioner of Aryuveda, the
Indian medicine, and an educationalist ~ that is to say in the field of
education. For many years, I have been directing a few experimental schools in
India because the goal was, the aim was, to have an integral education, to make
persons free from all violence: ahimsa, that is to say, there should be
no violence. The nonviolent movement of Gandhi-ji, the great soul of India, was
to be practiced through education. Even the independence of India was to be
earned through nonviolence and that was one of the main things that I tried out
with my father in some of the schools in India.
We shall start with the Navkav
Mantra because you all know that this is the mantra of mantras from the Jain
religion. There are so many religions on earth. The Jain monks would put
something in front of their mouth not to kill even the bacteria or insects and
some of the Jain members would clean in front of their feet before walking not
to kill anything. But we shall start with nonviolence, ahimsa, because
in order to live, one has to have peace in mind, one has to have an inner faith,
one has to have an ear towards evolution, towards progress.
We are here to practice meditation.
There is some need for our mind to understand why we should meditate. First of
all, in all religions, in all faiths, there is always a meditation. whatever
might be your path. In all events of life, when there is a success, there is
always a meditation behind. In fact, even in books, for example, a skier or
somebody who is going to do a high jump or long jump, before he takes his run,
he stands still sometimes with the eyes open, sometimes for a fraction of a
second with the eyes closed. There is just this little bit of moment when he is
immobile, when he is silent…and in fact before he takes off, as if he knows
whether he is going to be successful or if he is not. It is this moment of
meditation that puts the energy of success or it is this little moment where he
knows that perhaps it is not for this time, it has to be for another time, but
the success will come.
As I was born in this sort of
interfaith atmosphere with Gandhi, my parents used to go for meditation at 4
o’clock in the morning. We used to make all possible arrangements so that I
could remain sleeping, but they were always surprised at how exactly quarter to
four I would wake up and say I would like to go for meditation. What I learned
right at the age of two, three or four, was all religions have the same path and
that path is called the inner path. There is one outer movement and then there
is one inner movement. If one wants to go into the inner movement, one has to
follow a meditation. Of course, after that, when I grew up, I went to some of
the ashramers, that is to say, the great masters, to learn such things. In
fact, I stayed for twelve years in Aurobindo Ashram, one of the great
philosophers of India. Meditation had been my inner life; at the same time,
something that I consider to be one of the most important things. At the same
time, this cannot be imposed upon. You cannot tell somebody, “Go meditate.”
Even Churchill during the Second World War, to get inspiration, would sit down
for a while and meditate. In fact, he even went so far that he would like to
take his bath when he had lots of problems, when the world was getting
destroyed, and he would just close down in his bathroom with a tub full of water
and he would start his meditation.
Once, in the Himalayas, the great
mountains of India, I was looking for some people who would meditate. It is
quiet, pleasant, in cold season, where there is ice and snow, and seeing those
monks sitting in lotus position, we might be having warm clothes whereas they
are almost naked just with some ashes on their face and body. We wonder, how
come they can survive? Then in that search, one day somebody told me that there
is one sadhu, one monk, who lives at the high top about 4,000 meters and
up, more than about 3,000 feet. So I went to the Himalayas, the source of the
River Ganges. Then they asked me to cross the glacier and climb up again, and
there I met this half-naked sadhu who was sitting. I tried to go to him
and to ask him “Please teach me meditation.” He would not move. He would not
even look at me. I was almost afraid. Then, after ten minutes, I saw that he
was not getting wild with me, so I sat beside him, but he would not give any
answer to any of my questions. I remained sitting half an hour, almost one
hour, and then after an hour, he asked me “What would you like to know?” And I
said, “Please teach me some secrets of meditation.” He said “No. You know how
to read. You know how to write. Why don’t you go and read in the books?
Everything is written.” I said “But practice is certainly important.” And he
said “Well, you were studied. Tell me which part of the body or what cells are
the most intelligent in the human body? The muscle cells? The bone cells?
This or that?” And naturally I replied, “The nervous system and the nerve cells
that I would say are the most intelligent in the human body.” Then he asked me,
“Where are they situated in the body?” I answered, “They are situated in the
brain, in the head, and in the spine.” Then he said, “There you come to the
right place, but humanity has not progressed beyond this.” I didn’t understand
anything. I said, “You mean to say that intellectual knowledge is not good or
our arguments are not good or what is it? Please explain.” And he said, “It is
good. Everything is good. But the higher thing you can come to with your
brain, with your nervous cells, is only this much.” I said “What is this
much?” One of his disciples was standing against the light from the fire. Then
he asked me, “Please draw this box where these cells are concentrated.” I
didn’t understand but then I drew in space the head, like this, and the vertical
column, the spine, and the coccyx the point. Then he said “What mark does it
make? An exclamation mark?” Then I said “It is a question mark.” So he said,
“There you are. How intelligent can you be? The most that you can do is you
come to the question, but you cannot go beyond the question and the meditation
is certainly something beyond this question so would you like to go beyond it?
That is the phenomenal question for you. The day that you decide that you would
like to go beyond this question mark, then certainly something could be done.”
Certainly, I went on questioning
myself what to do, what not to do. I went to nonviolence and how to develop the
nonviolence within one’s self ~ that is something extraordinary. In India we
have one small saying in Sanskrit, if I translate it into English, it will mean
“One drop of practice is better than an ocean of theories.” So instead of
speaking about meditation, let us try to experience or experiment.
Each teacher will teach in a
different manner, each master will teach in one’s manner. But scientifically, I
would say that when the right brain and the left brain come into some harmony,
you will enter into meditation. When your energy or what you would call yin and
yang, when they come into equilibrium, you will come into meditation. When your
positive energies and your receptive energies…the word for meditation in India
is ….. and the word for meditation in Japan is zen. In India, the word went to
Tibet, then it crossed the Himalyas, and then it fell on the other side of the
Himalayas, in China it became chan and so became . And so going a few
more kilometers, hundreds of miles, coming almost on this side of the ocean, but
still in China, it became from to and when it fell down into Japan, they
could not pronounce either, so it became zen. You see how the word
became zen. But for meditation, techniques would be different. For example,
Kirti-ji is a Jain monk and I am originally a Hindu Brahmin. We sit together,
we discuss, and very often we go even to the other faiths and see, listen to
their practices, and then we come back and we decide what lies behind because
all the religions are using like the engineers. They use the science and the
science is the meditation. There is a science of physics, how to use the
electricity, and so almost all of the religions would use these techniques. So
for example, one day we were listening to the Gregorian songs in one church, but
then the sounds were repeating. The conclusion? That these sounds are the
sounds that would help you to go to some sort of inwardness.
And so today of course I cannot make
you go into all details, but we can try one thing…the breathing. The
respiratory moment is certainly related to the mind moments. For example, you
want to be angry or you are very angry. Then your respiration would be all
topsy-turvy, you would be breathing fast. It should not be that you close your
nose or you close your mouth ~ then you would be suffocating. Only thing, you
will not need to breathe so much and the breathing will calm down, meditation
will take place. Similarly, people are most astonished when I tell them that
the right nostril and the left nostril, they both do the work of breathing, but
they have two different functions. They say “What? The function is to take the
air in.” “No.” When you breathe through right nostril, it builds up the energy
of sadhu, the soul energy. It builds up also the left brain synergy,
that is analytical energy, questioning energy, and the vitality of ? energies.
So if you want to give an order to somebody, then naturally you need to breathe
through your right nostril. But on the other hand, if you would like to go into
peaceful mind, to go into
Receptivity, certainly you have to
breathe more through the left nostril. But let’s take an ordinary example.
Suppose if you are a small little secretary and you have Big Boss, certainly the
Big Boss gives you the orders. But one day, if you would like to convince your
Big Boss you want to take a holiday. What should you do? You should breathe
through your right nostril, and you should ask him “Please give me a holiday.”
Your boss should breathe through his left nostril so that he is receptive and he
says “Oh, how nice, please take a holiday.” Certainly this is not that easy;
you will not go and close part of the nose of your boss, but when it happens, be
sure that he is breathing in that way and you are breathing in this way. These
things when you know, you can develop positive signs.
Just to start preparing your selves,
please be seated, the back straight. The spine should be as straight as
possible. Certainly in India we put our legs cross-legged, sometimes in the
Lotus position. What is the reason to do this? Of course, laughingly we always
say that if you are in the Lotus position, you cannot go to sleep or if you
fall, you cannot fall down. But the true reason is you close the circuit of
energies that are going below and you want the energy circuits to go above. The
vertical column is the main branch where the solar and the lunar energies flow.
So please be seated, the back straight, shoulders relaxed, take a deep breath,
breathe in and then let it out slowly and softly. Before we start, let us just
put our five fingers on our navel and just produce any sound, “Ou” or “Ah.”
Very strongly, breathe in and
pronounce or shout “EUEUEUEUEUEUEUEUEUEU.”
Breathe in. “EUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.”
That’s not strong enough. Pronounce
it strongly. “EUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.”
Now put your hands at the solar
plexus and just pronounce the sound “OU.”
Now the little finger pointed
towards navel; the three fingers (the index and the other middle and the ring
finger) towards the heart; and the thumb on the sternum. And you pronounce the
And now the left hand on top of your
head. And you pronounce the sound “Muh.”
Left hand a little above the head,
one millimeter, and you feel again the sound “Mmmm.”
Now have both the hands like this,
the palms upward, the hands on the knees, and we will pronounce the sound “Ou”
at the heart level and then the sound “Muh,” like this, upward. Okay?
We’ll start again.
Now we should pronounce the word in
Sanskrit, Shanti-hi, that means peace. You can look at me and you can do it
Shanti-hi, Shanti-hi, Shanti-hi.”
Keep your eyes closed. Shoulders
are relaxed. Eyes are closed. Your breathing is slow and smooth. Just verify
that no part of the body is having any stress, the feet, the knees, the legs,
the back, the stomach, the chest, the hands, the arms, the fingers, the face,
the eyes, ears, cheeks. No tension in the jaws, no tension anywhere in the
body. Let your body become completely relaxed.
Your eyes are closed. Your
breathing is going on softly, regularly, nice movement. You breathe in and you
breathe out. Just concentrate on breathing in and breathing out. Be aware if
you are taking the energy in and your letting out all the conceits. Breathe in;
breathe out. Breathe in; breathe out. Your concentration is on your
Now imagine that you breathe in a
new cosmic energy, an energy of peace, an energy of love, energy of harmony,
energy of beauty. You breathe in this new cosmic energy and this energy, when
you breathe out, it spreads in all of your bodies, in each part of your tissues,
not only in your body, but it spreads around you. This energy of love, harmony,
will touch the friends and the loved ones around you. This energy will touch
and help the other people about whom you think and of those of whom you do not
think and even the people who are in a position who are against you, who could
be called your enemies. They will be touched by this nonviolence, by this inner
Just go on breathing and give
attention to your thoughts.
Do not let your head become a public
place where anybody can come and anybody can go out. Let your head be your own
house where you invite some people and similarly, in your head only some
thoughts must have the right to enter. Certainly it is difficult. Do not
worry. Let them come in and let them go out. This said, in the beginning, you
let the thoughts come in and go out; you just observe your thoughts. You
observe for one session of meditation, you observe for one month, for one year,
for many years. In the beginning, you become an expert at observing. Just
start seeing your thoughts with the idea of controlling, of becoming aware and
of controlling your thoughts. And only for years of practice when you have been
able to control a few of your thoughts, you go into mastering your thoughts,
mastering your mind and only a few thoughts can come in and only a few thoughts
can go out.
The most interesting thing is to let
there be space and silence, silence which is there behind every thought, silence
which is there between two thoughts like a monsoon sky or a sky full of clouds,
where you do not see any patch of blue, clear sky and all of a sudden, you see a
small little hole in the sky where you see a little bit of the blue of the
sky…just try to penetrate through it and just go beyond the clouds into the open
sky. Similarly, among many thoughts, in between the thoughts there is silence
that lives…just keep up with that silence and go in the world of silence. When
you arrive in the field of silence, concentrate within yourself, within your
heart, and imagine a small, little light, a flame of inner light that is there
in you. Concentrate; meditate on that inner light. It is this inner light
which is your true self, it is this inner light that is the true God, it is this
inner light that is the true world.
Shanti-hi, Shanti-hi, Shanti-hi.”
In fact, this is where we should go
into meditation. There is a workshop on it and I will be able to show you
some slides and be taking you into the education for this peacefulness of the
inner mind or education for nonviolence or the true education.
Ceremony: Gathering of the Community
Welcome. I hope that you are ready
to enjoy this beautiful day with us. I want to just tell you a little bit about
the Consultation. We are a group of ten interfaith oriented organizations who
began to realize that interfaith education was a subject that everyone knew
about, talked about, all of the organizations say that they are doing, but we
realized that there was no real coherence, no curriculum. Educators in
interfaith education do not know each other. They want to communicate; they
don’t know how and so we began three years ago with our first Consultation to
bring the educators together. Our plan was to have a program in India, but
unfortunately, after 9/11 it was impossible for us to travel to India. In the
end, we had parallel conferences in New York and India. Out of this process,
this present Consultation group has come together.
We have a three day Symposium for
you. We have some of the foremost interfaith educators from around the world
and we have brought them together as keynotes, as panelists, and throughout the
next three days, you will have a chance to talk with them, with each other.
Part of our plan is for this to be an interactive experience.
The organizations represented are:
The International Association for
The Interfaith Community
The National Jewish Center for
Learning and Leadership
Auburn Theological Seminary
Muslim Women’s Institute for
Research and Development
Temple of Understanding
Fellowship of Reconciliation
International Mahavir Jain Mission
We have designed the three-day
Symposium so that if you want to know a lot about interfaith education, you can
learn a great deal in depth by staying with us for three days. We encourage you
to stay with us. We have a fascinating panel of experts in interfaith
Ibrahim Ramey is going to open with
some explanation to you about his experience of interfaith education and will
also talk to you about his work that is very much oriented towards justice and
freedom. He will also help us move the process along to the next stage.
In the name of God, Most Gracious,
Most Merciful, O Creator of the Hindus and Bahai’s, O Creator of the Jews and
Sikhs, Creator of the Christians and Yorubas, Creator of Muslims and Buddhists,
Creator of Akan (?) and Hopi, Creator of Atheists and Agnostics, of Shintos and
all living things and inanimate things, O Creator of our earth, our solar
system, our galaxy, our universe, and the boundless universes that exist beyond
number and comprehension. We give adoration and humble thanks to you today for
having gathered us safely here in Barcelona to glorify you as we seek refuge in
you from evil, from hatred, from suspicion and division, and as we strive to
build a house of peace and justice for all living things on earth. May the work
of this Parliament of the World’s Religions and this Consultation for Interfaith
Education enable us to contribute to the building of a sacred space of love
among all of us, your children. Amen.
As Alison said, my name is Ibrahim
Abdil-Mu’id Ramey and I am pleased to serve as a Board member of the Temple of
Understanding and as the Director of Disarmament Work for the Fellowship of
Reconciliation of the United States. It is truly an honor for me to be here to
welcome all of you as brothers and sisters to this Consultation for Interfaith
Education and to the critical dialogue for peacemaking and mutuality that we
will undertake over the next three days.
This Consultation is an evolving
effort to deepen our understanding of faith and to bring this understanding to a
more central place in both the institutions of learning and in the conduct of
our own diverse faiths and spiritual traditions. We are challenged to examine
ourselves in our systems of belief and practice while, in the words of our
brother Raimon Panikkar, we strive to transform the nature of religion itself;
that it might, “integrate us, link us, and make us whole and happy.” Our
gathering here in the Consultation of Interfaith Education stands on the
shoulders of previous Parliaments of the World’s Religions and on the visionary
work of women and men who have taken to task the learning of faith in terms of
universal love and service to humanity. One such person, one of only a number
of illustrious brothers and sisters and people of faith was the Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr., a champion in the struggle for global peace and human rights.
He wrote in 1967 an essay called “The World House.” This critical view of the
human condition thirty-seven years ago reminds us yet today of the frailty of
the human condition, of the perilous conditions of war, conflict, poverty and
racial animosities that have afflicted all of us. Yet Dr. King, himself a
deeply committed Christian, saw that our diverse faith traditions could be
central to the building of a new world house; a house that rejects violence,
militarism, and all forms of human oppression ~ a house that brings us closer to
the realization of peace, justice, and mutuality that represents the best of
religions and the best that all faiths of all religions can offer today.
Yesterday, I engaged in the
wonderful hospitality of the Sikh brothers and sisters in their community. As I
was sitting and having a meal, I fell into a conversation with a young man from
Mexico who asked me rather pointedly if I thought that religion was even
necessary in the modern world. I reflected at that moment on the violence and
the sad traditions of conflict in all faith traditions, and in the interaction
of people of religion who are very willing to support war and the systematic
destruction of each other. But I also had an insight that I wanted to share
with you, and that is that religion is very much like water. At its worst, it
is deadly and unfit for human consumption and will certainly kill us. But at
its best, it is the core of physical life itself; a substance that makes up most
of our existence in our bodies and without which all of us will die.
I believe that interfaith education
and understanding is very much like water in that it is the mortar that holds
together the bricks of the world house ~ and to create structures of
understanding that are available not only to ourselves, but to our brothers and
sisters in the world house, then that world house of mutuality and care and love
will need to be solid and secure, and it will stand firm. I believe also that
this understanding of water, and this understanding of the centrality of water,
is getting us off to a great start. The Consultation in Montserrat that
directly preceded this Parliament gives us a perspective of what real interfaith
cooperation might lead to, the human good that it would lead to, the mutuality
that it would lead to, because by addressing the issues of water, the
resettlement of refugees, handling the debilitating debt of Third World nations,
and counteracting religious extremism and violence, we at this Parliament and at
this Consultation can actually ground ourselves in practical work for the true
peace of interfaith cooperation and global transformation.
Let us open our hearts and minds to
the possibility of building the world house. Let us learn from each other,
question each other, and in doing so, look more deeply at our own traditions and
at the ways in which we might be aware of mutuality and cooperation in those
traditions as we practice them.
I want to say one other thing and
that is simply that as a person who works daily for global disarmament, both
conventional and nuclear disarmament, one of the things that binds us together
in my estimation is the fact that religions which can be willing to support war
and violence also have traditions that have stood against war and violence, and
that in fact have saved the lives of millions of people in areas of conflict.
The world spends approximately a
trillion dollars every year on weapons and armaments. Many economists have
estimated that only thirty percent of that amount of money would provide
drinking water for every person in need, housing for every person in need,
medical care and food for every person in need, and in fact, would contribute to
the building of an infrastructure of peace and justice. I believe very strongly
that people of faith and faith communities are central to the task of making
that transformation real and that the best of who we are, and the best of the
traditions that we represent may in fact bring us to that day of a world house
for all of us and all the children of God.
In closing, thank you for being
here. I honor you for being here. I celebrate the sacrifices that you have
made to be here and know that in fact in the words of our own great writer,
sister Toni Morrison, “that anything that we love can be saved;” that any
religion that we love can be saved, that any community that we love can be
saved, and in rallying ourselves in love and understanding, we will move forth
from this Consultation to a better and deeper and more beautiful world. I thank
you for being part of that.
Interfaith Education: A Global Imperative
Alison Van Dyk, Temple of
It is now my pleasure to introduce
our panelists. We have three in my mind amazing ladies before you ~ some of the
finest interfaith educators that I know in the world. I am going to begin with
Dr. Heidi Hadsell on my left. Dr. Hadsell is the President of Hartford Seminary
in Hartford, CT, USA. She came to the Seminary from the Ecumenical Institute of
the World Council of Churches in Switzerland where she served as the Director.
Dr. Heidi Hadsell
Thank you very much. We have been
asked to speak about interfaith education as a global imperative. We all know
why interfaith education is a global imperative. We live in a global village.
Economic globalization is proceding
at a fast and relentless pace, although the optimism of the economists of a
decade ago about globalization has dimmed considerably in recent times.
Economic globalization is provoking cultural change at an equally fast pace
which occasions, in all of our religious communities, disorientation, confusion,
the breakdown of values and habits, ways of life, and the assumed truths of each
of our communities, each in its own way. Economic globalization and the changes
it produces is throwing us together in unprecedented ways and pulling us apart
in unprecedented ways.
So, as religious people, we are
less sure of who we are ourselves and still ignorant about who the other is.
Or, alternatively, in self-defense against change, we become more sure of who we
are and the truth that we possess and more sure that the other, whoever he or
she is, has nothing to offer. We find ourselves in a situation where on the one
hand, we have disorientation and confusion; on the other hand, rigidity and
rejection of the other. Meanwhile, the global processes continue ~ the
economic, the cultural, the technological, the information. And unless we as
religious people take hold of the moment or seize the time, as they say, the
voices of our religious communities, the voices of our traditions, the knowledge
of many centuries, indeed thousands of years that we carry, the truths that we
profess, will be impotent to impact these global forces, these global forces
that are so relentlessly shaping our lives. We will be impotent to impact them
except negatively through the violence of the extreme elements found in many, if
not most, of our religious traditions.
As we know, economic rationality
has no nation, no religion, no culture (unless it is the Coca Cola culture), but
it does have a logic and a value system. The logic and the values are ones that
tend to level everything in their path. The common economic denominator is
profit and loss, efficiency and inefficiency, free markets and consumption.
These values may be fine for economists. I am not here to debate that point
today. My point is that whatever else they are, they are not the sum total of
human values and human wisdom. We are not condemned to live in the iron cage
that Max Weber described over a hundred years ago.
As religious people, as carriers of
other human sensibilities, sensibilities that give meaning and dignity and depth
and order to human life, it is our common task ~ each in our appropriate ways ~
to not leave the public square empty of everything but the marketplace. A
global reality has been given to us or forced upon us. It is up to us to decide
what we do with this. It falls upon us as religious people to witness together
to another vision, to alternative ways of being, to the potency and meaning of
values that are too often marginalized.
An important way forward is the way
of inter-religious education. Inter-religious education is multifaceted, it is
formal, it is informal, it is academic, it is experiential. It all depends on
who the learners and who the educators are at the moment. Some tell stories;
others engage in almost mathematical theological debate. Each approach in
inter-religious education is shaped by religious tradition, by culture, by the
interests and the affinities of those involved and also dependent on local
context. Some will educate through sharing of different spiritualities; others
will do textual critique; others will concentrate on doctrinal matter; and there
will be those who learn through the everyday dialogue of life together. And
most of us will learn something from all of these approaches.
The best we can do as educators is
to affirm each of these approaches. The thing we want to avoid is to spend our
time fighting with each other about the right way to do inter-religious
education. The carefully planned program for the next three days of this
Symposium lifts up and provides space for each of these approaches. My
approach, for example, because I am a Christian from a liberal branch of one of
the churches of the reformed tradition and I am also an ethicist, is an approach
that privileges religious education that sheds light on themes that the global
realities have put on our common agenda ~ themes that I think religious people
need to think about together: science; genetic engineering; cell research;
euthanasia; the environmental questions such as our air, our water, our earth,
and the common stewardship of our creation; human exploitation; child
prostitution; forced labor; the roles of women in our societies. My list could
continue. The point is that this is MY list, not YOURS. There is room and
plenty of need for our multiplicity of concerns and involvements. It is
critical, however, that whatever we concentrate on, we take seriously the global
context in which we think and act. This context, and our awareness of it,
should give us new eyes through which to read our texts, interpret our
traditions, learn from other traditions, and see with new eyes as we carry out
the self-critique that any genuine education requires.
In teaching social ethics on the
kinds of themes I have just mentioned, I have discovered that I can’t do my job
as a Christian social ethicist without drawing upon and learning from
experiences of communities and religious groups around the world of our many
faith traditions. Muslim students in my classes in ethics greatly enrich the
dialogue and the awareness and the debate that we have among us. Of course,
more often than not, it is through education in other faiths, that we can best
express the value commitments motivated by our own faith. An obvious example:
my tradition teaches love of neighbor as do all of our traditions in one way or
another. I have to figure out therefore and help my students figure out what
that means in a global context. Clearly, in a global world, my neighbor is not
just my neighbor across the street, but my neighbor is across the globe, and my
neighbor is a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an Atheist.
I have been involved in many
ecumenical conversations between Christians for many years. Christian
ecumenists often say “Who can believe the Christian faith if Christians can’t
even talk to each other?” In the global and plural context of the 21st
Century, one might say, and indeed one might insist, that the ability of
religious communities to talk to each other and to learn from each other is
similarly a question of credibility. Not the credibility of the Christian faith
this time, but rather the faith of each of us and each of our traditions; the
credibility of religious faith itself. It is not enough that we come together
and learn about each other. We need to help each other find our voices and our
common voice as people of faith so that we take not just other religions as
learning partners, but also so that we can engage the wider world order. The
conversation starts between people of faith, but it must move and extend beyond
My time is running out. As an
earnest Protestant, I have talked about our tasks and our duties, and our
obligations as people of faith as we learn together. I want to say that while
daunting, these tasks, this process of inter-religious learning, is also a
source of real joy. I have been involved in Christian theological education all
of my professional life. I am now at an institution that does Christian
theological education but is also fully engaged in inter-religious education,
especially between Muslims and Christians. And I say with great joy, I can’t
remember a context I have shared in which the delight of discovery and the joy
of learning together and being together is more palpable and more real. This
joy that comes from inter-religious education is a source of energy and also a
gift that we together offer to the wider world.
Alison Van Dyk
Our next speaker is Dame Dr. Prof.
Meher Master-Moos from India. Dr. Master-Moos, the Founder and President of the
only Zoroastrian College in the world in Mumbai, India, is the recipient of the
Dag Hammarksjold Award in 1968 and the Medal for Interfaith Peace by His
Holiness the Pope John Paul II in 1989. It is my pleasure to turn the floor
over to Dr. Prof. Meher Master-Moos.
Dame Dr. Prof. Meher Master-Moos
Beloved souls, enlightened
educationists, and dear friends, let me thank Alison Van Dyk and Laxmi Shah and
the Temple of Understanding and all you good folks here who have gathered for
organizing this wonderful, educational seminar within the Barcelona Parliament.
At the outset, let me say that I am
sure you have heard the name of Zarathushtra, the founder of the Zoroastrian
Faith who endeavored to bring about this kind of spiritual awareness and revival
of the wisdom, the ancient cosmic wisdom, that exists as the Golden Thread that
unites all people of earth.
Let me commence by blessings.
The blessings of the archangels,
the angels, all the good and holy spiritual beings, the souls who are the
prophets of all the faiths, the soul of every great founder of different
faiths, the blessings of Shah Behram Varzavand Saheb, the Prince of Peace of the
present Aquarian Age, the Asho Farohars, the guardian angels, the blessings of
the Holy Abed Sahebs ~ spiritually advanced Zoroastrian Masters who dwell in
sacred abodes, the blessings of all the good persons who are living on Planet
Earth, not just those who are physically present at this Parliament in
Barcelona, but many millions of others who are with us in spirit if not in
person, and the blessings of all the holy souls in heaven. I’d especially like
to remember at this point Juliet Hollister who was one of the founders of the
Temple of Understanding, thanks to whom I am sure, we have been greatly blessed.
What I’d like to highlight,
considering the time limit, is what it is that draws us together here. The
cosmic law that exists for all eternity, the divine universal and natural laws
of the Creator of the universe, the Creator of light energy and matter. We are
also governed by these laws whether we are evolving as stars in the cosmos or
souls as constellations of stars, all coming closer to the solar system, as
planets within the solar system, governed by these two beings referred to in the
ancient language of Avesta ~ Spenta Mainyeu, Angel presiding over light and
Anghre Mainyeu, Angel presiding over darkness. We have here the knowledge of
these beings who preside over the forces of light and darkness, positivity and
negativity, the electromagnetic field of the solar system which governs all the
souls that exist within this solar system…the planets with their beautiful
rainbow colors of light, governing the light of the evolving souls.
I think of Planet Earth which is a
home and classroom for all the souls living here that have evolved from the
level of the mineral kingdom to the plant kingdom with their beautiful myriads
of colors with their flowers, their fruits. We evolve onwards to the
connections with the plants and their life, to the level of the animal kingdom,
the fish and the birds and the reptiles and the insects, and the four-legged
animals and the two-legged animals, and evolve onwards to the level of being
half angels and reaching the angelic beings. It is in this process of evolution
that allsouls are endeavoring to progress spiritually. This is the purpose of
our life on Planet Earth. It is the same purpose for all of us and knowing
this, we are able to move forward toward the goal that every soul has of
attaining at-one-ment with the creator of the universe by filling our souls with
cosmic light of all the colors of the rainbow, gaining that high spiritual level
of white light, of perfection, which enables us to become immortal, the white
light of the creator. This goal is within the consciousness of every creature
What is it that we, as human beings
on Planet Earth, have been given as our duty and our obligation and the moral
laws that govern the whole universe? We have been given the sensibility that it
is our responsibility to enable all other souls to evolve. I am not speaking
merely of pollution of the earth and the air and the water. Terrible things are
happening. I have brought CDs full of what’s going on with vibrationary
warfare that is perverting the mind not just of human beings, but destroying
life of all levels and species. The crises faced by souls that cannot progress
because their entire species in the form of plants and animals and fish and
birds are gone. Not just dead as the Dodo, as the saying goes, but really
extinct. It is our responsibility as human beings that, in the course of
education, we impart not just technical education to our students, but this
consciousness and awareness of spirituality; this underlying Golden Thread which
is coming from ancient times through the high souls that have taken birth on
Planet Earth, whether they lived in the Peshdadian and Kyanian Dynasties of
about 9,500-12,000 years ago. This was the era, 9500 years ago, of Asho Spitama
Zarathushtra whose name means the highest level of ancient spiritual Golden
White Light of the Halo whose purpose was to influence all souls to evolve
through practices that everyone can practice. He taught the method of spiritual
progress through practicing good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, i.e.,
thoughts, words, and deeds in obedience of the cosmic laws…everyone can do that
according to his or her own understanding and ability. Englishmen who followed
the Greeks and the Greek Historians changed the name of Zarathushtra to
Zoroaster in Greek and that is the name by which our ancient, oldest surviving
monotheistic religion is known today ~ the Zoroastrian Religion in English. The
Greek historians writing in the era of about 500 B.C.E. have recorded that
Zarathushtra lived over 6,000 years before the Trojan War. Our own historians
have ascertained, as well as by the scientific corroboration for astronomy, that
the true dates are about 9,500 years ago from the present time period. But that
is not the issue. The issue is what does this ancient wisdom have to offer for
us now, here and now today, in the modern, present times?
Almighty creator of the universe
has sent great souls from time to time in different places to remind humanity of
these wonderful universal laws. Whether it was Shri Krishna who came to
enlighten people in the Vedic Period or when times changed and the Vedic methods
and systems fell into wrongful practices, Lord Buddha who came to revive the
ancient faith, Lord Mahavir who brought the revival to the Jain faith, even Guru
Nanak in a more recent time period, Lord Jesus Christ who came to teach us what
was going wrong in the previous period of faith, Lord Moses who tried to make
the people of that time period understand and be aware of the truths of God
Almighty. And great souls have taken birth to honor the Golden Thread of
knowledge of the divine laws with the ability to make people understand how to
progress, how to be obedient to practices that are suitable for the souls taking
birth at that time period, having their links with the planets and the stars,
with all the different colors of the rainbow. The whole rainbow colors of light
lead to one color ~ white light. That is what every soul is aiming at. And
this perennial philosophy, the Golden Thread of ancient cosmic wisdom, has been
kept alive in the last 200 years here also in North America and in Europe, from
the time of Sir Francis Bacon and Mozart, the composer, “Who Spoke of
Zarathustra” in his wonderful opera, Zauberflotte, from the time of
Benjamin Franklin and Dr. John Howard Zitko.. In India through the
Theosophical Society Founder, Madame Blavatsky, and the late Ustad Saheb
Behramshah Nowroji Shroff who brought the light of illumination of
Ilm-E-Khshnoom to the Zoroastrians in India which we now trying to spread in the
English language for the benefit of humanity worldwide through the Mazdayasnie
Monasterie and Zoroastrian College.
Great souls have come and great
souls, enlightened souls, are trying to follow and preserve the Golden Thread
that educators should focus on.
In this Parliament in Barcelona
~there have already been so many conferences, Parliaments before this~ but
something should come out of this Parliament and as I have suggested in
this paper, it is that we form a working committee and through the working
committee, invite people of all different religions, world scholars and
practitioners of their own faith, to identify in different countries educators
who have the capacity to write a series of graded textbooks for children from
kindergarten up to the university level and through this method, within twelve
years, to bring about a spiritual renaissance for the 21st Century so
that Shah Behram Varzavand Saheb, the Prince of Peace of the Aquarian Age can be
helped in his work to promote peace and understanding, goodwill, cooperation,
harmony, amongst the people of Planet Earth instead of what we are witnessing
today ~ senseless wars and destruction. This committee can then recommend and
with the cooperation of such organizations as UNESCO and UNICEF and NGOS like
the Temple of Understanding, like our Zoroastrian College, and the World
Fellowship of Inter-religious Councils, the United Religions Initiative, and
many other NGOS, we should identify those universities and colleges which are
willing to promote this kind of spiritual education.
At the Zoroastrian College, we have
given the facility through the Interfaith Peace Department to do research. Any
person anywhere, in any country of the world, who is interested to write a
research thesis for the degree of M. Phil. or Ph.D. can do so. You don’t have
to come to Sanjan, the Zoroastrian College. The Research Centre Library is
located in a beautiful countryside in India. It has got one of the best
libraries of ancient cosmic wisdom books ~ you can sit at home and do your own
research and submit it to the College for promoting that awareness which will
benefit you in the form of a degree, but it will benefit the whole world in the
sense that you will be able to reach out to give your ideas and your
contribution toward world peace.
Another project is for children. I
recommend that a calendar be produced every year through the schools in
different countries and in different languages giving the major holidays and
festivals of the different religions so that children learn to participate
actively in the festivals of their friends and not just simply celebrate
Christmas or Eid or Diwali, but celebrate ALL of the festivals. The
Zoroastrians celebrate every festival. We are perpetually enjoying ourselves
celebrating with all of our friends.
We pray in the Avestan language,
for all those good persons from amongst the living whose actions are good and
whose goodness is judged by righteousness, Ahura Mazda, Almighty God Creator of
the Universe. We are not the judges. The judge is above.
Alison Van Dyk
Our next speaker is going to want me
to explain to you that she is a peace educator; however, we have noticed that
she is sneaking a lot of interfaith ideas into her peace education so we
persuaded her to speak with us today. I now wish to introduce Dr. Betty
Reardon. Dr. Reardon is the founding Director of the Peace Education Center at
Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, USA, and founder and
General Coordinator of the International Institutes on Peace Education.
Dr. Betty A. Reardon
Thank you all of those who have come
to lend your energies to this effort and my special thanks also to the Temple of
Understanding for this invitation to join my efforts to these efforts.
As Alison indicated, I speak to you
not as an interfaith educator but as a peace educator. People say I am a person
of faith. I think I am a person striving to be faithful to a faith and I do
strive also to enact another faith that I think joins us ~ and that is the faith
in the human capacity to overcome the problems that we have been reminded, that
we are called, to confront.
As a peace educator, I believe that
we have to do not just interfaith or inter-religious education; we have to do
what I would call multi-faith education ~ we all need to understand what our
sisters and brothers believe. We need to understand so that we can relate
positively and fully to them, and so that we can engage in controversy with them
when necessary around some of the civic issues in a fully respectful way. That
is in a sense what peace education is about ~ trying to create those capacities.
I also think that we have another
major task that faces all of us in the secular world. The problems we face
require us to humanize the secularized world, to humanize those decision makers
who rationally put themselves apart from some of the standards that we have
embraced and internalized, some of us because of faith, some of us because of a
deep reflection on what it means to be human. What it means to be human, those
of us who practice peace education believe, is to realize human dignity and to
take on human responsibility. I believe that if we were able to fully enact
these two elements of peace education, we would be able to derive what UNESCO
has called “A Culture of Peace.” Something that I like to refer to as “Cultures
of Peace.” Many cultures of the world, not necessarily integrated into one, but
living as the word was said yesterday, “convivially together,” a “convivencia”
Now what as peace educators do we
believe such a culture requires? Primarily the foundation is a commitment to
human fulfillment of the whole person including spirituality as an aspect of
human dignity; the realization of the spiritual dimension of the human person no
matter what form it takes is the major manifestation and the fruit of human
dignity. Such a culture would also value religious diversity and freedom ~ the
full freedom of diverse religions and cultures to practice their belief and to
be fully respectful of each other’s traditions, and to work with each other when
necessary to devolve what some U.N. language refers to as “harmful practices” in
cultures. I like to think that the most harmful practice that takes place in
religion which has been referred to several times this morning is the perversion
of religion to political purposes, to enlist people in striving and sacrificing
for the goals and objectives of political leaders in the name of defending their
We need, I think, to ground what we
do in the present form of peace education, whether this is done in the
interfaith arena or not, in the ethics of human rights, in the specific
articulation of those rights, in the international standards, and I would also
say the specific treaties ~ I am adding to the list of civic education ~ and not
only the treaties that refer to human life, but the international treaties that
are coming close to a recognition of the fundamental sanctity of the earth
itself. We need, I think, in order to do that, not only to work toward an
education which commits us to strive for the preservation of religious freedom,
the preservation of a culture, and for the renewal of the earth, but we have to
educate very specifically about overcoming of all forms of violence, whether it
is on the most intimate level, a subtle psychological abuse of a child, which we
see every day around us, through genocide, warfare, all those forms of violence
are embedded in behaviors and institutions that we can educate to overcome if we
have the intention to do so.
What is problematic, the specific
problem that we face as interfaith or multi-faith educators? Peace education
always looks to the goal of the realization of human dignity, and human
responsibility and to the transformation of violence into positive energy, into
the nonviolence that would characterize a culture of peace. And it looks to the
problematic and tries to find ways to frame the violence of the world in the
forms of war and religious conflict.
In peace education, there are two
frameworks that we can bring to educate toward understanding and overcoming the
problematic of inter-religious violence and the violation of human dignity. One
is the general area of intolerance in which we can specify religious
intolerance. As some of you know, tolerance as a goal has been embraced fully
into the program of UNESCO, and they have developed many materials for teaching
toward this goal. I, myself, developed a series on the topic that put forward a
framework of how we can diagnose intolerance, including a typology and a scale
demonstrating how it escalates and where societies should begin to take care.
One seemingly small incident may be opening a path to the possibility of
genocide. We find that intolerance follows a kind of pattern from
discrimination against right up through destruction of a people. Perceiving
such a pattern offers a way in which we can educate for understanding and
changing, not only the attitudes of intolerance, but the process through which
it can develop into severe violence. Viewing the problem as a process also
helps to illuminate points of intervention to prevent inter-religious violence.
Another framework would be the political problematic of the structures and
institutions which pervert religions to their own intention. Political
perversion of virtually every major world religion has produced a world-wide
epidemic of sectarian and inter-communal violence to all world regions, an
epidemic, producing major wars that undermine human security on a global scale,
and pose new challenges to peace education.
What is the challenge for peace
education? The challenge of peace education is to bring the problems of
inter-religious conflict and the possibilities of inter-religious understanding,
specifically and programmatically into all forms of education, formal and
non-formal, systematically planning it, trying it out and doing it. The most
promising approach to the challenge is human rights education, an integral
element of comprehensive and holistic peace education is significant. An
especially significant substance of this form of peace education would be
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on religious freedom and
the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance based on Religion
and Belief. I advocate looking at these Declarations because they provide the
cognitive terrain, the essential knowledge base for learning the principles of
inter-religious tolerance and respect. One says to the learners “What is the
meaning of this text? What are the conditions that gave rise to the text? What
are the ways in which we can fulfill that meaning?”
There are two projects that are
attempting to take up the challenge with the approaches I am advocating. One is
called The Ethical and Spiritual Foundations of Peace Education. Alison
mentioned that I am infusing inter-religious education into peace education. I
believe that we should try to undertake to meet needs not being met by the
others who are in the field. I found a great lack of looking into elements of
religion that should be integral to peace education for the reasons I have
noted. The International Institute on Peace Education works with various peace
education centers. Three of them cooperate on this project; one in the
Philippines, one in New York, and one in Japan. All have worked together on a
general curriculum used in teacher training workshops, based on the major world
religions, and also focusing on the ethical standards and the environmental
principles in international documents. We are not trying to teach a course in
comparative religions, but rather to prepare teachers with knowledge about what
the major religions teach in regard to peace and justice issues ~ aspects we
should all know that about each others’ faiths.
A second of these projects was
initiated by the International Association of Religious Freedom that cooperated
with the People’s Decade for Human Rights Learning to devise a series of video
dramas and a teaching manual based on hypothetical, but reality-based,
violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right
to freedom of religious belief, for use in communities and schools to facilitate
learning toward community action in support of freedom of religion and
Finally, I want to say that what
has been said already by my fellow panelists articulates much of what peace
education should be about. I wish that we had the kind of education that Dr.
Master-Moos has spoken of throughout the world. So, too, I wish that we had the
kind of intellectual challenging that Dr. Hadsell has spoken of in all of our
universities. I hope that through our time together here we will find ways to
make some of those models more possible. And please let us also remember our
obligations to interact with the secular community and to bring about the
humanization of the full society. As we struggle for our own humanization by
understanding and reaching out to others who have all kinds of beliefs, we do,
indeed, humanize ourselves and realize our own human dignity.
We express our regret that the Dalai
Lama is unable to be here today on account of his illness, but we will honor him
by our dialogue on a topic that is close to his heart: the topic of interfaith
engagement, of interfaith dialogue, of interfaith encounter and reciprocal
enlightenment, of interfaith teaching and learning, of interfaith education ~ a
matter that is of profound importance at this globalized moment in human
history, a moment within which speed and ease of travel and shrinking of the
globe place us in utmost proximity to the other who is no longer simply on the
other side of the world, but instead, is right before me, the next man, my
neighbor, my enemy, my friend.
Our four speakers today are Rabbi
Abraham Sotendorf from the Netherlands, the first speaker. Bhai Sahib Mohinder
Singh, from Birmingham, England, will be the second speaker. Our third speaker
will be Dr. Leo LeFebure from Fordham University in New York City.
Let me introduce our first speaker
more specifically. Rabbi Sotendorf is from Holland, he is a son and heir to a
rabbinic family. He has built synagogues and interfaith understanding in the
Netherlands and he is a Commissioner of the Earth Charter, a member of the
Islam-West Dialogue Group and the World Economic Forum. Most importantly, when
I asked him what he wanted me to tell you, he is a grandfather.
Shalom. Salaam. Peace.
And so, Holy Chosen One, grant your
reverence on all of your works and on all that you have created, that all your
works may fear and revere you, and all that you created prostrate themselves
before you and form one union to do your will with a whole heart.
These are words for one of the High
Holy Days in the Jewish Liturgy leading to words that we say three times every
day to mend the world under the ruler-ship of God. The global imperative for
interfaith education, I was born into it. May ’43, a man carries a suitcase,
knocks on the door, a woman opens and the question was “Will you take care of
this baby?” Because she did, doing the utmost deed of interfaith education to
perfection, I am here.
We have come together today to be
blessed forever. Just a few days ago in Montserrat, when a young man full of
energy and ideas said “My greatest wish is to become a grandfather, but I don’t
know whether I will have grandchildren given the catastrophes of the world
today,” I could tell him as a grandfather, “Out of the catastrophes of this
world, I have become a grandfather.” I know that the door that was open to me
is always open to God….shall we open the door to education, to life, to water or
will we close the door? I believe that we will open it and that the
grandchildren will drink healthy water of hope.
In 1973, two days after the
outbreak of the War, with threat to life in Israel and surrounding Israel, I
came out of a restored synagogue which had given life again to a Jewish
community reborn (in Holland there were only 30,000 and now there are 40,000).
I came out to meet the Dalai Lama, the revered spirit. With all the turmoil in
my heart, I said to him that I had not slept that night. My heart tore me with
the insecurity of life, but then I realized that I knew about the suffering of
the Tibetan people, but that I did not have sleepless night because of it, and
that somehow if the concern and anxiety could be unified, we would make this
force to change. With a benign smile, the smile without an echo, he said “The
Golden Rule is love your neighbor as yourself, but it is one commandment that
you can only accomplish when the other responds. But one day,” he said, “Jews
and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, Tibetans and Chinese, will love each
other.” It is for me a great honor to mention those intimate words that gave
comfort to a rabbi in those difficult times. I wish him good health, to my
brother, one of our great teachers.
Only yesterday, we were in a
meeting in Montserrat and suddenly the meeting was interrupted because he had
been taken ill. No one of us knew what happened to him, what his condition
was. Fortunately, he is well. But at that moment, we turned in our discussions
in a small circle and I suddenly realized, if God wanted that I should die, the
last eyes I would see would be the people around that table. It was sudden. We
didn’t know we would be at this table, but I would see God in the eyes of the
other for the last time. So when we see each other, we may remember that life
and death are interconnected, that you and I may be the last ones to see each
other on this earth. This indicates the preciousness of the unique individual.
Interfaith education is the
innermost realization that life is unique in each individual, that we are all
half a shekel, with all our hearts a piece so that we can only be whole when the
other is there.
Speaking at schools all over
Holland and Europe, in the United States, I am so encouraged by young people who
understand the need to share their knowledge about each other’s spiritual
traditions. I remember the day that a young man got up and said “Yes, but how
it is with the handicapped because I only have half an arm. Is there a place
for me?” And I suddenly was shocked. I didn’t expect the question.
I said “Tell what you think.”
He said “I feel at home in this
school, but in the other school it was so terrible. That morning, that boy came
to me and said ‘Hey, you are only half a human being, half a human being.’ It
was so painful.”
“What did you do?”
“What could I do?”
And then all the young men got up
on their feet and applauded to show compassion. Only one moment, one boy, out
of maybe some kind of mischief, hurt by words, some for life.
I asked the boy “Can I tell you a
story because you are teaching more than the teaching of many generations of
teachers. I realize you can say ‘Only half a person,” or you can say ‘You are
half a person.’ The one can be a curse; the other is a lesson.”
So, yes, I try also in my life
always to remember that child who hoped to be reunited with his parents after
the war. I try to build those bridges. One of them is something I would like
to share with you. It was the beginning of the Parliament in Holland. Before
the Queen’s speech, there was a moment of reflection and it was always a prayer
of Protestants, for Catholics, because that’s the nature of Holland and used to
be the nature of Europe. My question was “Could that not be inclusive?” I now
have the privilege to chair a committee and we together, Jews, Christians,
Muslims, Hindus, Humanists, then Buddhists, Bahai, Brahma Kumaris, and many
others join every time. Every one expresses words about his personal tradition.
Our theme is “Neighbor ~ Stranger”
because everyone is a neighbor and everyone is the Other. There are the two
halves. So if we speak like was spoken in Warsaw at the meeting I attended
about the extension of Europe, twenty-five countries now, and it was always
negativism. I was asked to speak on the theme of the fear of the other, the
hatred. And I said “Who could have believed in 1945 that Europe would unite,
that German youth and the Jewish youth would work together; that celebrates
neighbors. Every one of us is this stranger that is neighbor. “Love your
neighbor as yourself” has another sentence that complements it. It is from the
Book of Leviticus: “Love the stranger because you have been strangers in the
Land of Egypt.” This is the lesson for Israel and for Palestine, two halves of
one expression, the innermost being, to be one together.
Interfaith education in every
school in the world should be mandatory, not because Euros want it, but because
God in all God’s expression demands it, because a heart without a knowledge of
spiritual partnership is poor. Let me say unequivocally, prayer, the echo of
the near, of inclusiveness and so, together, we have also so much education to
do. The world community, without knowing it, 149 nations have agreed on the
universal Millenium Goals and they set a timetable. By 2015 all children in the
world will have primary education, reading and writing and arithmetic, which
means that our title “global” is also a commandment to make it global so that
135 million children who have no access to education, let alone interfaith
education, will be able to seek an education. A simple suggestion: that every
individual give every year an extra taxation and taxation is something in all
our traditions, 1,000 of 1% of annual income. We would give a signal and money
to make these Goals possible.
We are living, brothers and
sisters, we are living, fellow speakers, with whom I share so much friendship,
we live in sacred time. May God give us the strength to make this time fruitful
to reach out to meet each other, again and again, on the road to man’s new
Discovering the Best of Interfaith Education through
Day 1: 3:00-4:30
Sagrada Familia Room
Alison Van Dyk, Temple of Understanding
It is my pleasure to introduce Dr.
Diana Whitney to you today. Diana is an international consultant and thought
leader in the area of Appreciative Inquiry and positive change. In the next hour
and a half she will provide an overview of Appreciative Inquiry and how it can
be used as a process for interfaith dialogue. Diana is the author of ten books
on Appreciative Inquiry, including The Power of Appreciative Inquiry
which is wonderful ~ I have read it; it’s very exciting. Appreciative Inquiry
has been utilized by the United Religions Initiative group for over ten years.
Diana is a founding member of URI. If you talk to people from URI, they will
tell you that their success is due to the appreciative inquiry process that
Diana and her colleagues created. Diana is a professor at Saybrook University
and the founder of the Taos Institute along with being a successful business
consultant. Her deep love of interfaith education is why she so graciously
agreed to meet with us today. Let’s welcome Diana Whitney.
When I got the call from Alison
asking me to be part of the Interfaith Education Symposium, my answer was a
clear “yes.” In my mind, the question of interfaith education is at the heart of
our future together. So to be able to bring my work to you all and have it be
part of your dialogue about the future is wonderful.
As Alison said, my work is called
Appreciative Inquiry. Today, rather than talk to you about Appreciative
Inquiry, I am going to invite you into an experience of Appreciative Inquiry.
You have all been given an
interview guide. In a few minutes, you will use it to interview one other
member of the group. I would like you to look around the room and notice who
looks the most different from you. Who is the person, if you were to say that
there is a lot of diversity in the room, who looks the most different from you ~
they are old, you are young; they are Black, you are White; they are of a
different faith religion than you. Find someone who is different to be your
For twenty minutes, you are going
to interview your partner. And then for the following twenty minutes, your
partner will interview you. The purpose of the interviews is to really listen
to your partner and to discover his or her interfaith story; who they are and
what they care about when it comes to interfaith education; what is it about
their practice ~ their unique spiritual or religious tradition that they bring
to the question of interfaith education.
Listen and imagine your answers
while I read the questions to you. Turn to page 2 where it says “Discovering
the Best of Interfaith Education.”
Tell me a bit about
yourself. What larger journey brought you to this place
Tell me about a special
moment in which you were deeply and positively touched by an interfaith
encounter. Think about a time that you would say “Oh, that’s memorable; that
was a highpoint. I learned something in that instant.” We have all had
situations in our lives probably that we would say were interfaith encounters
that were not positive, but we have all had interfaith encounters that were
extraordinary and that have helped make us what we are. So think about one that
has been a positive highpoint in your life and share that with your partner.
Share a little bit from
your own religious traditions. What parable, what story, ritual, practice
speaks powerfully to you about the importance of interfaith education and shapes
your approach to interfaith education? Share a story from your practice, from
For example, my practice is Native
American Lakota. There is controversy about non-natives, people who are not
born into these ways, practicing these ways. But I have had the good fortune
to be invited to a ceremony called a Sun Dance. The Sun Dance is one of the
most sacred. A man named Albert White Hat, who is one of the chiefs of that
particular ceremony, agreed to lead the ceremony only if anyone from any faith
of any place in the world would be welcome. I have the great honor to have met
him and to pray with him. That would be a story that I would tell in answering
this question. Think of your own story.
In your experience of
interfaith education, what has been the most powerful and useful resource,
program, or person? If we were creating a guide to the world’s best interfaith
education, what one or two things would you recommend? Is there a teacher that
you have had who knows how to really invite people of different faiths to get
together? Has there been a book or program or a gathering that we can all learn
from by sharing?
Appreciative Inquiry says that the people who know the most about any subject
are the people who are living it and doing it. In this session, we want to
bring out the wisdom, your wisdom, about your experiences in interfaith settings
and with interfaith education.
Now choose your partner and find a place in the room to do your interviews. You
will have a total of forty minutes; twenty minutes for each interview. I will
watch the time and tell you when twenty minutes are passed.
A central quote from my work is that there will be no peace in the world unless
there is peace among religions. We will only know peace among religions when
there is a conversation, a dialogue, among religions. The opportunity to meet
people and to get to know one another is in and of itself a first step toward
the kind of peace building that we all hope for the world.
What I would like you to do now is to introduce your partner to this new circle
by telling what it is you have learned about him or her that makes you very
excited to know this new person. The idea is not to read everything from the
list. Share what is in your heart now that you want everyone else to know about
this person that you have interviewed? Introduce your partner and share a
story. If you heard an inspiring story about interfaith education from your
partner, share it as you introduce your partner. You have fifteen minutes for
the whole group to share ~ so two to three minutes for each person.
Circles of Stories
Ela Gandhi and Grove Harris
Ela: What is the larger journey that brought you to this place?
Grove: The smaller version of the journey is that I work for the Pluralism
Project and am Managing Director. I have been there for ten years. We research
religious diversity in the U.S. I had the opportunity with Parliament folks and
the people doing this interfaith education consultation. There are a lot of
areas of overlap and mutual benefit. It is really a treat to have a job that
supports me in coming to this kind of event. To me, religious freedom is
somewhat theoretical and needs a fair amount of work to make sure that it is
more actual, that it is not majority ethos just by default. I started working
with the Pluralism Project because I myself am a Wiccan Priestess. I wanted to
make sure that there was more representation, and accurate representation within
the Pluralism Project. I have been able to continue with this work and it has
only grown larger, both for understanding religious difference in general and in
my particular religious tradition because it is often denigrated. Beside being
misunderstood, it is sometimes not considered a religion. I am very privileged
to have my professional work dovetail with areas of my personal work.
Ela: What religion is your path?
Grove: The generic umbrella term is Paganism, but that means a lot of different
things. For myself, my practice is an earth-based, feminist, eco-feminist and
political with ritual that means following the cycle of the wheel of the year.
In terms of feminist, it means that I am both a channel and a reflection of
divinity. I might have intermediaries, but they are not required and I am an
authority on what is divine. It is a very creative religion where I pray by
using very concrete items, physical items as a kind of affirmation and
intentional prayer, and is also called spellcasting. Does this reach any part
Ela: It does. Yesterday, I had a talk about pagan religion and in Cape Town,
there are aspects of this. I wonder why we call it pagan because pagan is a
term that was coined by the Christians for a non-Christian? Why does one have
to be a non-something? Why can’t it be a positive term? I had read about some
of the positive things that you did by going out to pray on the beach in Cape
Town and the people who joined you also believe in spirits.
Grove: Certainly in spirit infusing all of life, including the trees and the
rocks and the rivers. You raise a good point. I don’t particularly like the
word pagan. I use the word more as a category and within it, I practice
Feminist Wicca. It is the way that I have put together to express my own
particular denomination. I’d also be comfortable calling myself a witch but
that can often elicit even more negativity. But then do you reclaim a term?
There are so many different practices that there is usefulness in an umbrella
term, though there is a benefit in not defining oneself in a negative way.
Ela: What brought me here is that I am involved in interfaith and there is a
lot of misunderstanding. People do not really understand the meaning of what
they are doing or of what they believe. They have a superficial understanding
of their religion. I have been working with an interfaith organization, WCRP,
for the last fifteen years. We make sure that all of our official gatherings
include people of all religious faiths and as we identify new faiths and new
people, we tend to grow. We have prayers before the elections that are
officially sanctioned. If we have other official functions, we offer interfaith
prayers. These have become tradition and differentiate our position in South
Africa and the position of particularism in other countries. Government and
religion are separate in many places. In South Africa, we are saying that we do
not separate these two; they are together. We have a religious leaders forum
and all traditions are represented. It is very inclusive. When we have
multi-faith prayers, we can’t have so many players, but each group is asked to
select someone to offer the prayer for that faith.
I felt that it would be important to share this perspective with everyone here.
We are going to introduce interfaith education in our schools.
Grove: The study of religion rather than the practice of it, I would assume.
When you said bringing together religion and the state, you are very clear about
bringing together an interfaith religiosity as an interfaith approach. You
cherish having the prayers present, but would require them to be inclusive of
Ela: That’s right. We also include the people who don’t believe as well. Since
we have a Communist Party, this is important. But there are people in that
Party who do. People who do not believe often have silence or a meditation.
Governmental positions use an oath or an affirmation.
Grove: How about a special moment?
Ela: I was born into an interfaith family. From early childhood, part of our
prayer was inclusive prayer and we would say our prayers outside or in a room,
not in a church or a temple or a mosque. We said our prayers and we included
all of the traditions. I am a Hindu, though, and I am interfaith because it has
been part of my tradition.
Grove: Where your parents from different religious traditions or did they
simply join in creating a kind of interfaith or multi-faith expression?
Ela: They did join together.
Grove: Wow. That’s very creative on their part to create what they wanted for
their family rather than just following a pathway.
Ela: I think it is a rich experience, so I feel that this education is so
important to be learned from childhood.
Grove: One of my questions about interfaith education relates to time. At what
age does one put in the energy and resources? For yourself, you suggest that it
should be quite young.
Ela: It was good for me because I don’t have the prejudices of others. It does
make a big difference…What has been a special moment for you?
Grove: Let me just tell one story that happened when I was teaching a course in
World Religions in 2003 and one of the students ~ we were doing field work ~ was
of a conservative Christian background. He went to visit a Hare Krishna Hindu
Temple. He said that at a certain point he had to leave because he could feel
the spirit move. The fact that he could see or perceive the spirit within a
different tradition created for him a feeling of conflict; of disloyalty; of
threat as though he might need to convert. He was welcome to be just simply a
guest, but he felt that he needed to leave the temple. It was poignant to me.
As his teacher, I said that it was his job to take care of himself and that he
might want to speak to his spiritual advisors about the experience. But it was
poignant for me because I feel free to see spirit wherever I find it. That is
very precious to me. I do not have a problem if I sense it in a religious
tradition that is not mine. I experience that as a gift that does not detract
from my faith at all. I enjoy an eclectic-ness within my own tradition that
gives me freedom in a way that I would wish for others. For this young man, I
was sorry that the situation became so stressful. It does not need to be. I
very much value openness to spirit, sometimes through hearing, through sight,
through presence. To close it off feels to me like going in the wrong
direction, but I do not need to judge for someone the need to be more
Ela: People who have different experiences do teach us.
Grove: I do not feel that there are real boundaries on the way the spirit might
move or speak to someone else. I feel that that multiplicity grows out of my
own tradition. I think about spirit and energy and connection and awareness,
yet they aren’t developed by creating a container that is exclusive or narrow.
I understand that for some that is a way to generate connection, clarity or to
be a certain kind of channel. For me, the breadth and more general openness is
important. It is not an easy path because I do not have the comfort of habitual
actions in the way that some traditions do. I like what I have and I view it as
a gift in interfaith work. I believe that curiosity is important.
Ela: Not so long ago, I was off to give a talk at one of the Hindu festivals.
It involved drama about the Monkey God. There are lots of interpretations…but
the important part for me is the part about the virtues in which the king
describes honesty as being his chariot, truth as the wheel. All you need are
the values to be cherished, to be contemplated. What other people have doesn’t
matter if you have certain values.
Grove: My tradition is not textually based, so I can appreciate scriptures from
other traditions. An elder in my tradition started to be involved in much
political action. She shared a prayer: “May we be in the right place at the
right time with the right tools to do what is needed.” I cannot prepare or what
to bring; I am going to need to be aware, to be pray for the divine presence to
be in the right place. Sometimes I feel that people are simply trying to
protect themselves in ways that they just can’t. Maybe the life of the spirit
is to help us be able to be vulnerable. What else would you like to say?
Ela: For me, that paragraph from the story is the most important resource. It
is not always so important to have lots of resources, but to have access to core
values. There is much in scripture to wade through, much that is artificial.
Maybe it is part of nature to show us that we can be real, we can be equal.
Grove: Thank you. For me, I think science is a resource because we don’t pay
attention to the literal world around us. We need to pay attention to it.*
*N.B.: Grove Harris is now a consultant in spirituality, organizational design,
and sustainability. Please see www.groveharris.org for more information.
Now that you have all experienced Appreciative Inquiry, you can see that it is
unique from other processes in three ways:
It is relational. Appreciative Inquiry depends
relatedness. When we invite people who do not normally engage in dialogue to
interview one another they gain an understanding and respect for the other. We
say Appreciative Inquiry works best with “improbable pairs” ~ people who are
different from one another.
It is narrative based. Appreciative Inquiry seeks
to uncover stories. When we hear another person’s story ~ their life experience
~ our heart opens and we feel compassion for them and their situation. Stories
are the best tools we have for teaching the things that are most important to
us. Through Appreciative Interviews we hear stories and we learn.
It is affirmative and life centric. Appreciative
Inquiry is always positive, affirmative and life giving. We ask questions about
what gives life, about when people are at their best. We recognize that we are
not always at our best. And we know that if we study life at its best we will
learn and bring it more fully into being. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what
we want more of in our world, for example, interfaith cooperation. By
discovering the best of interfaith cooperation and education today we will learn
how to make it our ongoing way of life.
Thank you for spending this time with me today using Appreciative Inquiry to
the important topic of interfaith education.
The Power of Commitment ~ Interfaith Education, Community & Justice
9:30 – 11:00
Nurah W. Ammat’ullah, Muslim Women’s Institute for Research & Development
I welcome you to the Consultation on Interfaith Education’s Symposium on
Interfaith Education…I have the very great pleasure of introducing our keynote
speaker this morning. Madhu Kishwar is a senior fellow at the Centre for
Studies of Developing Societies in New Delhi, India. She is the author of many
books, including Religion at the Service of Nationalism and Other Essays
and the founding editor of the journal Manushi.
But she is a whole lot more than that. As she describes it, Manushi came
out of a human rights organization that she founded over twenty-six years ago
and to her that is her labor of love. The organization focuses on economic
stability for the very poor people and works to create inter-community peace,
particularly in areas of orchestrated violence that on many occasions is
premised on religious tensions and divisions. One of the missions of the
organization is to take social action to bring about change, but bring it about
from well-informed and researched activism. It has also become popularly known
as a women’s rights organization. Madhu, will you start please?
When Religions Claim Superiority
Preconditions for Genuine Interfaith Harmony
Throughout this year’s Parliament of World Religions, I heard speaker after
speaker reiterate the importance of cultivating a spirit of tolerance in
individuals, about teaching them to rise above narrow creeds and learn to love
and respect people of diverse faiths. Even in India, most of those working to
promote interfaith harmony tend to take this approach. Individual
transformation has an importance place in learning tolerant societies. However,
we cannot expect each and every person to become a little saint or a model of
virtue in order for us to build a world in which people of different faiths can
live together in harmony. Some forms of hatred and prejudice cannot be banned;
they can at best be kept under check and control.
Individuals pick up cues from and are heavily influenced by social
institutions. It is only when individuals and groups interested in peaceful
co-living that various religious communities succeed in creating a broad-based
consensus in their societies and persuade their societies to institutionalize
fair and just norms for developing the rights of various groups irrespective of
class, nation, race, color, gender or religion that they create an essential
pre-requisite for imparting interfaith education in a meaningful way. If people
are not convinced about the intrinsic equality of all human beings, they are not
likely to want to learn about their faith systems with a spirit of respect.
Learning from the Past
Learning about other peoples’ faiths is made easier if we see it first and
foremost as an attempt to learn about their culture, values and collective
aspirations. In pre-modern times, the task of interfaith learning and bridge
building between diverse groups happened mainly through the following routes:
1. Occasionally, a few special individuals undertook long travels across major
cultural and geographical boundaries, immersing themselves in the cultures of
other communities and becoming two-way bridges of spiritual communication
between distant peoples. Many of India’s spiritual leaders were either roving
preachers or took to preaching only after they had traveled far and wide. For
example, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, traveled extensively not
only within the sub-continent, including remote regions, but also to the holy
sites in the Middle East before he began expounding his spiritual worldview.
Not surprisingly, his following transcended religious groups and caste divides
and he came to act as a bridge between the monotheistic Islam and polytheistic
Hindu faiths. His followers too came from different faiths and sects. The holy
book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains hymns composed by
people of diverse faiths, castes and creeds.
2. Most ordinary people learnt about each other’s religion through direct
contact with neighbors and by participating in their festivals, important life
rituals, and coming together to celebrate each other’s occasions of joy and to
share moments of loss and sorrow.
The Indian subcontinent that witnessed repeated invasions from the northwest by
Central Asian peoples of the Islamic faith and cataclysmic regime changes for a
whole millenium. And yet, over centuries of co-living, the vast majority of
Hindus, Muslims, and other religious communities evolved humane and dignified
norms of co-existing that included joining in the celebration of each other’s
festivals and having common shrines of worship as well as spiritual figures
whose followings transcended religious divides.
In the Indic universe, there was no centralized religious authority issuing
dictates regarding how one should relate to people of different faiths. People
learnt how to act on the basis of their lived experience and enlightened
self-interest. They realized that if they want safer lives, it is best not to
provoke too much strife and hatred among one’s neighbors. They did not need to
study or be taught the religious traditions of others because they saw them
practiced around them every day and often even participated in at least some
part of those observances.
Bonding Despite Differences
Such bonding was facilitated by a deep-rooted belief shared by people of
different faiths that among many social responsibilities, padosi dharm
(that is, the moral responsibility to one’s neighbors or fellow villagers) is no
less sacred than the responsibility toward one’s family or caste members. For
example, a woman born in a particular village was and is still expected to be
treated as a daughter of the village by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs alike of that
village who were and are still expected to be equally responsible for her
This pact is not likely to have been observed uniformly in its pristine form by
everyone in the entire subcontinent. But, that it constitutes the desirable
moral code, transcending all religious divides in the Indic universe, is
suggested by the fact that, starting from the early days of Indian cinema, an
overwhelming majority of Bollywood films depict intimate inter-community bonds
on the basis of neighborhood and personal friendship between people of different
religions. They repeatedly tell stories of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and
Sikhs living together with exemplary affection and camaraderie, which includes
exceptional respect for the other and even making enormous sacrifices, including
that of their own lives, to protect their neighbors or friends in times of
Bollywood films never tire of showing a Hindu or a Muslim woman adopting a man
of a different religious affiliation as her rakhi brother and the man
chosen for this honour willing to lay down his life for the protection and
well-being of his adopted sister.
The claims of neighborhood, the bonds of friendship and affection are depicted
as being at least equal, if not higher than blood ties. This is an important
reason why Bollywood melodramas have come to be far more popular in the
non-European world, especially in Muslim countries, than are Hollywood films.
In such a moral universe, care for each other’s religious sensibilities comes
spontaneously. For example, it has been common practice for Hindu and Muslim
neighbors to exchange food gifts on important festivals of both communities.
However, Muslims take care to send only uncooked dry food to their Hindu
neighbors out of respect for their individual taboos. Likewise, no Hindu family
would offer a non-vegetative dish to a Muslim neighbor which is not made with
halaal meat. For weddings and other feasts, traditional Muslims living in
mixed neighborhoods employ Hindu cooks to prepare separate food for their Hindu
neighbors and vice versa. One can cite innumerable such examples of spontaneous
and graceful mutual accommodation whereby differences in religion or caste-based
taboos were, and are not, perceived as a cause of hurt or conflict.
Unfortunately, many modern secularists who insist that inter-community harmony
can be built only when everyone gives up all their religious rules end up
creating more strife than harmony.
When Freedom Causes Hurt
Currently, formal interfaith learning is mostly the domain of a small group of
scholars. However, those who are academically knowledgeable about diverse
religious faiths are peripheral, rather than central figures, in the waging
controversies and confrontations in the political, social, and personal
spheres. And yet, it is not uncommon for scholars of religion to trigger off
inter-faith hostilities because their writings may be perceived as being
‘hurtful’ or ‘insulting’ to the believers of that faith. In India, we have been
besieged by several such controversies over the years. Some of these involve
Western scholars studying Indic religions and cultures. For example, a book on
the Hindu God of auspicious beginnings, Ganesh, by an American scholar
named Paul Courtright, caused a major uproar last year because the author used
Freudian analysis to interpret the mystery of Ganesh’s elephant head and trunk
which was interpreted as symbolizing a limp phallus so that Ganesh is unable to
compete with his father, Lord Shiva, for his mother Parvati’s love. Shiva is
described as a notorious womanizer. Ganesh’s broken tusk is described as a
symbol of castration, his love of ladoos (an Indian sweet specially used
on auspicious occasions)interpreted as a symbol of satisfying his erotic hunger
through oral sex. Those Hindus who led the campaign against this book saw it as
part of a deep-rooted bias in Western academia, part of a tendency to trivialize
or demonize Indic religions and cultures. The book undoubtedly is the product
of painstaking research carried out by the author over several years.
Courtright can genuinely claim to know more about the stories, myths and legends
surrounding Ganesh, and has studied more traditional texts of Hindu mythology,
than most believing and practicing Hindus. What offended believers was not a
lack of knowledge but by his use of a totally inappropriate tool of analysis to
deal with a belief system and iconography of a faith that does not at all lend
itself to the Freudian worldview.
This is a classic example of conflicts arising not out of ignorance but surfeit
of knowledge combined with the unconsciously imbibed arrogance of Western
academia which assumes that its tools of analysis and value systems enable them
to understand impart judgment on the experiences and heritage of all human
beings, including those who operate with very different worldviews. Instead of
dealing with criticism leveled at the intellectual tools, many Western
Indologists treated the conflict as a case of ‘academic freedom’ versus the
intolerance of Hindu community leaders, thus leading to a bigger stalemate ~
this despite the fact that Paul Courtright himself showed willingness to discuss
the issue and refrained from assuming an aggressive posture.
There is indeed a conflict between the demands of academic freedom and the right
of every community to be treated with respect. Those of us interested in
interfaith harmony need to consider seriously how we can reconcile these two
conflicting claims, and evolve tools of analysis that can encompass and deal
with the experiences and value systems of diverse peoples inhabiting our
Western Vision Predominates
The problem is further compounded by the fact that the study of other religions
and cultures is a one-way process. While Western universities have any number
of departments, centers and courses for study and teaching religions and
cultures of non-Western societies as well as their own, most non-Western
countries are not engaged in similar studies of Western faith systems or even
their own. Thus, for a serious scholarly study or teaching of Hinduism, Indians
end up going to American, British or Australian universities because there are
hardly any opportunities available for such study within India. So deep is the
prejudice against religious study among the intellectually colonized secular
intelligentsia of India that many of them think such education or research would
only lead to strengthening obscurantism and communal prejudices.
When I organized the First International Conference on Indic Religions through
the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in December 2003, many
activists and academics let loose a defamation campaign arguing that this was a
Hindutva inspired initiative and therefore ought to be shunned. Fortunately,
very few people believed this slander, given the track record of CSDS and
Manushi on the issue of minority rights. But it did frighten several
scholars who stayed away from the First Conference lest they be forever tainted.
Such blind targeting and hate campaigns have meant that only politicians from
the extreme right articulate religious concerns, while serious scholars who do
not trash the religious and cultural traditions of India or do not join partisan
campaigns on behalf of left leaning political parties run the risk of being
dumped in the RSS-VHP camp and are assumed to be responsible for everything from
the Gujarat riots to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Thus, most of the serious scholarship ends up being processed in Western
universities with inevitable inbuilt biases. This is not to deny that works of
great scholarship have also been produced in these universities which have made
knowledge of distant cultures accessible to people educated through the English
language. But such insightful studies are small in number and remain confined
to a very tiny intellectual elite.
Today, most people know the faiths of others through brief exposure to
superficial descriptions on TV, in newspapers, film, and other mass media. The
dominant forms of international mass media have deeply imbibed a distorted
Eurocentric world view, with its tendency to see the cultures and faiths of
non-European peoples as intrinsically inferior and backward, as mainly of
anthropological interest, existing as a curious hangover of a lower stage in the
evolution of humankind. Therefore, instead of leading to greater understanding,
fleeting mass media of alien practices, when viewed in very different cultures,
have so far tended to increase divisions, strengthen prejudices and negative
Exclusivist Claims Hinder
We cannot provide meaningful interfaith education without effectively combating
the culture of intolerance derived from the belief in the inherent ideology of
an exclusivist, hierarchical jealous God, and without connecting such views to
the powerful imbalances that came to define the economics and politics of our
planet during the 19th and 20th Centuries. It is
important to recognize that there are strong connections between authoritarian
ways of thinking and tendencies to see god as an intolerant, tyrannical
authority figure that punishes those who will not do His bidding.
Monotheistic faiths have consistently claimed that the commandments of their
Gods are somehow more superior and justified than those of other faiths. But
this attitude is not confined to them. For instance, the historic clashes
between Shaivites and Vaishnavites in India would not have occurred if superior
claims were limited to monotheistic traditions. Similarly, superior claims do
not necessarily lead to violent attacks. The followers of various Hindu sects
do believe that their own faith tradition is the best but that does not usually
lead them to hate or attack others. Most believing Jews do hold that Judaism is
the only true religion. But from the onset of the diaspora until the founding
of the state of Israel, Jews were not usually known to have instigated violent
clashes with other faiths. They were almost always at the receiving end.
Riots, massacres and genocidal attacks are almost always linked to conflicts
over economic and political power. In such charged situation, religion often
becomes the match to light the tinder. This is an important reason why
politicians co-opt both the ideology and the articulators of claims of religious
superiority in their battles with rival communities.
The Colonial Dimension
The historical process of military, political, and economic colonization
witnessed very aggressive onslaughts on the cultures, faith, and value systems
of colonized people. They were urged to believe that the reason they were
subordinated was that their gods were false and that their faith systems were
not just flawed but outright evil. Not surprisingly, the right of anti-colonial
national movements simultaneously gave rise to social and reform movements
during which the colonized people tried to defend their faith systems, family
organization and cultural values.
At first, many important religious reformers in colonized countries tried to
re-form their faiths in ways that would make them conform to the high
prestige ideas of religion current in the West in the last few centuries. The
reformers often pretended to be able to purge their religions and faiths of
supposed evil such as the worship of images and idols, and the belief in many
different forms of gods and goddesses. In India, the Western educated reformers
endeavored to prove to their colonial masters that their value systems were not
really different from that of the supposedly superior West by dismissing
polytheism as a lower form of Hinduism meant to aid the illiterate masses and by
claiming to worship a ‘higher’ spirit, in the naïve belief that the Vedantic
conception of the Divine adopted by the colonial Hindu elite was not very
different from the Christian belief in the one and only one all-supreme God.
The Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj are prime examples of such reform efforts, which
attacked expressions of Hindu polytheism with no less vigor than did Christian
Consequently, religious practices and religious organizational structures of
various indigenous elite groups in colonized societies went through drastic
transformations to conform more with what the West considered higher
spirituality, and their self-view came to be heavily influenced by their desire
to have the dominant Westerners view them with respect and approval. As a
result, this elite stratum became increasingly ignorant about their own culture
and faith. The compulsion to view their faith through the perspective of their
oppressors first created the apologists who refashioned a new version of their
traditional faith. The sense of humiliation and self-loathing encouraged by
colonial education created whole new generations of confused people with a
fragile sense of selfhood. Many the educated elite in India spoke with gusto
about the evils of Hinduism in the same tone and tenor as that of their colonial
masters. That legacy of self-contempt remains alive even today. A few astute
minds like Mahatma Gandhi recognized that in most cases such reform efforts by
culturally elite only served to further alienate them from the religious beliefs
and practices of their own people while not ending the humiliations they
continued to suffer for not fully jettisoning their faith.
This did not however prevent the intellectually colonized elite from asserting
their hybrid religious/ethnic identity as representing modernity and progress.
They convinced themselves that they deserve to be the true inheritors of
societal power in post-colonial India.
Poison of Ethnic Nationalism
With the growth of ethnic nationalism we witnessed vigorous and aggressive
country movements of religious-ethnic nationalists antagonistic to the
apologists. They reinterpreted religious beliefs to salve their own resentments
as well as to facilitate their own struggles for power and influence. Once the
more obvious forms of rule by imperialist fathers diminished or came to an end,
most societies with a long history of colonization transferred the same
aggressive accession of identities that were used in deep struggle against their
foreign rulers into internalized accessions of religious identities and
unleashed purifying tendencies within each community. For example, the Muslims
of India began to be urged to become ‘pure’ Muslims and Hindus told to make
their Hinduism more pristine. Those Muslims like Jinnah and Iqbal whose
families had converted to Islam a mere generation or two earlier began to assert
their separateness with much greater vigour than Muslims claiming Turkish,
Persian, Afghan or other foreign ancestry. Not surprisingly, such leaders
became the most insistent proponents of a separate homeland for Muslims.
Thus the process of sharing learning and allowing their commonalities within
different faiths to find appropriate faith accession got disrupted. Volatile
prejudice came to replace easy acceptance of differences in India. Newly
ossified identities then came to be used in the intercommunity political power
struggle for domination. In many societies, contentious religious issues are
raised mainly by politicians who are often able to organize select groups of
politically partisan scholars and religious figures to lend their mystique to
The corrosive power of religious nationalism led to the bloody Partition of the
sub-continent in 1947. In this process, a key role was played by the divide and
rule politics of colonial rulers who had shattered the many sophisticated and
humane arrangements for co-living that had been evolved by many religious
communities over centuries. Not surprisingly, large sections of Hindus and
Muslims in post-independent India have grown to be not only deeply estranged but
also increasingly ignorant about each other.
Distance Strengthens Fears
This ignorance grew fast because of mutual fear. Most Hindus who were pushed
out of Pakistan through violence were too afraid to stay in mixed
neighborhoods. Most Muslims who stayed back also felt nervous about living in
mixed neighborhoods for fear of rejection and retaliation. The consequent
tendency of the Muslims to huddle together in neighborhoods dominated by their
own community means that Hindus and Muslims of the post-independence generation
know less about each other than their forefathers and mothers.
However, this divide has been bridged to some extent by Bollywood films which
steadfastly continue to portray Hindu-Muslim relations through positive
stereotypes and the essential oneness of all human beings. This indicates that
ordinary people prefer to hear this message rather than divisive ones. The
theme of one of the big Bollywood hits of the 1970s, Amar Akbar Anthony,
is a typical example of the quintessential oneness of people of different faiths
as represented by the Hindu Amar, Muslim Akbar and Christian Anthony. (I have
provided a detailed analysis of this theme in my paper, soon to be published in
the Journal of American Association of Religions). Bombay Films have
persisted with this message no matter how turbulent the times. Therefore, they
have come to be an effective source of interfaith education.
Importance of Self-Knowledge
The big challenge for intellectual leaders in post-colonial societies is to
generate adequate self-knowledge about the religious and cultural traditions of
their own communities without which it is far more difficult for people to get
to understand others. Interfaith learning is like language learning. A person
who is not in command of his or her own language will find it difficult to learn
alien languages and certainly will not be able to understand their nuances. In
a similar manner, it is more likely that those who are deeply rooted in their
own faith and belief system will find it easier to understand that of others.
Those of us committed to interfaith education need to listen carefully and with
respect to the living traditions within our own faith community. We need to
become a living part of its own internal ever-transforming traditions and
beliefs. Out of such a secure relationship with the vital elements of one’s own
faith ~ a relationship that does not need to look over its shoulder for some
sort of stamp of approval from outsiders as a sign of its own legitimacy, or
from those claiming exclusive authority over that tradition ~ each of us can
better identify those elements of it that need to be explained to others and
thereby make a better contribution to interfaith harmony.
When approaching interfaith education, we have a lot to learn from Mahatma
Gandhi, the greatest modern day prophet and practitioner of inter-community
harmony. He was very adverse to use of the word “tolerance” as a basis for such
understanding because he believed that: “tolerance may imply a gratuitous
assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one’s own whereas Ahimsa,
nonviolence, teaches us to entertain the same respect for religious faith of
others as we accord our own, thus admitting the imperfection of the matter. If
we had attained a full vision of truth, we would no longer be near seekers but
would have become one with God for God is truth…we must be keenly alive to the
defects of our own faiths also yet not limit on that account but try to overcome
those defects. Looking at all religions with an equal eye, we would not only
hesitate, but would think it our duty, to blend into our faith every acceptable
feature of other faiths.” Thus Gandhi’s dharma encompasses the good in
all religions, including his own, without being hostile to any. He recognized
limitations and imperfections of all, including his own, and yet remained deeply
and happily rooted in Hinduism.
Living Vs. Ossified Tradition
It is futile to base interfaith learning on the premise of teaching “true
Hinduism,” “true principles of Christianity” or :true tenets of Islam.”
Religions cannot be know or understood through their tenets alone but are best
grasped through understanding how and why individuals, at different times,
interpret, practice, modify or reject those tenets in their daily lives and seek
spiritual solace in a variety of ways that do not always conform to its tenets.
Believers and apologists often tend to overlook the way religion is actually
practiced by most believers. The tendency to dismiss those practices we don’t
like as being “un-Islamic,” “un-Christian,” or “corrupt Hinduism” leads to only
more conflict. Interfaith education should make people aware of these diverse
interpretations and practices within the same religious group rather than merely
attempt to teach the official principles of each faith.
Along with interfaith learning that teaches us the little particulars of each
faith, what we need is a broad-based consensus on some basic behavioral
principles and institutional arrangements that are just plain common sense:
1. Persuade the believers in hierarchical, exclusivist monotheistic religions
to comprehend the limitations of their belief that their God is the only true
God and all others are false.
2. Institutionalize ways to prevent hate speech and hate literature in religious
preaching, even while people should be free to expound the virtues of their own
3. Combat the growing culture of hatred promoted by the adherents of the new
religions of revenge, who have chosen the path of violence and manipulation of
state power in a desperate attempt to compensate for the historic humiliations
and exploitation they have suffered at the hands of the dominant Eurocentric
4. Build a broad-based consensus supported by institutional arrangements that
ensures that no group will be allowed to use violence or the brutal might of the
state power in settling disputes with other groups.
5. Build effective redressal mechanisms to mediate genuine grievances among
religious communities as they arise so that people are not compelled to resort
to violence to get a hearing.
6. Ensure that minority religious communities are not ghettoized out of fear or
compulsion and that the majority community does not isolate itself from others.
7. Pre-empt the more powerful of the majority religious communities from using
the power of missionaries to demand special privileges for themselves and we
need to have minority rights in place.
8. Keep politicians out of religious issues and religious institutions which
should remain under the charge of spiritual leaders.
9. Pre-empt the attempts by politicians to erase the multi-layered identities
of people in favor of the monolithic identity based on religion. For instance,
in India it is only when political leaders try to insist that all Hindus or all
Muslims have identical sets of interests ~ no matter whether they are from
Kerala or Maharashtra, whether peasants or artisans, Urdu-speaking or
Tamil-speaking, rich or poor, Sunni or Shia, lower caste or higher caste ~ that
they can be pitched against other as permanently hostile monoliths.
As long as Hindus and Muslims can come together to safeguard their economic
interests as farmers or traders, vendors or peasants, Gujaratis or Kashmiris, to
assert their various linguistic, economic or regional identity, or acknowledge
bonds of commonality on account of being from the same village or neighborhood,
they cannot easily be pitched against each other as hostile, warring groups on
an all-India basis by letting their religious identity overwhelm all other
identities. In the process of asserting their multi-layered identities, people
of different religious faiths who cohabit within a particular region tend to
learn about differences in each other’s faiths very spontaneously as well as
evolve areas of commonality in their cultures.
Evolving Common Bonds
I would like to conclude by sharing some of our own recent experiences of
strengthening such common bonds between Hindus and Muslims in Delhi. It all
started with Manushi’s attempt to protect street vendors from routine
human rights abuses, humiliation, assaults on their livelihood and huge
extortion rackets organized by our corrupt officialdom and a tyrannical police
force. During our sustained campaign to attempt to get all those laws and
regulations changed or removed that facilitate such extortion, we also undertook
the challenge of combating the prejudices against vendors among officialdom and
influential citizens who see them as sources of squalor and chaos in the city.
In that process, we began organizing the vendors to take responsibility for
maintaining cleanliness and observe exemplary civic discipline.
To drive home the message that cleaning one’s physical environment is as sacred
a duty of every citizen as cleansing our system of governance of corruption and
abuse of power, we began the practice of worshipping the humble broom with all
the rituals that go with worshipping regular deities. Our broom deity slowly
acquired a human form. We named her Manushi Swacchnarayani. Its
literal translation would mean the Goddess of Cleanliness but she represents
many more qualities. She incorporates the qualities of Laxshmi, the Goddess of
Wealth, and Prosperity, Durga the Warrior Goddess who restores justice and
destroys evil, and Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Learning.
However, we added some special attributes to her. The symbols of power put in
the hands of our new ten-armed goddess are a broom to symbolize our respect for
cleanliness of the physical environment as well as our resolve to cleanse the
government machinery of corruption; a weighing balance symbolizing our
commitment to social justice; a movie camera, because a large part of the
success of our campaign for policy and law reform for street vendors was due to
our showing on videotape these human rights violations and using the documentary
film for campaigns and lobbying; a diya (earthen lamp) to symbolize the
dispelling of darkness and bringing hope for the poor and vulnerable; a pen and
account book as symbols of the Goddess of learning and our honest account
keeping; a conch shell symbolizing purity and transparency as well as a clarion
call for self-organization; Sudershan Chakra as Vishnu’s weapon for
defeating evil doers; a sta;l of barley to symbolize multiplication of wealth as
well as the spread of our message since one seed can produce an unlimited number
of grains; the tenth hand shows money pouring from the palm of the goddess held
in abhay mudra to communicate our hope that citizens be able to earn a
dignified livelihood without fear, harassment and extortion. The goddess stands
on a lotus flower to convey how we are attempting to create beauty out of
All our vendor members, whether they are Hindus or Muslims, upper caste or lower
caste, enthusiastically join in the rituals honoring our broom wielding deity
with prayers from their respective faith traditions because they see clearly
that Swacchnarayani increases their self-respect as well as strengthens
their solidarity with fellow vendors for secular causes and lends vigor to their
resolve to fight for their right to a dignified livelihood.
As the power of those politicians who run extortion rackets that victimize
street vendors gets progressively challenged, they are making all possible
attempts to weaken the organizational solidarity of our members. Some local
politicians have also tried to make our ritual worship of the boom and camera
wielding goddess into a contentious religious issue. But so far, they have not
succeeded since the vendors of the area have happily accepted some of our Muslim
members as local leaders on account of their organizational qualities, even
though Muslims are in a minority. Far from acting as a divisive ritual, our
broom worship has succeeded in making members collectively aware of the need to
make their market a model of civic discipline and clean politics.
This is just one of numerous examples I can site of how simple, everyday live
interaction on the basis of shared interests leads to far more sponstaneous
inter-faith learning and common cultural bonds than is possible through mere
classroom teaching or academic dialogues. When live interaction becomes
routine, interfaith learning through the formal education system becomes more
easy, meaningful and likely to lead to the moral, spiritual and cultural
enhancement of all those who imbibe it. Without these pre-conditions being met,
it might even create more discord.
Hello, I am Tiffany Puett, a member of the Planning Committee for the
Consultation for Interfaith Education and also with the Temple of
Understanding. It is my pleasure today to introduce to you the three
respondents to Madhu Kishwar. I will just state their names right now and then
introduce them each before they speak. They are Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Dr.
Paul Knitter, and Dr. Al-Harith Hassan.
We will start with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield. Rabbi Hirschfield is Vice President
of CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. As a leader
for religious diversity and openness, Hirschfield has brought his message of
respecting and celebrating pluralism to thousands of people as an educator,
mentor, and much sought-after public speaker and commentator. In recent years,
he has been in great demand as a thoughtful yet powerful voice on issues of
faith, doubt, and the importance of interfaith dialogue, and has been featured
on “Nightline Up Close,” ABC-TV, “Frontline,”
“Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” and Court TV as well as on NPR Radio and in
major newspapers across the United States. Hirschfield received his rabbinic
ordination from the Institute of Traditional Judaism where he also served as
assistant dean and he was also a book editor for Tikkun Magazine.
Without further adieu, Rabbi Hirschfield.
Thank you. Good morning. It is worth taking just a second to drink in what we
have just heard. I believe that it would take a lifetime to implement it, but I
think it is possible to implement. I think to be able to come into a space and
really challenge ourselves about the insufficiency of tolerance which at its
base suggests that you go sit in your corner, I will sit in mine, and nurture
the fact that neither one of us really likes each other, but there’s nothing we
can do about it. While in the short term, that may make us a little bit safer,
in the long term, it will get us all killed. To embrace instead the infinite
dignity and equality of every human being, of all people through direct contact
and exchange, is actually one of the strengths that you shared with us. With
great modesty, our speaker apologized for drawing examples only from India. It
is actually quite the opposite. Each of us would agree to draw examples not
from the theory of other people’s existence, but from the reality of our lives,
we actually could begin to move past tolerance and to that real open embrace.
In that spirit, I want to share a story that doesn’t reflect so well on me. It
is a real story from December 23, 2001. It had been a very long week and I was
on my way to give a talk in London. All I wanted to do was to get into the
departure lounge at JFK, read my newspaper, and let the world go by. I had just
started to get comfortable when a whole group of gentlemen walked in. They
looked like an ad for “Come, Join the Taliban.” I was scared. I don’t know if
I was scared, or more scared that I was scared, but I was going to talk myself
through this and grow past it. As I got to that place, because God has a sense
of humor, they unrolled their rugs. I said if I leave, this could be one of the
most shameful days of my life. On the other hand, I had better call home and
tell my wife what I am planning to do, so that if I do die, she doesn’t think I
died of stupidity. I called and explained what was going on. She said “Yeah,
so…I am just curious. When you show up early in the morning and put on your
talit, your prayer shawl, and wrap up in your phylacteries, do you think people
have a right to be scared of you?” Oh. Of course, what I had to deal with that
night, again because God has a sense of humor, was that we were seated in the
“Special Food Section.” I spent the night speaking with two of these gentlemen,
them with their Halal meal, me with my kosher meal, and it was unbelievable
because in the end, I was real to myself, but they were not real to me. They
were cartoons and I had to confront what it meant that other human beings, just
because of my fears, were nothing more than cartoons.
I think interfaith education is less about learning about each other’s faiths
than learning with each other’s faiths. That’s how we become real to each
other. I will never in my life know as I could or as I should about other
faiths because, in all candor, I don’t believe that I will ever know as much as
I could or as I should about my own. But I absolutely can learnwith people of
other faiths and that is when we become real to each other, when we no longer
see individuals as mirrors of some generalized community, but actually see the
community as made up of the real people we have come to know. When that shift
occurs, it is amazing how much justice is actually doable. It takes time. In a
room like this, it would be very easy for us to tell “They ~ those people out
there ~ that they have to do such and such.” But there is no “there” because
when we’re there it will be here and we will have to go further. In my own
tradition, the verb most associated with justice is “pursue.” There is another
word for procedural justice in Jewish tradition ~ it’s called mishpat in
Hebrew. You go to the judge and get a judgment rendered. You don’t pursue
that. You either pay the fine or you don’t. But justice, not procedural
justice, as a vision of the way the world could be is eternally pursued. It is
never arrived at because it is always about going beyond your self. If yourself
is the fearful individual, like I was as I sat with them at dinner on the plane,
then you will have to transcend that self and locate who it is that you hold a
cartoon image of. That is Jewish justice.
Peace is about wholeness in Hebrew. The same root for the word shalom is
the word shalem, to be whole. Justice is a vision of transcending
whatever individual, communal, national or religious story most animates you.
In transcending, you do not leave it behind, but you always know that you are
part of something larger. In the end, Jewish mystical tradition, which actually
evolved in this community, teaches that it is justice more than any other trait
that unifies the presence of God on earth because justice is always about the
reach beyond where you are to the next larger thing, as you actually approach
the Infinite. Interfaith education is the process of reaching out beyond our
selves, beyond our comfort zones. It not only brings justice, it is justice.
Our next speaker is Dr. Al-Harith Hassan. Dr. Hassan is the Dean of the
Psychological Center at the University of Baghdad, and is also the head of two
NGOs: Health and Safety, and the Iraqi Parapsychology Society. In addition to
teaching psychiatry and cognitive psychology, he also teaches comparative
religions at Babel College of Philosophy and Theology in Baghdad. He recently
completed the summer Peace-building Institute in Religion and Peace-Building and
Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg,
Virginia. Without further adieu, Dr. Hassan.
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning. Ms.
Kishwar was speaking about politicians and about India. India is subcontinent
with lots of cultural differences. If we talk about developing countries, there
are lots of differences. If we speak about politicians in democratic countries,
it is very difficult to speak about interfaith education without politicians
because they have the power and we have the wisdom as interfaith educators. We
need to bridge the relationship between wisdom and power to establish commitment
for a better world.
The second point I want to make is about Gandhi. We need to develop, to add
more, to improve Gandhi’s sections, particularly as we talk about the Middle
East dilemma with the new fanatical religious movements in Islamic countries.
For example, in Iraq now, the fanatical trends are happening under the cover of
Islam that is a religion of love, of peace. We need to improve and re-write
Gandhi’s motto to fit with our circumstances.
The third thing is that we need to study fanaticism and extremism as the other
side of the continuum when we study interfaith education. We have got to have
life stages in interfaith relationships. We have positive and negative
processes in these life stages. We have trust versus mistrust, autonomy,
identity, generativity, integrity. We have to have the initial contact with the
Other, we have to trust the Other, but at the same time, we have to have our
Arabic status. We need to honor religious otherness. If I have the autonomy, I
have got to have the initial step of trust and can then arrive at the point of
agreeing to disagree. The negative aspects have similar steps. If one starts
by mistrusting the Other, then one wonders how to have a good relationship.
Another point is about interfaith and interface. As part of our commitment to
find fruitful and positive links between religion and science, it would be a
great opportunity to assimilate between interfaith relationships and education
in religions and interface relationships and education in physics. The first is
between faiths and religions; the second is between particles and matter. We
should go there and see how particles and matter try to act together, try to
love each other, try to do something for the other. We human beings, we do not
do that so we have to assimilate between the interface education and interfaith
The last thing is a very important subject. The practices versus theory in
religions is our dilemma. It is the dilemma of the current days in developing
countries. We all know about the others from their practices…We talk in science
about practicality and not only theory. With religion, we need to talk more
about theory. I cannot understand the Other unless I know more about the theory
of the religion. We need to start in the primary and secondary schools with the
teaching of the basics of all of the religions. To make people love each other,
understand each other, we need to teach them different philosophies of
religions. We might then approach interfaith education in a very good way. We
all ask for peace.
God bless you.
Thank you. Our final respondent is Dr. Paul Knitter. Dr. Knitter for the past
years has been working to promote a globally responsible dialogue among
religions. He is Emeritus Professor of Theology at Xavier University in
Cincinnati, Ohio. Since the mid 80s, he has been worked with the ecumenical
peace group, CRISPAS, Christians for Peace in El Salvador. Recently he has
published a critical survey of Christian approaches to other religions,
Introducing Theologies of Religions (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 2002). He is
also on the Board of Trustees of the International Committee for the Peace
Council. Without further adieu, Dr. Knitter.
Thank you. Here I am, as I tell my friends, always on the edge of things,
always falling off. I am very happy to be here with you and to respond to Dr.
Kishwar’s excellent paper.
I think that what you said, Dr. Kishwar, is worthy of response. I do not hear
the speakers responding to you; I hear them presenting their own
interpretations. This is also so typical of the way men treat women.
While I don’t fully agree with you, I will try to take your admonition
seriously. I would like to focus on what Dr. Kishwar has presented very
clearly as an issue in interfaith education when she said “We cannot provide
meaningful interfaith education without effectively combating the cultural
intolerance derived from the belief in the inherent superiority of an
exclusivist, hierarchical jealous god and without connecting such views to the
power imbalances that come to define the economics and politics of our planet
during the 19th and 20th centuries.” I think what she is
pointing out here is that absolute claims can lead to intolerance. Such
intolerance feeds or supports the unjust and violent economic and political
policies that have caused so much human and environmental harm during the 19th,
20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.
With some slight reservations, I agree heartily and also sadly with you. The
truth is that this is the reality of religion. Today, we are witnessing a world
in which religious intolerance becomes religious violence. Because I feel that
my religion is superior to yours, not only do I look down on you (that’s the
intolerance), but I am prone to take up the sword or the guided plane or the
guided missiles when I think you have offended me. But I would not say that
superior claims necessarily lead to intolerance or to violence against others.
They do not necessarily lead to violent action, but they are one of the
principal reasons why religion is so easily used, co-opted, by the politicians ~
both in Baghdad and in Washington, D.C. ~ to justify violence against others.
I think the primary causes of intercultural or inter-ethnic violence are
generally economic or political. That’s the tinder; that’s the combustible
material of conflict. But religion can be used as a match to light that tinder
into a conflagration. Why is religion such an available match? One of the
reasons is because of superior claims.
While I admit that the monotheistic religions have a record of making superior
claims and the worst historical record for promoting violence, still, superior
claims are not limited to the monotheistic religions. All religions have held
themselves up in some form at some time in their history as being more
enlightened or representing a higher stage of consciousness than others. All
religions must recognize that there is violence in their historical records.
What we have to do in our interfaith education is deal with this issue.
Different religions have made superior claims and we must look at why such
claims are dangerous. Also, we must look at how such claims can be corrected or
re-evaluated. When religious educators attempt to criticize or to re-evaluate
some of these claims to be the superior religion or to have the final truth or
the final prophet or the only savior, they run into problems within their own
communities. “It is not uncommon for scholars of religion to trigger off
interfaith hostilities because their writings may be perceived as hurtful or
insulting to believers of that faith.” Such hostilities are not only
interfaith, but intra-faith, when scholars criticize or raise these concerns
within their own communities. Many Christian educators and theologians are
facing such problems. Any effort to revise traditional Christian claims of
having the only savior and the final truth are running into problems within
their own communities. It is not only the Catholics with statements that have
come from the Vatican, but I know that Methodist and Presbyterian friends are
running into the same problems.
A truly mutualistic religious education, mutualistic in the sense that we know
who we are and we make space for the others, means that interfaith educators
must go about their work on the basis of a deep commitment to listening
carefully and with respect to the living traditions within our own faith
community. We need to become a living part of our own internal,
ever-transforming traditions and beliefs. Educators have to show that one can
be thoroughly committed to one’s own tradition and at the same time, critical of
it. We are critical because we love our tradition. This is a challenge. To
show how one can be fully committed to one’s own religious identity and
tradition, and at the very same time, to be fully open to the truth and
challenges that can be found in other traditions. Fully committed to one’s
own…fully open to others. That isn’t easy, but that’s the real challenge and I
am not sure how to respond to it. It contains a paradox and will have to be
dealt with differently within different traditions. Speaking from my own
Christian tradition, I can say that my commitment to Jesus whom we call the
Christ requires me to open my mind and heart to others. For me, Jesus is the
Way that is open to other Ways. I suspect and I hope that the same can be said
of Buddha or Krishna or Moses or Mohammed.
Thank you very much. I know that many important issues have been raised but
unfortunately, we have run over time. Perhaps we can have just a few questions
from the audience.
(Gentleman speaking in Spanish)
Basically, the need to recognize that religious education is part of a
humanistic, total education. We need to show how the religious part of
education can be related to all of the other aesthetic, economic, or political
aspects of our humanity.
I simply wanted to underline the importance of what Madhu Kishwar said about our
multi-layered identities. None of us is completely a religious being. We are
also citizens. We have many regional and cultural identities. It is important
to be able to speak, as Paul Knitter said, out of the Christian identity at
times, but also out of the citizen’s identity or out of an academic identity.
We can be a religious people; we can also speak out of an intellectual tradition
with sympathy and understanding towards other traditions towards a subject;
then also speak out of our civic need to be secular in some sense. I am a
secular person and a religious person at the same time. This multi-layeredness
is something so important and I thank you for it. It is important for America
and it is important for India.
Since I agree with so much of what the respondents have said, I will just make
three points. I wish to clarify that the sense of common occupational group and
citizenship that we were able to inculcate among street vendors was made
possible because although Muslims are a minority, we went out of our way to make
sure that they had an integral place and that they are in leadership roles.
I made the point that there is a need to keep politicians away from religious
institutions. This is not because I disrespect politics. Politics has a very
important place as does religion. I respect the role that politicians play,
however, I do have problems when they begin to take control of religious
institutions and dominate their agendas. In India, a lot of interfaith fights
are about who is to control religious institutions and elections to these bodies
are run as precisely on party lines just as state elections are fought. Fights
over resources are often for partisan and political ends which has created
unhealthy situations. As long as they stay in their domain, I salute you.
Now about superior claims, I agree with you that they are not confined to
monotheistic religions. Lots of Hindus treat the faith systems of impoverished
tribal communities with as much disdain as others have treated Hinduism. It is
not an integral part of Hinduism. One is constantly dealing with multiplicity
of faith systems, of ritual systems, and therefore it is much harder and people
sometimes produce disastrous results. While I agree that they don’t need to
lead to violence always, violence is built into such claims. The moment you
treat someone as inferior or in a lower state of evolution, which is how many
Hindus treat tribal people, it is easy to dehumanize others. That process of
dehumanization can easily take on the form of violence, ethnic cleansing, and
becomes a very real challenge.
Thank you again very much.
Interactive Best Practice Sessions:
The Relationship between Interfaith Education and Justice,
Conflict Resolution, Reconciliation, and Coexistence
11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Interfaith Education for World Peace
Ela Gandhi, University of Natal, South Africa
Welcome to this session of the Consultation on Interfaith Education. I would
like to introduce you to a woman who needs no introduction, to a friend, Ela
Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. Ms. Gandhi was a vigorous, nonviolent
opponent of apartheid and a member of South African Parliament for nine years.
She is currently editor of Santiagraha, Secretary of the Gandhi
Development Trust, Vice President of WCRP-South Africa, and a member of the
Commission on Religious Affairs of African National Congress. Ms. Gandhi, you
have the floor.
Thank you. I would like to thank The Temple of Understanding for including me
in this panel. It is really my privilege to be here and to share my experiences
and my ideas with you.
Firstly, about interfaith education, I think it is extremely important that we
should think about introducing interfaith education all over the world. I want
to tell you two stories. One of them is from our experience in South Africa.
As most of you know, South Africa was a divided society. We had a polarization
of the white people from the black people. The division manifested itself in
different residential areas, different schools to which the different children
went, and completely different lifestyles because the African people lived in a
particular township, the Indian people lived in another township, there was no
sharing or no interaction between the two except at work places. Even at the
workplaces, because of the hierarchy of jobs, you always experienced your
relationship in that hierarchy where the top level management posts were always
white, the middle management was always Indian and colored, and at the bottom
were the African people in South Africa.
The division affected our lives. It kept us apart. It kept us away from
understanding each other, each other’s cultures, each other’s languages. Today,
after ten years of democracy, we cannot say that we are able to change what
happened for 300 years in our society in ten years because we cannot tell you
how much harm that separation did to South African society. If we were able
share, to live together, go to the same schools, experience each other’s
lifestyles, and be able to communicate, things would have been a lot different
in South Africa.
Hopefully, in the next ten years, things will be a lot different in South Africa
because the children are going together to school. At primary school level, the
children mix, they play with each other and look at each other as human beings
and not as different colors, different races. But in high school or university,
there are different pockets, there are different places where African children
will gather together, where Indian children gather together, where colored
children gather together and where white children gather together. That is what
this separation has done to us. At high school level and at university level,
there isn’t much mixing. Some people will say that it is natural for races to
be apart, but when you go to the primary school, you see the children embracing
together and there is no question of race.
We can apply the same principle to religion, for as long as we don’t understand
each other’s religions, we are apart. We consider each other with suspicion.
How will this person accept me? How can I accept them? There is a fictional
understanding that they are different from us; they believe in certain things
that we don’t believe in. Such fictitious information was put into our heads by
a government that was intent in promoting separation. If we want to look at how
the different faiths and races can come together, we need to address the issue
of how to create a better understanding.
The second example I want to give today is my grandfather’s story. Gandhi-ji
was born in a family where everyone was respected. His parents had friends in
all of the different religious groups and they visited the family home.
Gandhi-ji used to sit with his father and listen to the conversations. People
were talking about their own beliefs. That was his introduction to religion and
because it was, he was able to later investigate, to understand, other people’s
religions. He didn’t have any hesitation in reading the Koran, in
reading the Bible, in reading all the other Holy Scriptures, and in
interacting with all the different faiths because that is how he was brought up
in his home. If there is that kind of ethos within the family, you find that
those people are able to adapt to circumstances where there is this kind of
diversity and are able to respect each other’s religions.
There is a big debate that is happening in our country as well as in many
countries as to when you should introduce this religious education. It is my
belief that it is to be introduced at the earliest possible age. The child
needs to know about his own or her own religion and the parents are going to
teach them. A lot is also learned from what they see. Children see and expect
people to behave in the same as what they are saying to the child. If you tell
the child to speak the truth and if the child sees you telling lies, that child
is going to say “I will do what adults do and not what they say.” Therefore it
is important to set that standard. Gandhi-ji actually applied these principles
in his life and that is how he himself grew up with these ideas.
Having said that, I want to say what we have done in South Africa. During the
years of apartheid, we saw that there was a deliberate attempt to keep us apart,
not only as different races and ethnic groups, but also different religious
communities. You may know that apartheid was actually based on a fictitious
religious belief which today everyone in South Africa denies. At that time,
they said that “This is what the Bible says ~ that the white race is the
superior race and that the black race are supposed to be the slaves.” They
based their whole apartheid idea on that fiction. That is how religion was used
and today you may in many countries religion used to promote somebody’s own
agenda. In order to prevent that, we as the community in South Africa said that
we are not going to allow them to divide us. We have to get together and we
did, despite the fact that there was separate schooling. We got together and we
had a huge mass democratic in South Africa. We brought all the races together
in South Africa. We brought all the religions together in South Africa. The
mass democratic movement was one of the pillars of the struggle in South Africa
which resulted in toppling the apartheid regime and getting the democratic
dispensation in South Africa.
How did we do this? The religious community was very active in our struggle in
South Africa. All members were on the front lines. The religious community
played a big role in our struggle. Around 1989, there was talk of a change in
South Africa. We called all of the religious communities together. The
initiative was taken by the WCRP in South Africa to have a discussion with all
of the communities and to draw up a charter of rights and responsibilities of
religious communities. We said that we are not just going to talk about rights,
but rights AND responsibilities of religious communities. It was a difficult
conference. We had many discussions because every clause, every word, had to be
acceptable to all the different faiths. It was a heavy process but it was worth
it because we came out with a charter that was acceptable to everyone. The
kitchen language of every religion happens within the religious community; it is
not exposed to others. When you are within your own sector, you speak about
certain things and you may even have names or designations for other religious
groups. That is your kitchen language and that is never exposed in the public
arena. Here, in this conference, it had to become exposed because we looked at
every word ~ would it be acceptable in your own kitchen? That whole
consultation was a very important process.
As a result of that consultation and the work we did in drawing up a charter, we
now in South Africa have a number of different things that protect interfaith
work in the country. For instance, at every single national or government
function, interfaith prayers are said. Every group comes to say their prayers.
We have a forum of religious leaders which meets with the president at least two
or three times a year. They have the right to say what they feel about the
laws, the situation, and the policies of the government, and the president can
tell them about what is happening or being planned. The religious leaders are
taken on board and their ideas are listened to. We have programs on the radio
and t.v. of all the different faiths which exposes the whole South African
population to divergent or diverse beliefs in the country. It is very useful
because people begin to understand each other in that way.
In a small way in our newspaper, the Santiagraha, we also print every
month something about a different religion. We talk about the mainline
religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and so on, but we don’t talk about
the smaller groups. Yesterday, we heard about the pagan religion. To
understand each other, we need to write about them and to bring out their
stories. We do this through our newspaper. There is also a process through
education. Children are taught basic values that all religions propagate and
the beliefs that each religion has. This is brought into the syllabus of the
schools right from infancy up to high school level. The important thing about
this is that the process of getting to the curriculum is as important as the
content of the curriculum. You cannot just say “You’ve got a good syllabus and
I will apply it in the US” because the situation in one country is different
from South Africa. The process is important. You have to bring together the
parents and the community in order for them to accept that this is what the
child needs to learn about. The process is important otherwise there will be
feelings of discontent, animosity among different people, concern about
conversion or hidden agendas. It is going on at the moment in South Africa.
What I am doing at the present moment is developing Gandhian ideas because
Gandhi-ji had a lot to say about religion and the importance of religion in a
person’s life. I want to qualify also that we also respect people who don’t
believe. Just because they don’t believe doesn’t mean that they don’t have
values. They believe in something. They believe in a set of values or an
ideology which promotes certain values. Therefore, we also respect those people
who don’t believe. They may not believe in a god or a spirit, but they still
believe in these values. If you are sworn in as a member of Parliament, you
must take an oath. In our country, we have an oath or an affirmation. If you
believe in the Bible, your hand is placed on the Bible. If you don’t believe,
you can say that you affirm the laws of the country. There is provision in our
laws for people who don’t believe.
Gandhi’s ideas on interfaith work are being put down on transparencies and then
shared during courses in universities. I have to teach at the university and I
talk to different groups of students, for example, I spoke with students in a
course on public administration. It was very important to bring out Gandhi’s
ideas in this group of people who were involved in public administration. These
students were already in employment. They were working as teachers, paramedics,
in police services, and other administrative tasks. My work was to talk to them
about Gandhian ideas and values. In talking about those values, a good public
service is promoted. I cannot emphasize the importance of having such a course
introduced into the universities and the different tertiary institutions where
public service workers are trained.
I think I am going to leave you with these examples because these are what we
have done in South Africa and what we are still doing ~ we are engaging in
processes and I think that the rest of it can come out in discussions.
Thank you very much.
Comments in response to questions:
~The process that we have embarked on in South Africa is to have discussions.
In these, we have people from all different faiths and then, once the curriculum
is put together, we have community discussions and then the curriculum is
implemented in the schools. There is not one kind of fixed model. The model
comes out of the discussions.
~Religious groups respond similarly to the process. At the back of everybody’s
mind is how can I promote my own religion. And the other thing at the back of
the mind is that I must stop the other person from taking away my congregation.
Once these two barriers are overcome, which is very difficult, one can get to
the essence of religious beliefs.
~Gandhian ideas of simplicity, of honesty, of truth, of compassion are very
important principles for people in public administration. The problem is
corruption because people want more money or because they are not concerned
about issues of honesty and truth. If you are able to begin those values in
public service, there will be a big change for the public servant is the first
person encountered by a citizen.
~In South Africa, we all have the right to decide who the leaders will be. We
have quite a wide group. People will approach us. I am a member of the
Commission of Religious Affairs of the African National Congress and ANC is the
government in power. They are represented. Every sector of each tradition is
Interfaith Education in Action: A Young Adult Perspective
Morse Flores, Philippines & Ramola Sundram, U.K.
Religious Freedom Young Adult Network
Good morning. My name is Morse Flores from the Philippines. First, I would
like to thank my elders even though they are not here for they give me the
blessing to share our issues, our hopes and our dreams for everyone. What I
have just played is a nose flute. I think that we are the only tribe in the
world to play the flute on the nose. We usually use the nose flute to gather
the spirits among us and to set the meeting in a more profound and relaxing
way. The chant called all of my elders to be with us today…
Hello. I am Ramola, the Young Adult Coordinator of the International
Association for Religious Freedom. The role that we will be playing here is
that some of the young adults from the RFYN, as we call it, would like to
introduce something about our methodology ~ not necessarily the fact that you
have to work with young people ~ we believe that it is a style that can be used
in a variety of contexts and we truly believe that our work should be
inter-generational as well.
The people who have been watching young people over this Parliament have seen
what generates their enthusiasm and how tender, how compassionate, they can be
to each other. Please try to share this. Just in this brief time, our aim is
that you learn a bit about some of our methodologies. Our Filipino young people
are an example and the reason we have chosen them to be here is because
indigenous spirituality has been suffering. We want to show that we support
young people and young adults of any religion, any creed, any belief, as long as
it doesn’t impinge on other people’s rights.
Throughout each of our projects, we use different methodologies. We incorporate
creative workshops so people are encouraged to dance, to write poetry, to do
drama, but all linked with our work in religious freedom and interfaith
understanding. We are here to build bridges, so mutual trust and understanding
is important. These young people are going to explain a few of our
methodologies, giving examples.
Morse: We are going to illustrate some simple movements. Please follow after
us. It is very important to be very solemn and silent.
Ramola: That was a little example of what we might do to start an activity, to
try to have people feel that they are part of a team. We will do many things to
build up a team. In our PowerPoint, which we might have time to show, we use a
variety of techniques to build up this team feeling. Without team feeling, one
is not going to break down the barriers of mistrust. One has to feel
comfortable enough to share one’s innermost issues with the people in the
group. That can only take time.
Woodrow is going to explain how this Religious Freedom Youth Network or
RFYN-Filipinos started. It shows how, over a period of time with huge
dedication and commitment, one can build up activities. The process can be a
model for other things.
Woodrow: We are wearing indigenous costumes that are from different parts of
our country. I like Ela Gandhi’s statement that there is a difference between
religious education and religion education. Religious education is done by our
spiritual leaders who are in charge of our souls. In religion education, we get
to understand the other sides. I am, for example, Roman Catholic and there is
much prejudice about other traditions. The Philippines is the only Christian
country in Asia. The majority of the religion is Catholic or Christianity. We
have the Muslims and the Christians.
One methodology is the interfaith pilgrimage. My parents would not allow me to
be part of it. There is so much prejudice. But I joined RFYN. My parents were
afraid that I would be converted, but the pilgrimage was a turning point for my
Ramola: Woodrow’s parents were really against the pilgrimage and many projects
have experienced this fear. The interfaith pilgrimage is a simple idea. It can
happen in your home town or on a vast scale. We are about to have one to Japan
and the U.S.A. with young Jews and Unitarians in order to learn about Shinto,
Buddhism, spirituality, Judaism and Unitarianism. Terry is going to give one
example. We have discussions, empowerment training to give people confidence
and understanding. We also have what we call social action or, in India,
shramadan, the gift of labor.
Terry: In the Philippines, we used the social action methodology in ten major
tribes in the South. People were working together with many activities such as
the empowerment training for youth leaders.
Woodrow: We are focusing on education in our program. Growing up in
tribalistic communities, we are often put in small cages. My parents would say
you can only play with certain people or marry a certain person. We came to
recognize that war and violence start in the minds of men, as UNESCO says, and
it is only in the mind of men that people can change. Only through education
can we do this with the freedom to explore. Immersion and study programs, the
social action programs, are important. We joined together to build a sacred
Morse: In India, this is shramadan. In the Philippines, it is called
labor of love. All of the Muslim and Christian representatives gathered
together to repair the building so that the local tribe could have a better
worship space. This working together is very unusual in our country.
Shabbi: In the last year, we began a student group in Tel Aviv University in
Israel with Muslims, Christians, and Jews. We gather together once every two
weeks. We discuss topics concerning religion and the connection to society.
Through these discussions about our beliefs, we hope that we can achieve great
understanding. There are a lot of biases! Many people don’t know, for example,
that Muslims are 20% of the Israeli society. The students in the University are
really open-minded and we are hoping for a better future.
Ramola: We have had an example of a discussion group. Something that is
potentially very difficult can be made simple by bringing religious texts to the
group for sharing. It is part of the Israel Encounter Association, Youth
Section. But part of the RFYN is to do something. Great to have international
conferences, but the work starts at home. There may be tolerance, but complete
understanding takes time. Interfaith is not easy…. Interactive groups are
Olivia: Morse, you specifically talked about how we inherit our prejudices from
our elders. Could you say something about how you have been able to impact the
thinking of your elders as a result of their entrusting you to an international,
Morse: At first, it was not easy for me to go beyond my own comfort zones. I
had to have the resources. I was growing up in my mother’s tribe. I had to
change my name because I had my tribal name. I was going to register in a
Christian school and I had to change my name; otherwise, I wouldn’t be going to
school. But in my tribe, when I used that name, they wouldn’t know me. This
became a problem with conference registration. Now I am the first to go to
university and I am studying in Japan. I come home with lots of ideas. The
people that I trust are the first people I have to persuade. My parents are
very supportive, especially my Mom. We still have this culture that only men
should go to school. Bring our sisters to the school. “Educating a man is like
educating a person, but once you educate women, you educate the whole nation.”
I brought this to my community. My sisters are going to school now and we are
trying to change the culture, but it starts in the family.
Ramola: We had a program in December. We were insistent that we had the
blessings of the elders, that the Muslim, Christian and indigenous elders
supported us. The elders listened to the young people and the young people
listened to the elders. The elders stayed for special ceremonies for the first
couple of days, but three elders stayed for the entire time. They saw the
social action program, the discussions, and were very moved. We invite people
in. Dancing, for example, is part of the spiritual tradition. We had a special
celebration at the end with candles and a spiritual dance. The hands together
are what we would like to achieve.
Ramola: Interfaith education, interfaith in action in Gudjerat, India, involved
a huge social action project with young Muslim and Hindu adults helping to
rebuild a temple and a mosque that had been destroyed in the earthquake. The
reason we went there was because it was an area of religious intolerance. We
also had international young people and national Indians. During the riots, our
Indian Muslim coordinator stayed with a Hindu family. The Indian contractor
stayed with a Muslim family. That was their private show of solidarity with
each other. It can take one spark, one moment, but it needs passion,
commitment, dedication, and a little bit of thought. People attend who are
living in tense situations, so one should think carefully about interfaith
We are here to learn from you as well. The RFYN is a dialogue process. If you
are interested in learning more about our work, we can introduce you to people
who are doing great work in the U.K., Israel, India and many other places.
Tools for Conflict Transformation in Interfaith Dialogue
Janice Marie Johnson, Educators for Social Responsibility, USA
In the Educators for Social Responsibility program, we start off with a
gathering and an interactive workshop. We use these methods of gathering,
building an agenda, to teach skills of conflict resolution in the New York City
school system. A typical agenda includes beginning with a gathering, time for
introductions, an agenda review to look at the different elements of the agenda,
community practices, skill building activities, and move towards closure with
appreciations and a closing.
Let’s look at conflict resolution and conflict transformation. What is
conflict? Fighting, antagonistic difference, elections, tension. Is there
anything positive about conflict? Striving for justice, resolution of
contradictions, dialectic in nature. My premise is that conflict is conflict.
It is neutral, it is neither good nor bad, it is a part of our daily lives. How
do we teach conflict? I grew up understanding that conflict was a negative. I
am trying to teach my daughter that conflict simply is a natural part of life.
Certainly, the Chinese have an understanding of conflict or crisis as both
danger and opportunity.
Conflict gives us an opportunity for deepening relationships. Does anyone have
a friend who at one time was not a friend? That may be possible. We look at
conflict in general and then turn to the terms conflict resolution, conflict
management, conflict transformation. Over the years, I have moved from conflict
resolution to conflict transformation. I understood conflict resolution to mean
resolving the problem, putting an end to the conflict. I then understood
conflict management to mean dealing with the problem, making sure that it is
contained, managing it. In terms of conflict transformation, I believe that
speaks to working with human beings, persons involved with the conflict, trying
to effect change.
When I work in schools or at my best at home, we set up something that we call
community practices or how we choose to be with one another. What does
community mean? Relationships, sharing circumstances ~ certainly there are
communities for which there is no safety net, no sense of community. What do
you need to feel safe and nurtured within the community? It could be this
community in which we find ourselves for the next few minutes. What would you
need to feel comfortable and welcomed here? Feeling acknowledged, safety,
respect, feeling able to share thoughts without correction or judgment,
open…these are not rules, these are thoughts about how to be in relationship
with one another. We can all be mindful of our practices.
Please move in groups of three, preferably with folks you don’t know. Please
think of the following question during this micro-lab, a timed activity that
involves authentic listening. The question is “What messages did you receive
about conflict when you were growing up?” Please consider the question and then
decide who will go first, second, third. Each person will have a minute to
answer the question.
The second question is “What message would you like to give the people of the
world about conflict?” Think for a moment. This is your chance to speak to the
Thank you very much. Please acknowledge each other for sharing and please share
some thoughts with the larger group.
The challenge is how we teach these skills? How do we make them come alive for
our young people and our not so young people? When I work with my little ones,
we use little animal or people puppets. For example, we are walking down the
hall and we bump into each other. The dialogue starts and the puppets are used
to present conflict resolution. For Middle Schoolers on up, a role-play is what
I would offer. We would go through the bump in the hallway without physical
contact. Then we would replay the tape. Everyone in the classroom can
strategize about what could have been different about the conflict.
The tools of conflict resolution can be used in any situation. Teaching options
is important. One can have choices in how to respond to any conflict. With my
pre-Kindergarteners, one needs to start small and move over time to the bigger
questions. By then, they have the tools to deal with it. Another way would be
to give an example as in the fight about the orange or use of the brand new
laptop. Lessons in sharing involve using different examples to get to the
message, to help the process of discernment about the conflict.
I will close by suggesting that one can engage respectfully in conversations
about difference by recognizing various points of view. What word would we
offer the world? What gift of a word would we offer the world?
Justice, love, hope, process…
Thank you very much for being here.
Interfaith Education in Regions of Conflict: A Facilitated Dialogue
A very informal conversation, but hopefully a meaningful one, and since I have
been tasked with the facilitation part, I will take a few minutes to set the
context and then let’s talk.
My name is Ibrahim Ramey and I would like to follow Janice’s lead to introduce
myself very briefly. I am a Muslim and the Director of the Disarmament Work for
the National Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack, New York, and also a Board
member of the Temple of Understanding which is one of the component groups of
the Consultation on Interfaith Education. I am active in a lot of different
communities. I am involved in media work with the American Muslim International
Media Network, I do a program three days a week on a radio station in
Washington, D.C., that discusses issues of importance to the Muslim community
around civil and human rights, and political issues, and when I have time, I do
a fair amount of traveling and speaking publicly around issues related to
conventional and nuclear disarmament.
By way of a quick description, the Fellowship of Reconciliation is the oldest
interfaith peacemaking organization in the world. It started back in 1914 as a
Christian organization in Europe; a dialogue between two ministers who were
concerned with solidarity and brotherhood as Christians at the onset of World
War I ~ one, a Lutheran from Germany, and the other, a Quaker from England. We
grew to an interfaith organization over the last couple of decades. We now have
members from virtually all practicing religions and others who are practitioners
of spiritual traditions that are not necessarily defined as religions. We are
actively committed to nonviolence.
(Many introductions are inaudible on the cassette)
I want to start with an admission, this could be an extremely daunting task to
facilitate a group of this power. This is trying to drive a Ferrari after two
driving lessons and I am not quite sure that I am up to the task. Dr. Reardon,
reading your book, Sexism and the War System was so very important in
defining that intersection between war and patriarchy. It became part of my
spiritual journey as a Muslim man who is committed to ending gender
discrimination or challenging it within my own tradition as well as in the
world. I just had a wonderful experience with you since you came here. I am
just happy to have this sense of connectedness.
I want to start with a couple of things related to interfaith education and the
nature of conflict. I am not from the Academy, so I will have a less academic
view of how that might happen. When I was in Detroit three years ago, I was
asked to do a talk at a little liberal arts Catholic college that was having a
program on peace education and peace building. I met an Israeli woman there
named Dr. Hannah Safron, a Professor at the University of Haifa. She talked
about a project that she has initiated there between women in her faculty and
her community, and women who were attending ( ) University in the West Bank.
The Palestinian university had been shut down for economic and political reasons
during the intafada. Dr. Safron and her friends and colleagues were
raising money to give to Palestinian women for the continuation of their
education and for the basic hardship of living under occupation. In very
intense regions of conflict, there are still channels of interaction and
communication and peace building that create the context for interaction and
mutuality between religious communities. Even if the Palestinian authority and
the Israeli government are in military conflict women on both sides of that
conflict were able to build a constructive relationship to get to know each
other, to not necessarily agree on every issue, but nonetheless to build a
constructive relationship that made interfaith dialogue and mutuality possible.
Conflicts are so polycentric that even in intense conflict there are
opportunities for dialogue that can build a context for interfaith education
through nonviolence and openness across lines.
People who are in faith traditions also have the responsibility to bring
conflict analysis to the table that does not necessarily depend on spiritual
tradition. When I look at what is going on between Israel and Palestine, I
don’t see so much a conflict between the tenets of Judaism and Islam, but what I
do see is a conflict between a form of settlement on one hand and a colonized
people who may or may not use violent or nonviolent means as a way of responding
to the conflict. I come from an organization that is committed to non-violence
so we definitely do not want to see killing. We discourage it. We support
conscientious objectors who are on both sides of the conflict that are under
some pressure from their communities. Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as
their secular counterparts in the different communities, need to bring their
collective analysis of the problem together so that the problem can become
better understood not as a religious conflict essentially, but as a conflict
over resources, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. Likewise, in places
like Nigeria and Sudan where there are religious communities in conflict, there
are also political, land, ownership, and sovereignty issues that underlie the
conflict and that need to be talked about.
Finally, people in religious communities need to strive to define the conflict
itself as other than a zero sum gain in which one religion wins and another one
loses, or one group wins and one group loses. There needs to be a
transformation in the way we see victory in a conflict ~ not as one side over
the other, but as a victory for mutuality and for the ability of different
groups to co-exist and to live in harmony as they learn more about each other
and create intentional processes that grow upon their growing, mutual
Those are just some ideas that the Divine Mother hit me with this morning. I
don’t present them as a template for anything except as a some thoughts to
create space for dialogue and for value, to create ways to redefine and to
analyze conflict, and to recognize that conflict is not necessarily a zero sum
gain but one in which every group may win.
One of the very important things that I learned earlier in the year was the idea
that religious identity and empirical analysis of real situations were not
mutually exclusive so that I am free to practice in a religious tradition and
believe in that, but at the same time, I am held to look at the world through
eyes that actively discuss colonialism, the imperial project and domination,
class and disparities of power. It is only through these discussions that I can
effectively bring the value system that I profess to believe in some meaningful
way as a means of resolving conflict. It is only when we understand the
conflict that these things can be done.
There are different ways of building relationships even within very set
traditions. We have the responsibility within our traditions to make interfaith
education and justice priorities. Clean drinking water is a right and not just
a luxury. Relationships are not just built by the intellectualists; they are
built by folk who take each other’s hand, talk with each other, and learning by
doing righteous work for all of humanity.
You have questioned patriarchy as an essential element of the war system. I
would argue that not only is that objectively true, but it is an essential flaw
in many traditions that patriarchy is unacknowledged and unchallenged. I have
had conversations with Muslim brothers about why so many mosques do not create
roles for leadership for women or allow for leadership to emerge regardless of
gender. Why is it so difficult to go to a mosque and find a restroom for
women? Likewise, I get back to conflict resolution or transformation in the
midst of war and would argue that women in Colombia, in Nigeria, in Palestine,
in any number of places, from what I have seen objectively, have a much deeper
commitment to resolution of conflict and real exchange across the divisions than
men do. Men ought to be able to recognize that this is an area of leadership in
which men are systematically deficient and need to step back and let the people
who have the ability to lead do that. It is a benefit to all of humankind that
people who have a more developed sense of community and building community step
up when there is conflict. I think that that’s just essential.
If you have one idea to promote interfaith understanding in areas of conflict,
what would you suggest for us?
~We need to grieve. We need to understand the preciousness of life.
~A “Tapestry of Faith” program…each person of each tradition was asked to share
one thing that was important to an understanding of the tradition.
I would only add, as part of the international work of the Fellowship of
Reconciliation (the headquarters are in the Netherlands), there is a women’s
peacemakers program that involves nonviolence training and conflict resolution
work among women in different parts of the world. We were treated to meet a
woman from Zimbabwe who does wonderful work in difficult situations now, so I
would just advocate that we look at the issue of patriarchy and gender
oppression within and between religious traditions and that those of us who are
peacemakers proactively lift up, strengthen, and support the voices of women who
are doing peace and conflict resolution work. We need to see this as part of
the interfaith education and dialogue work that the interfaith movement
Thanks to all of you. Hopefully, we will exchange information if we can and you
will become members of the Consultation on Interfaith Education.
Beyond Hate: Living With Our Deepest Differences in Northern Ireland
Sr. Deirdre Mullen, R.S.M. & Carol Rittner, R.S.M.
Mercy Global Concern, Ireland
I am an educator. My own area of expertise is teaching about the Holocaust and
other genocides. But in the 1980’s, I headed up a foundation in New York called
the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. We had organized a number of
conferences in different parts of the world, in Israel, the U.S., in Norway, and
they were conferences about hatred and about moving beyond hatred, about the
anatomy of hatred.
In late summer of 1990, I received a telephone call asking me if I could help
with organizing a conference in Northern Ireland at a place called Derry….Only
later did I learn that this city is divided by a river with an East Bank and a
West Bank. The West Bank is mostly members of the Catholic community. The East
Bank has mostly members of the Protestant community. Only later did I learn
that by how one referred to this city, one immediately revealed one’s political
as well as religious perspective. Catholics would call the city Derry whereas
Protestants would call the city Londonderry. Immediately, one is in
difficulty. As an educator, I was also a learner.
May we invite you to introduce yourselves before we begin our session? The
purpose of the seminar is how we help people in places of conflict to move
beyond hate to learn from, and to live with, our deepest differences and what
strategies I have used and Carol has used, and what has worked.
Strategies & Techniques
Here is a picture of a woman. Please tell me what you see. Can you see a young
woman? Can you see an old woman?
The picture of the old and the young lady tells us that there are two ways of
looking at society. One person’s terrorist is another person’s hero. That
causes terrible conflict for children inside their own family, in their own
community, in their own cultural positioning and standing with their father or
their brother who might be a cultural hero fighting the enemy. I understand
that the same thing is happening in many parts of the world for how one defines
My question is how do you describe yourself? The name of the city where you
come from, tell about your religion and your cultural identity.
In the north of Ireland, we have a society that operates on a sectarian mode.
Sectarianism is a complex structure of attitudes, actions, beliefs at a personal
and a communal level which always involves religion, and typically involves a
negative mixing of religion and politics. It arises as a distorted expression
of positive thoughts especially for belonging, for identity, and for free
expression of difference. It is expressed in destructive patterns of relating
such as justifying or collaborating in the domination of others, and attacking
others. The same idea applies to issues related to many phobias such as
The society that I come from is divided. We have two societies: the Catholic
community and the Protestant community, divided down the middle, and they
operate as ordinary citizens with hierarchical levels. Each level depends on
the one above it; the structure remains in place because of the tension between
the two sides. The ordinary citizens depend on the political and religious
leaders, the paramilitary troops, and finally, the killers. That is how our
When I was invited to come to the north of Ireland, I worked with a small group
of Catholics. Although Derry has been a flashpoint for much of the political
violence in the north of Ireland, January 1972 brought that terrible incident of
Bloody Sunday when there was a peaceful demonstration of Roman Catholics with a
few Protestant members of the community. The British Army was on the walls of
the old city of Derry.
Derry is one of the last of the walled cities in Europe. It reminds me of
Jerusalem. People are still disputing who started it, but it is said that the
British Army fired on the marchers and thirteen Roman Catholics were shot. The
belief in the Roman Catholic community has been that it was the British Army
that opened fire unprovoked. The belief in the Protestant community was that
the British Army was provoked and opened fire. These differences raise the
notion of perceptions. In 1990, when I was invited, there was an attitude that
the city was ready to begin reaching across boundaries. I was asked to organize
an international conference entitled “Beyond Hate: Living with Our Deepest
The strategy was that, although we wanted to talk about here, here being
Derry, Northern Ireland, the premise was that if you brought people from
there, wherever the there is, the U.S., Canada, Latin America, continental
Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, to here, and began to talk about “beyond
hate and hatred” there, you would end up talking about it here.
The people who listen to the people from outside who begin to talk about issues
of conflict and hatred, will hear and see it through their own experience which
is here. The feeling was that politically and religiously (I mean in
terms of the churches and the church schools, the small organizations) people
were ready to listen and ready to find new ways to talk to one another.
At this international conference that took about one and a half years to
organize, participants came from twenty-eight different countries. For people
to come to Derry, it took an effort due to transportation. February 1991 was
the beginning of the land war in Kuwait and in Israel. Jewish people were
sitting in sealed rooms due to fear of attack. I learned that there used to be
a Jewish community in Derry and at that point, I decided to bring some Jews to
Derry and some Irish people from Derry to Israel. We pre-evangelized the
conference in Derry and held it in the Guild Hall in September 1992.
We brought four former hostages from Lebanon: Terry Anderson, Brian Keenan,
Terry Waite, Fr. Jenco. Those men spoke to a large audience. No one could say
that they didn’t know what hatred was, that they didn’t know what it means to
have someone demean them, to have someone hold them hostage in a kind of
bondage. Whether Catholic or Protestant, it was understood that these men were
speaking out of experience just as people in that city were struggling with
hatred. It was the most moving event of the conference. We then sent people
out into the community at large. It was the first time that members of the main
political parties sat together in the same room. Inez McCormick, a union
organizer in Northern Ireland, came to a conference in Stockholm ten years later
to report on the experience of sitting together and learning to speak together.
That 1992 Conference became a template for many other experiences of meetings.
In 1992, the political climate was beginning to change. Many of us realized
that we wanted something different for children. The educational system didn’t
allow for this because young people were being educated separately. Many
educators decided to try to change the system to bring the children together.
The media, however, has often taken issue with certain events. A group wrote a
plan called “Education for Mutual Understanding” and the media immediately went
to war. People began to see it as a sell-out to the concept of a united
Ireland. The Catholic community was frightened by the plan because they saw it
as a way for the government to assimilate them into the life of Northern
When the program began, the parents were the people behind it because the
program was about self-respect, respect for the Other, and the improvement of
relationships between people of different cultural traditions. The most
tangible manifestation of education for mutual understanding was the contact
between children from different religions and cultures, many of whom were
engaged in cross-community activities together from different schools. This was
beginning to happen in the late 1980’s and the early ‘90’s, and as a result of
the “Beyond Hate” Conference and the opening up of the community, change came to
Just as we had activities leading up to the conference, we had experiences
afterwards. The second strategy that I used was the notion of the journey. I
took the idea from Nelson Mandela. In his inaugural address in South Africa, he
has a sentence: “We will journey together to learn about new ways of living in
a divided society.” I got the idea of taking an equal number of Catholics and
Protestants to Israel in order to talk with Israeli Arabs and Jews. Using as
the thesis going from there to here, we ended up talking about
there. We spent ten days meeting people throughout the State of Israel.
Do we have anything in a divided society to both teach others and to learn from
others about conflict and division?
As a result of the “Journey of Co-existence,” I wanted to do something similar
with students through the Arts since music and dance are very important. I
contacted a colleague in a Protestant school. We had forty-four young girls in
their teens and for the first six weeks, the facilitator worked with the
students on identity ~ Who am I? What is my culture? What does my culture
teach me? Then we worked on perceptions of their own and other communities.
The most difficult part of the interaction was when different groups of students
got together and walked around the room in silence to read the perceptions of
peers. The activity caused lots of anger, followed by special exercises to open
up beyond hate. Food was brought in by the Australian Fund for Ireland after
school. The dance teacher did some warm up exercises and then the students were
divided into two groups of mixed Catholics and Protestants. Through dance, with
green and red groups as tribes, the students learned how they worshipped the
same God but differently, how they enjoyed the Arts but differently. At the
end, two students remained on stage with the choice to either slay each other or
to look each other in the eye. They looked each other in the eye, the red and
green costumes were taken off and the students recognized that they could be
safe with each other.
In my school, the students finish their education in seven years. At the end of
the time, they need to write about an experience that has been the most
formative. Many of the students said that this Arts experience of the Other was
the most challenging. It was a very, very good program.
On the “Journey,” we also brought Arabs and Jews to Northern Ireland. We also
did a second major journey with Catholics and Protestants to South Africa. We
tried to evaluate the programs for change. We don’t really know whether these
were meaningful, but we do know that in moments of conflict in Derry some of
these people continued to be involved together in various activities.
One participant in the South African group wrote: “If I was to try to distill
what I brought back to South Africa, it is this: there are certain principles
that societies and communities ought to live by: justice, equality, liberty.
Every community and individual must actively work to achieve these goals.
Without them, there is no peace. At the heart of those principles are human
beings. If what we do doesn’t improve someone’s lot or strengthen justice, then
our policies and grand ideas don’t mean what they should and they won’t breed
We hope that what we have done and what we continue to do exemplifies the story
of the Rabbi and the Student.
Rabbi: How do you know when the night has ended and the day has begun?
Student: Rabbi, you can tell that the night has ended and the day has begun
when you look in the distance and you can tell a cow from a dog.
Rabbi: No, that is not correct.
Student: You can tell when the night has ended and the day has begun when you
look in the distance and you can tell the difference between a cherry tree and
Rabbi: No, that is not correct either.
Students: But Rabbi, tell us!
Rabbi: You can tell when the night has ended and the day has begun when you
look into the face of any person, and see there your brother and your sister.
If you cannot do that, no matter what time of day it is, it is still night.”
We hope that what we did allows people to into the Other’s face and recognize
his or her brother or sister.
Interfaith Education in Regions of Coexistence ~ Facilitated Dialogue
Sr. Deirdre Mullen and Carol Rittner
The Protestant community has not taken up arms to massacre the Catholic
community. Representatives of groups have been elected in democratic processes,
so one could say that there has been a lot of progress.
The dance was something that evolved out of the identity work from each school.
We created the dance based on what was said within each school group of
students. This made a very important difference….It would be interesting to see
whether this activity would make a difference in Washington, D.C., which is a
divided community….The students in Ireland gave each other gifts and chose Irish
jewelry with the knot to show that they were forever entwined. Perfect.
Should one stop having church schools? The decision in Scotland is to continue
with having some separate schools which continues a divided situation. If one
chooses to continue that, then, legally, it would be good to have a program such
as the one described as part of the school curriculum. And if one doesn’t do
this, one shouldn’t continue with divided schools since they are not healthy for
Politicians can manipulate religious perspectives. It is important for
political and religious leaders to exercise humane leadership. Major leaders in
the north of Ireland got behind the project, “Beyond Hate,” which freed their
constituencies to become involved.
We need to look at how we handle faith. What does it mean “to love each
other?” How do we reveal Christ’s message?
It is very difficult to integrate an education spiritually within a significant
secular society, at least integration with good balance. The whole emphasis
these days is on academic achievement rather than spiritual achievement. If one
has only academic achievement, one breeds arrogance. One must have a balance
between academic and spiritual development.
In Derry, through Honeywell Trust, there is still an effort made in
cross-community work today. We have moved beyond education for mutual
understanding to global citizenship. No one quite knows what this means, but it
is developing because of the way in which the world is becoming smaller.
One might speak with people in Quebec due to the changes in the system. There
is now a chaplaincy service system in the schools. One of the positive benefits
is that parents who before relegated the whole educational process from the
faith community to the school are now being challenged by the churches to become
the primary religious educators in the home. Parents are now enrolling in adult
education courses so that they can learn how to better communicate to children.
A difficulty with religion, regardless of tradition, is that so few of us live
what we say. Young people see the hypocrisy. We have so little credibility.
In America, it seems that there are lay people are taking more of a lead.
Auburn runs a program called “Face to Face, Faith to Faith.” The regions of
conflict are Ireland, Israel, Palestine, South Africa. The students have
eye-opening experiences of their own religious traditions in different
One needs to be constantly aware of one’s self and of direction.
Thank you very much.
The Wisdom of Listening ~ Interfaith Education & Transformation
Interactive Best Practices
The Challenges and Rewards of Experiential Interfaith Education
Building Bridges through Multi-faith Education
Stacy Fagan & Rajinderjit K. Singh
Long Island Multi-faith Forum, U.S.A.
Good morning. My name is Ms. Singh of the Long Island Multi-faith Forum through
which we do a lot of interactive, interfaith work in education. Today, we are
going to present to you one of our programs that involves mystery guests and two
challenges. The first challenge is to guess each guest's faith. The second
challenge relates to each participant's awareness of levels of prejudice.
We begin with “What is Your Faith?” We are not teaching about religion. We
invite you to ask questions to which the mystery guests can only answer “yes” or
“no” such as “Do you believe in God?” Sometimes, when only a lecture is given,
it is not enough. But with these questions, we learn so much.
The Long Island Multi-Faith Forum
What’s My Faith?
Description: Individuals are chosen to represent each of the major faith
traditions as mystery guests. They are asked to introduce themselves by using
the same name. The audience is given index cards on which to note special
questions for the mystery guests.
There are some questions that cannot be asked, e.g. the name of the faith.
Fifteen minutes are allowed for questions. Any one of the mystery guests can
answer the questions.
Sample questions might include the following:
Q: “In your faith, do you have a founder?”
Q: “In your faith, do you have a written scripture?”
Q: “Is your faith based in the Middle East?”
Q: “In your faith, do you pray facing a certain direction?”
Q: “In your faith, do you have a dress code?”
Q: “Do you believe in more than one god?”
Q: "In your faith, are you allowed to eat animal meat?"
The questions continue in this fashion to the conclusion of the allotted time
period. The participants are invited to guess the faiths of the mystery guests
based on the responses to the questions.
One of the points of the game is to become more aware of the beliefs and of the
common links between religions. Music and musical instruments are also
important. All of us need to be more aware of faith and of the variety among
faiths. We need to see beyond the individual and to understand that all human
beings are related to God. The faith of humanity needs to prosper in this new
world. Our world has been brought to a point of killing each other in order to
be the “top one” or “the better one.” We need to go beyond these superficial
things now and to believe in a higher power.
To download this transcript in MS-Word,