‘Spirituality, dialogue and action: new thinking for an interfaith society’
on 21 March 2018
The World Congress of Faith’s 2018 programme of events started with a symposium ‘Spirituality, dialogue and action: new thinking for an interfaith society’ on 21 March held at the Focolare Centre in Welwyn Garden City. More than 30 delegates met to explore themes of’ Spiritual but not Religious’, ‘Inter-generational issues in interfaith practice’ and ‘Challenges and innovation’. The scene was set for each theme by a presenter, and then explored in depth by small break-out groups. WCF was fortunate to have three excellent presenters: Barney Leith, Ana Co, and Jenny Ramsden. Each got their topic off to a stimulating start, and the ensuing discussions all helped to fulfil WCF’s remit of sharing ideas and information about new approaches to interfaith through spirituality and disseminating the results.
Conversations around the first theme focussed on the nature of ‘spirituality’ in the context of morality and the search for meaning in life, and on the role of religions in providing structure and guidance as well as connection into cultural settings. Rather than reaching ‘conclusions’ groups provided considerable food for thought and action by WCF: for example, the extent to which spirituality can relate to community activity as well as individual inner life, and whether connecting through spirituality helps or hinders in building bridges.
The second and third themes opened up discussion about ways of drawing people into interfaith dialogue and action, especially those new to working with other faiths. Ana Co’s account of 3FF’s Schools Programme prompted delegates to reflect on how sensitivity, tolerance and listening skills can be learnt, and how others (whether in schools or community groups) could be equipped to teach them. Those attending felt that shared hobbies and interests played a key role, and interestingly, this was the very issue developed in the final theme.
Jenny Ramsden gave practical examples of work done by Touchstone in Bradford to enable people of different faiths to work together creatively and with purpose; break out groups then had the opportunity to talk during craft exercises, making and decorating artefacts. Some found this absorbed them such that conversation became secondary to a quiet feeling of group endeavour, while others found it an environment that encouraged unpressurised and wide-ranging discussion about life and individual lives.
A full review of the event, and some of the individual presentations, feature in the Summer 2018 issue of Interreligious Insight.
16 April 2018
Celebrating the life of Huston Smith
We gathered at the Headquarters of the Buddhist Society in May for our AGM which was followed by a lecture with Richard Boeke celebrating the life of Huston Smith.
Huston Smith, who died December 2016, was a renowned author and theologian whose book 'The World's Religions' has been a standard text for 50 years and TV series 'The Search for America' was a treasure trove of meetings with spiritual leaders.
Revd. Richard Boeke who gave the lecture is a Vice President of World Congress of Faiths, Co-chair of the Peace Commission of the International Association of Religious Freedom, a lecturer and an author.
Celebrating Inter Faith Co-existence
How interfaith engagement can affect the future of humanity
Sunday 13th November 2016
Global Cooperation House, LONDON,
Hosted by the Brahma Kumaris in collaboration with the World Congress of Faiths and Chaired by Pejman Khojasteh, Treasurer for World Congress of Faiths, the welcome was given on behalf of the Brahma Kumaris by Cherie Chin A Foh.
The Chair’s address highlighted the contribution of faith communities to society in the UK and throughout the world and although it often appeared otherwise religion is not one of the main causes of war. It has been recorded that of the 1762 wars throughout human history only 7% have been religious in nature. Yet he questioned whether religious scriptures have an innate propensity to unity or disunity and suggested it was the way in which religious followers interpreted their scriptures that could create disunity and that in scripture as a whole there is the Golden Rule principle of treating others as we would want them to treat us. The Chair also highlighted the benefits in interfaith engagement and activities whilst maintaining the unique identity of each faith community and he emphasized that ‘unity’ amongst faith communities does not mean a ‘melting pot’ as there is a respect for differences as well as commonalities. So it is very much ‘unity in diversity’. The introduction was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/vGEFnumKpAA
The Chair then invited each speaker on the panel to contribute their perspective from their religious tradition on the theme of how interfaith engagement can affect the humanity. The following are some quotes from the words spoken:
Rabbi Mark L Solomon, (Jewish): There has been a tendency for human beings to keep separating as new and different ideas emerge, creating an ‘us and them’ mentality across humanity. The thrust of interfaith dialogue is to challenge this and it is one of my most passionate callings and it seems that God is calling us to do this work at this time in history’. ‘As an interfaith movement we must resist casting the secular world as our enemy even though amongst the secular world there can be a militant dogmatic tendency that is hostile towards people of faith… But we do need to establish the same kind of bonds between the religious and the secular as we are trying to establish amongst ourselves. ‘Part of the benefit of interfaith dialogue is to remind ourselves that God is greater than any one religion. Through our friendship we can show religion is a helpful and not a harmful force in society. Mark's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/DmX4oXe5YBw
Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh, (Muslim): From the perspective of ethics and spirituality which is a very important koranic concept, and in these terms we are all so close to each other and yet we think we are far apart. ‘ Be good and do good’ for example. We cannot close the door on other people. We need to communicate our commonality and we need conversations for this and then we will break those artificial barriers that breed intolerance. Dr Drammeh's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/lOTZNYW9wv4
Fr. David Standley, (Roman Catholic Christian): I am wearing a white poppy today as the red poppy talks of blood, violence and loss and the white poppy talks of hope and working towards peace. Christianity has a shameful record in history of division which in the last century have we made moves to amend. In the past 50 years Christianity has become more open to interfaith dialogue. This began at the Vatican Council in the 1960s. We see interfaith dialogue as a long journey. It is a listening to what others believe and also to learn from the other side. Your faith illuminates my faith…by John Wesley. We need to be open to what is true and holy in other religions. There is the dialogue of life as we show interest in different traditions, the dialogue of action where we can stand together and witness. Then there is the dialogue of theological exchange which is also important and the dialogue of scriptural reasoning which can be illuminating as we share our religious experiences and as I share my experience of God through my tradition I can also listen to yours. We can pray together in this way. David's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/iUrZyZA6KdU
Satish K Sharma (Hindu): Today we are remembering war (Remembrance Sunday) and yet I wish to speak on non-violence, Ahimsa. The Rig Veda says that when people of different communities meet we create an invocation……may divinity guide us and protect us…..may there never be harsh words between us. And I feel that until we have mastered non-violence within myself personally on the physical emotional, mental and spiritual plane then we continue to pose a threat to each other. Therefore although it is tempting to focus on our commonalities we must also address that which has been a perennial cause of conflict between our faiths and we see that the most active and dynamic players in the interfaith space are those from the most violent history. Satish's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/P2a-3O7BMpA
Malcolm Deboo (Zoroastrian): Those amongst us that come from Iran recently celebrated Sirus day. Sirus the Greats policy was to live and let live and as King of the Persian empire he allowed others to practice their faith as long as it did not challenge his supremacy…this was one example of interfaith coexistence in ancient times. Also when Zoroastrians went to settle in other places, it was the Hindu Raja’s who allowed us to stay and continue to practice as we were not seen as a threat. Malcolm's speech was recorded on You Tube at youtu.be/cFYkV2MJsU4
Revd Michael Redman, (Anglican Christian): We speak what we feel not what we are told what to say. I speak for myself. One of our ancient hymns talks about Jesus emptying himself. Many of our institutions in this country were founded by Christians and have a Christian ethos: schools, university, hospitals, even football clubs. There is something about setting something up but also emptying so that it can have a life of its own. So Christians can look at interfaith in this way…..to allow other people to build into their ethos so institutions take on their own life. Michael's speech was recorded on You Tube at youtu.be/gYsNi0vrELk
Acharya Modgala Duguid (Buddhist): The Buddha searched for the causes of suffering and affliction and what he found was a nightmare….his night of enlightenment was a nightmare as he saw people going to war within themselves and communities again and again century after century and seeing this he found some causes: We try to escape from what we don’t want and the mental affliction that came from that. The more we escape from what is going on within the self we cause more war. Buddhism gets us to stop and to see what is going on in our own head and then move on……then we can follow a path to be with others grounded in ourselves. I am a grass roots worker and I do come together with other faiths to see where we can help together in practical ways. Acharya's speech was recorded on You Tube at youtu.be/6_L_84RZqEc
Karl Wightman (Baha’i): There is violence in the mode of public consultation that is practised in our societies today, as it is one of adversarialism, where one or two positions jostle ‘to win’. There is violence in this and it affects us all and this year we have seen how divided our society is in terms of political ideological These divisions have been growing wider and wider over several decades. There is an idea called an ‘echo chamber’, when we only see those whose views reflect our own therefore our perception of reality is very much shaped by who we interact and engage with. Yet our power is limited if we don’t understand what people’s concerns are and we are unable to dialogue in a non-intellectually violent way. Unless we have open true dialogue how can we understand each other. Broadly speaking religion see people as noble, as spiritual and reflections of the divine and if this vision were to permeate public discourse then perhaps our way of interacting would be non-violent. Karl's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/-aXfENQHhic
Charanjit Ajitsingh (Sikh): Cooexistence is to live in peace with each other despite differences. This has plagued humanity for centuries. Do we live together or live parallel lives so we can feel secure without any disturbance of the otherness of the other. It appears with the current political trends that we have put the clock back as we see the rise in ‘hate crime’ – being disturbed by the otherness of the other. Sikhs have always engaged in dialogue and it is auspicious that Guru Nanak’s birthday is tomorrow, during interfaith week. Our local charities that are involved in cooking a hot meal invite anyone. Our scripture includes Hindu and Muslim saints so we are bound to people of interfaith. Charanjit's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/dLHrqy6Cpcs
Dr Harshadray Sanghrajka (Jain): Many have stolen my thunder! Ahimsa, non-violence is much deeper than just physical, .it has to be practiced in thought and speech and this is a specialty in Jainism….Ahimsa can alleviate the effects of climate change too. Just as I have the right to my religion I have to recognize others have the right to believe in their religion. It is essential to accept that each view is correct according to whoever is speaking. There are the three ‘A’s of Jainism that could help bring prosperity and bliss in life: Ahimsa – reverence for ALL living beings; Anekantawada – respecting and examining the validity of differing viewpoints and Aparigraha, reducing needs and possessions, which alleviates the desire of ownership and the propensity towards violence to achieve this. Dr Sanghrajka's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/O09iP45p4lk
Sister Georgina Long (Brahma Kumaris): Understanding and cooperation are buzz words for Inter faith week. And as we understand each other in each one’s faith there can be cooperation and contentment with each other. I would like to highlight those who are always showing this ethos in their daily life. Those who at these interfaith meetings make the tea and work behind scenes are the stalwarts of interfaith by engaging, getting on with taking care of each other and providing a sacred space. Georgina's speech was recorded on YouTube at youtu.be/9RymVqu-mYE
After the break a short video created by the Mayor of London’s team to celebrate Interfaith week called ‘London is open’ was shared and it highlighted the beauty of each faith, and the beauty of opening doors to each other to invite new possibilities and exchanges.
BK Masana de Souza facilitated a conversation based on the following three questions: What are the challenges and opportunities facing our spiritual communities at this time? What are the possibilities and opportunities are we aware of? How can I be the change that I wish to see in others?
This was explored first in pairs, then in groups of four and finally in groups of eight.
There were many points (see below) that came out of the afternoon’s exchange in the conversations and the energy in the room lifted as each shared and listened to each other’s views. Some of the themes that arose included the need for recognizing and respecting each other regardless of faith, culture etc and the need to cultivate an inner sacred space, developing an inner silence where we can have clarity and self trust and therefore extend this out to all others as we connect with the heart.
The afternoon was beautifully closed with a song by Rabbi Mark Solomon which encapsulated the feeling in the room ‘The prayer of the true heart is that it all never ends…the sun, the sea, the beauty’….
Thanks were offered to the speakers, organisers and supporters of the day.
Some points shared by the panel members working within the groups after the afternoon tea:
- We enjoyed the idea of building the dialogue from 2 to 4 to 8. Our group was very diverse and our discussion was fascinating and revealing….we converged on many things.
- We had some converging of ideas that seemed beneficial and a mixture of faith and no faith.
- By recognizing and respecting the other…and their ideas even if I disagree…there is coexistence, otherwise we will end up destroying each other.
- Everyone is a loser in war. (Chekhov).
- The most important thing we can introduce is respect for people and contempt for beliefs…place on a higher platform respect for people…
- Becoming perfectly adjusted in a maladjusted society is an act of duplicity. Courageous to say what we do believe. The inner has to become the outer.
- Cultivate sacred space within the self and as it becomes deeper and stiller we create sacred space around us unconsciously
- How can I be the change I want to see in the other. Focus on the self and qualities and look for qualities in others.
- Lovely to be in a sacred space together.
- There is power in introversion and a necessity to be in silence.
- It is presumptuous to change another. Desire to change others is worthy of scrutiny
- Become a space for others to reach out. Become a mirror and recipient of others fear, concerns and desires to change.
- Thoughts are an issue and a battle…Acceptance of own thoughts brings release.
- Seek clarity and work on self trust.
- Coming together is the most important thing. It is often easier to speak to interfaith people that it is to those within own faiths. Be good to come together more within faith.
- We created a sacred space as we talked as we shared from the heart.
- How can I be the change I want to see in others. Living it oneself. Not blaming.
- Being authentic and open minded beyond colour, culture and clothes
- Be with others in a nonjudgmental way is important especially when they are wavering.
- We need to detach from material things and accept the self.
- We are all unique and yet how do we share? If we are all Gods’ children why are we so divided. How do we manage this. There is the challenge of unity.
- By being good listeners with compassion we can create a feeling of sacred space.
- Transcendence across the limitation of our bodies.
- Focus on the spiritual space within our bodies.
- Extremism flourishes in the absence of doubt….doubt sometimes can work beautifully as an antidote to fundamentalism. So to believe in ourselves but not be selfish about it.
- I am coming away from here joining a meditation group.
- We need to allow people to make mistakes and forgiveness
- Fabulous opportunity to come together and see how we can become more united . Nice we all got a chance to share our perspectives..
- Very good afternoon, very diverse….building up the groups….worked very well. Being more true to myself. Being kinder to myself and believing that I notice that what I project onto other people is very often what I need to look at myself To express humbly as well as listen to others.
- I need to get deep enough to true self where I meet God.
- Music is often a way of transforming a space. Even if it is not a place of worship or a regular space
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM AND INTERFAITH DIALOGUE: LEARNING FOR THE FUTURE
Our 80th Anniversary Conference in Emmanuel College, Cambridge held on 23 September was a great success.
Dr David Cheetham of the University of Birmingham introduced the proceedings, noting how the nature of interfaith encounter had changed with new ideas of what constituted the 'secular', and with the advent of new technologies and ways of engagement.
Revd Dr Alan Race spoke about 'coming full circle': in the post-colonial era, people of faith had to learn not to see others in their own image, but we have now moved from simple empires of land to empires of the mind, and are falling back into old habits. He reminded us that 'We each experience the whole, but in different and partial ways'.
Professor Ursula King traced the involvement of women in the development of interfaith relations, where even now their contribution is more at grassroots level that in the leadership roles where they are needed. To move successfully into the future, feminist thinking must be applied to interfaith theology, and gender-critical thinking must be actively cultivated.
Dr Ankur Barua considered religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue from the perspectives of Hinduism, and the seeming paradox whereby some western observers and Hindu thinkers presents Hindu forms of thought and practice as intrinsically peaceful and tolerant, while historians of south Asia are familiar with the complexity of Hindu patterns of violence directed at other faiths on the subcontinent. There is a need to distinguish between 'spiritual' and 'political' Hinduism.
Rabbi Tony Bayfield agreed with the view that religious absolutism is both a cause of world conflict, and is logically absurd. Public discourse in the UK is grounded in economics, preventing the essential space for exploring and affirming values; dialogue about values should not be the preserve of academics and professionals, but should be part of ordinary life, and we must be more creative about enabling this.
Professor Chris Baker focussed on the interaction between public life and religion, and how they shape one another. Due to 'globalised modernity', boundaries have become more fluid, and this creates an environment in which religion can thrive, representing a search for reconnection and a 'home'. At the same time, however, 'faith' in the sense of vision and commitment has been lost from the political arena.
Dr Edward Kessler and Dr Riaz Ravat then provided their reflections on the development of interfaith relations, the increasingly pressing need for this area to be addressed and prioritised, and the importance of this conference and WCF's work in raising some of the key questions.
Full details of all the talks and discussions will appear in the next issue of Interreligious Insight, our Journal - which will appear in December 2016
Our Garden Party
We held a garden party at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine, Limehouse on 10 July
The Royal Foundation of St Katherine is a wonderful oasis of quiet away from the busy-ness that is London.
About 50 members and friends enjoyed tea and sandwiches and discussion about interfaith matters.
We were particularly delighted to welcome Hamander Singh who talked about Interfaith dialogue and marathon running.
Spiritual Awareness and Interfaith Relations
On 4 February 2016, we held a symposium at Sarum College in Salisbury.
Fo Guang Temple
Tea ceremony and interfaith debate in Inter Faith Week 2015
The Fo Guang Shan Temple is in the heart of London’s West End, but one would never guess at its bustling environment once inside, and enjoying the peace of its meditation and meeting spaces. The Humanistic Buddhist Temple was the setting for one of the first events in Inter Faith Week 2015, when jointly with the World Congress of Faiths it hosted a tea ceremony and a debate on 15 November.
Attended by more than 30 people, the tea ceremony offered an insight into the calm and contemplation associated with small but significant acts, such as sharing and appreciating refreshment. After the ceremony, guests were given a new publication of daily reflections, ‘365 days for Travellers’.
They then moved to the Library, where Inter Faith Network UK Director Dr Harriet Crabtree welcomed the first day of Inter Faith Week, a tradition that was moving from strength to strength with more events and support every year.
The debate was chaired by Dr Alan Race, Chair of WCF, and the four speakers were introduced by Jon Dal Din of Westminster Interfaith. They were: Venerable Hui Sheng, of the Fo Guang Shan Temple in Paris; Roman Catholic Archbishop Kevin McDonald of England & Wales; Rabbi Helen Freeman of West London Synagogue; and Jayde Russell of the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre. Each spoke on the theme of ‘Vision and hopes for the future: What can faiths achieve together in the coming year?’ and delegates then discussed some of the issues and questions arising.
If you would like to comment on this event, or join a discussion, please go to our blog page.
Parliament of World Religions, Salt Lake City, October 2015
The World Congress of Faiths was well represented at the Parliament, by Vice-President Marcus Braybrooke, Chair Alan Race and members of the Executive Committee including Sister Maureen Goodman, Karen Bali, Vinod Kapashi and Mary Braybrooke. Members from Britain arranged a multi-media meditation on “Peace in Our Hearts: Peace in Our World”, while Alan Race and Jim Kenney – editors of our journal Interreligious Insight – led a seminar discussion.
Some 8,000 people attended the Parliament, which was described as “The best ever,” by its chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid. The focus was on what religions can do together to “Reclaim the Heart of Our Humanity.”
Many speakers stressed the need for participants to turn what they had learned into action in their own communities to overcome poverty and fight for justice through action and not just words. The President of Parmarth Niketan Rishikesh, one of India’s largest interfaith spiritual institutions, said the work of the interfaith movement is needed worldwide. “There is a shortage of food, clean water and arable land across the globe. If there’s any shortage, there’s a global consciousness shortage."
Even so, there was time to learn about many spiritual and religious practices and for transforming individual conversations. A highlight was a concert of sacred music in the Tabernacle of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints of Jesus Christ (Mormons). The children’s choir, with youngsters from most of the many faith communities in Salt Lake City, inspired everyone with their hope that a new world is possible, but that “only we can be the change.”
The first Parliament was held in Chicago in 1893, and has since been re-convened in South Africa, Spain, Australia and the US.
If you would like to comment on this report, or join a discussion, please go to our blog page.
July 2015 Conference
Many thanks to Modern Church for allowing us to reproduce them.
Many of our members were involved, including our chairman Alan Race, who chaired the conference, Rev Georgiana Heskins, Staff Tutor, South East Institute for Theological Education, who spoke on Revelation and Scripture in Abrahamic Faiths, Rev Bonnie Evans-Hills, who was Conference Chaplain and led a workshop on Feminist Movements Within Religious Traditions, and Jenny Kartupelis our new Strategy and Development Officer, who led a workshop on Christians Facilitating Interfaith Dialogue: Opportunities And Challenges In Practice.