Throughout the world, religion continues to play a very significant role in guiding the development of individuals as well as the wider society. While in some countries—in Europe, for example—there are spheres of life that are largely secularized, religion nevertheless has ongoing relevance and importance. The vast majority of the world's population identify themselves with a religious worldview that informs their ideas and guides their practices. In this session, panelists will assess the conditions under which religions can exert a positive influence on modern, democratic societies and offer policy recommendations to this effect.
Moderator: Mr. David Fraser Harris, Secretary General, UPF Middle East
Dr. Viggo Mortensen, Professor emeritus in Systematic Theology, University of Aarhus, Denmark
Mr. Shlomi Perlmuter, Senior Lecturer, Elul College, Israel
Dr. Raffaella Di Marzio, Director, Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion, Belief and Conscience (LIREC), Italy
Hon. Dr. Andriy Yurash, Head, State Department of Religion, Ukraine
Dr. Ismail Yasin, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, University of Vienna, Austria
Session 3 - The Role and Relevance of Religion in Building Inclusive, Peaceful and Prosperous Societies.
Dr Viggo Mortensen (Professor emeritus in systematic theology, University of Aarhus, Denmark) spoke of the great difficulty in reconciling what appears to be one globalised world with the many differences it holds; of the need for something to hold onto in the midst of a world of constant change. In an increasingly pluralistic world, people look for the like-minded, yet we then face the challenge of how to live together with others who are different. Perhaps most important is to identify common ground; we are all human beings with human needs. All of us face the same challenges (climate and demographic). Our religious sources guide us to seek equality, harmony and identity. (He quoted the gospel of John and SMM but I didn't get the quotes).
Mr Shlomi Permluter (Senior Lecturer, Elul College, Israel) began with the theme of the upcoming Festival, "Peace Starts with Me." Citing Buber, he spoke of dialogue with one's wife and children, repairing (or healing) the family and reaching out to heal the world. Religion calls for justice and mercy and guides us to repair and heal. Yet why do we fail so many times? We have to be willing to critically examine our own work, beliefs, approach and attitude; and we need to have real conversations.
Dr Rafaella di Marzio (Director, Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion, Belief and Conscience (LIREC), Italy) spoke on the positive influence of religion in society, referring to a number of studies, including an awareness project on minorities, the role of interfaith dialogue in conflict resolution, and religious freedom as a positive influence on economic growth.
Dr Andriy Yurash (Head, State Department of Religion, Ukraine) drew on his journalistic and academic background to place religion at the centre of modern society. The idea that religion is history - that idea itself is now history! The essence of religion - as opposed to the dominance of a particular institution - remains a traditional component of people's cultural and social identity. It is logical and relevant. It is thus a relevant feature of modernity, as evidenced by the religious answers that emerge in response to questions about one's aim in life.
Dr Ismail Yasin (Lecturer in Islamic Studies, University of Vienna, Austria) contrasted our goodness as creatures of God with the virus of selfishness. He hoped the encouraging pictures of reconciliation between the Koreas would spread to his native Syria. He pointed, not to religion, but to irresponsible religious leadership as one factor in the conflict there, and ended with a call to spread the culture of tolerance.
Author: Mr. David Fraser Harris
Secretary General, UPF Middle East and North Africa
From 1990 to 1997, Mr. Fraser Harris served the International Religious Foundation (IRF) as the director of its European office in Rome. In this capacity he was responsible for the promotion of IRF’s interfaith programs in Europe, which included both conferences and the international projects of the Religious Youth Service, many of which were held in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. From 1997 to 2012 he and his family lived in Damascus (Syria), where he taught English and travelled frequently to support UPF programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other parts of the region. He continues to support such programs from his home near Edinburgh.