Towards a new religious pluralism – A Summary

20th November 2012, Seidengasse, Vienna

In advance of the UNAOC Youth Forum Vienna which will take place in February 2013, the UPF Youth Committee Austria hosted the first of three events on20th November with the title: “Towards a new religious pluralism?” addressing one of the UNAOC topics. Around 30 youth gathered to learn and discuss more about the topic.

After the MC, Eivinia Ziziunaite, opened with some warm and welcoming words, Bogdan Pammer gave a short introduction on the UNAOC Vienna Youth Forum. Key concepts such as ‘responsible leadership’ and ‘education on religions and beliefs’ were mentioned.

The first speaker, Billy Batware, President of United for Education and Sustainable Futures (UESF), addressed the question “Diversity of Religious Thought: The Role of Education” and greatly emphasised the importance of respect and recognition of other beliefs. Further, he pointed out the importance of formal and informal education in a multicultural society. On the one hand, schools should provide inclusive education on different traditions of faith, but governments also play an important role in promoting religious diversity and allowing space for religion and worship.

The second speaker, Karim Riehan, a law student, approached the issue from the emotional side, emphasizing that every human being yearns for a peaceful world. Religion plays an important role in society as it forms people’s opinions and values, as well as leading a wonderful advancement through various cultures and traditions. He also mentioned “the golden age of Andalusia” as an example of Christians, Muslims and Jews living together in one city, practicing an interreligious life style, through such acts as celebrating holidays together, and also combining with humanism.

Last but not least, Ewald Schenkermayr, an aspiring teacher, gave further definition of terms such as religious pluralism, recognising that religion is not only a system of thought but a community, and he addressed the importance of education. Education and character training start at home, and the common base for every educational step should be the interaction between parents, teachers and students. Furthermore, he addressed the need of a council of religious leaders inside the United Nations – a place where conflicts can be resolved through commonly shared values.

To conclude this part of the event, the audience could ask questions to the keynote speakers.

After a short break, we continued with a world café discussion, out of which the following responses were contributed:

  • What does “responsible leadership” mean in the context of religious freedom?

Unfortunately we don’t see many responsible leaders in this world yet. On the one hand, religious leaders should come together for more interreligious dialogue and should be examples for their followers, but on the other hand, politicians should promote religious freedom and there shouldn’t be any discrimination against religions or minorities. Moreover we came to the conclusion that responsible leadership starts with ourselves and respect and acceptance towards others are prerequisites and we should practise interreligious dialogue in our communities and surroundings.

  • How can our society move towards religious pluralism?

As a whole, we need more dialogue between people of different backgrounds and we should see everyone as a human being – therefore, it is sometimes better to leave religion out. Governments should provide platforms for exchange to promote religious pluralism. Moreover media plays an important role, as it has a big impact on people’s opinions. We need education and the practice of religious pluralism in our working places.

  • How can education promote religious pluralism?

In general, education on religious pluralism should be given at schools, but also at home through friendships with people from other faiths. Schools should teach the basic beliefs of every religion, and common values shared between religions, and should practice celebrating the religious holidays and festivals together. Another idea would be to give the role of religious teachings to an independent institution which teaches about all different religious and ethics.

  • How should religious pluralism be implemented?

Last but not least, religious pluralism should be implemented through open dialogue of religious leaders. Knowledge of beliefs should be common and we should share celebrations. Moreover we should make effort to meet up with people from other beliefs to break down barriers, through engaging in activities together, such as sports, arts or even praying together.

To sum up the discussion, each of the world café moderators highlighted the most important points of their outcome. Altogether it was an active and lively participation of the audience, which made the event as engaging and interactive as it was.

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