Category Archives: Interfaith/ Dialogue

University classes promote respectful religious debate

The Comombus Dispatch reports on a new project at Ohio University that aims to teach students how to have open, reasonable discussions about difficult questions of faith. The University is one of 27 colleges and universities receiving a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation through the Difficult Dialogues Initiative, a project coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

The project aims to face up to the difficult topics that are too often glossed over or shied away from: Continue reading

Religious/ non-religious relationships

Mixedness and Mixing

In my day job at the Commission for Racial Equality I am organising, in partnership with the Runnymede Trust, London South Bank University and Communities and Local Government, an E-Conference on 4-6 September looking at issues relating to Britain’s mixed-race population (‘mixedness’) and mixed families (‘mixing’).

Mixed families can of course apply to partnerships between people of different religions and beliefs – do you have experience of this? Is it something of interest to you?

Anyone can to submit a 1000-word paper to the E-Conference on Mixedness and Mixing (deadline 13 August, criteria is on the website) or just get involved in the online debates and discussions over the three days.

You can register now at  www.mixedness.org.uk

We also have a MySpace profile and an event page on Facebook

O Project article calls for non-religious to be included in ‘inter-faith’ dialogue

I have an article published in Catalyst today – “Faith no More?” – looking at inter-faith dialogue and calling for non-religious groups to be included. 

Faith No More?

Catalyst is a magazine at the forefront of new thinking on race relations and racial equality today, both in Britain and abroad.

London group develops humanism to include the religious

Hands holding the number '2000'The 21st Century Network is a London-based group “for those who believe that we need to develop a new form of humanism that includes people of all religions and none but who embrace humanistic values as the basis of their actions. These are values of global compassion, personal self-discovery, shared development, planetary concern and a love of community.”

The group was established by Francis Sealey who has been involved with politics and local communities since his teens and his formative years. He says “there is a desperate need to redefine humanism in the 21st century. Humanism grew up out of the 18th Century Enlightenment and pitted secularism against religion. The secular and humanist world was considered rational and the religious one both superstitious and irrational. However today both the secularist and the religious person can be irrational in the blind faith they hold. The religious fundamentalist wants to impose a blind faith on all and the fundamental secularist imposes an economic global doctrine or asserts the primacy of science in all things.

Natural Allies
As time has moved on many people of faith have taken on a rational and humanistic perspective and applied this to the world whilst keeping their faith private. And many secularists have realised that these people of faith are their natural allies in the battle against fundamentalists whether religious or secular. It is this realignment of humanist forces that is needed in the 21st century world.

Gaining Perspective
Also many traditional humanists, like their religious opponents, assert that somehow humans are superior to all other forms of life and matter in our universe and in doing so, they have thus taken on an arrogance that is slowly destroying our planet. Somehow humanism also needs to be redefined so that it places humanity somehow in harmony with the cosmos we live in rather than separating it as something distinct. It is this humility of humanism that needs to be asserted rather than its dominance.”

You can see them on the Meet Up website or read their blog

Atheist and agnostics have much to teach religious people who think they have the source of everything sussed

Chris Duggan comments in the Guardian that “In a world dominated by Middle East conflicts, it is more urgent than ever that words and creeds emerge from the trenches and dare to divest themselves of the armour that is designed to shore up a reassuring sense of identity, under the guise of religious faith. This process has always been a central concern of the mystical tradition of all the world religions: those who penetrate to the heart of their faith invite their coreligionists to go beyond words and concepts to a level of experience that escapes definition. It is at this point that the dialogue with atheism and agnosticism begins. Ibn Arabi, a hugely important thinker from medieval Andalusia, where Christian, Jewish and Muslim ideas freely cross-fertilised, preferred al-Haq to any of the other 99 names of God in the Islamic tradition. If this is translated as “the Truth”, it sounds like a metaphysical entity. If it is translated as “the Real”, or just “reality”, transcendence is brought down to earth, where it belongs.

This can spark a train of thought about just what we mean by God, and whether all that believers attach to that loaded word is really the preserve of theism. Is it too much to argue that to speak of God is idolatrous? To avoid the word completely may be impractical for believers, but to hesitate to name what is beyond words is a good discipline. The Jews have long insisted that the letters YHWH that denote God should not be pronounced. I find substituting the word “life” for “God” in religious texts very illuminating.

It is tempting to think that the mystic’s “cloud of unknowing” is some transcendental, floaty experience that has nothing to do with the unknowing of the agnostic. And yet the position of the atheist or the agnostic, rejecting any notion of God as a concept that can be defined, has much to teach religious people who think they have the source of everything sussed. So does the inquiring scepticism of a scientist approaching nature with an open mind.”

Commission on Integration and Cohesion calls for dialogue between the religious and non-religious

Darra SinghThe final report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion was published today setting out the steps that need to be taken to build strong, cohesive and integrated communities.

The independent Commission chaired by Darra Singh (pictured) was established by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly and tasked with considering what local and practical action is needed to overcome the barriers to integration and cohesion. Over the past year they have visited towns and cities across the country gathering evidence on how communities themselves are taking action in response to their own circumstances and particular cohesion challenges.

The Commission’s report, Our Shared Future puts forward a wide-ranging set of recommendations for practical action to address cohesion and integration issues at a local level, along with suggestions for a national framework to support these.

Some of the key areas covered by the report include how the government promotes and supports English language speaking, developing a new role for local authorities with strengthened support from national government and how it puts a renewed focus on citizenship. It recommends that unless there is a clear business and equalities case, single group funding should not be promoted. In exceptional cases where such funding is awarded the provider should demonstrate clearly how its policies will promote community integration and cohesion.

It also contains a number of messages about the importance of both faith communities and local government developing and deepening inter faith programmes. Encouragingly it also calls for “a more constructive conversation between those who are religious and those who are not”.

It also states that “there is a case to be made for a review of some aspects of the way Government, both central and local, supports, consults and engages with faith-based bodies. These might include: grant giving (and appropriate guidelines for this); issues linked to contracts for the delivery of public services; and forms of engagement with non-religious belief groups, such as Humanists. There are also wider debates to be held about the role of faith in society more generally.”

The British Humanist Association has welcomed parts of it, but warned that there are important omissions and some flaws in some of the recommendations made.

The report is covered in the Guardian (“Racial strife more likely in country villages than big towns, says report”) and the Telegraph (“Violence’ warning over immigration“)

Second O Project interview looks at religious education

The second of a series of interviews with peopel already engaged in religious-humanist dialogue is published on the O Project’s site. The O Project’s Hamish MacPherson (far left) speaks to Marilyn Mason (near left) about her experience as a humanist on Kingston’s Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education.