Interfaith Dialogue 2007


Main part of the interfaith discussion focused on changing relation between religion and politics. The socio-cultural and political role of religion has been changing globally during last decades. Religion plays more significant role in world politics, particularly in the regional political conflicts.

  • Panelists discussed following questions:
  • Is religion a way to peace or an instrument of war?
  • How to mobilize “the peaceful potential of religion”?
  • Is there any prevention of violence that is carried out in the name of religion?
  • How can religious communities help with the prevention and therapy of conflicts?
  • Is the separation of religion and politics valid ideal globally or are there any possibilities of positive cooperation between them?

In the second panel the issues of trends and changes within the contemporary religious scene were discussed. Sociology of religion has been transforming the “paradigm of secularization” - secularization is no longer perceived as a key word in order to understand today's development of religion in society. 

  • Panelists tried to answer these questions:
  • What have been the major trends within the religious scene during the last decades?
  • How is the relationship between the secular and religious spheres changing?
  • Is the socio-cultural and political role of religion changing due to globalization? 
  • Is there a danger of “cultural war” between religious radicalism and radical secularism? 

In the evening the Interfaith Program of the Forum 2000 Conference continued in St. Salvator church. In a meeting open to the public representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam meditated on the theme of freedom and responsibility from a perspective of the three Abrahamic religions.


Changing Relation Between Religion And Politics

Time: Tuesday, October 9, 10:00 – 11:15 
Venue: Žofín Palace, Large Room
Organizer: Forum 2000 Foundation 
Form: Interfaith Dialogue Roundtable

by Camilla Reksten-Monsen

The dialogue, which was centered on the changing relations between religion and politics, was marked by a sense of cooperation and shared goals. 

Moderator Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation (USA) set the tone of the roundtable by noting that religion has often been used as a divisive tool. He called for tolerance borne out of compassion and understanding, not mere indifference. These themes were echoed by many on the panel.

Azhar Hussain, the keynote speaker, echoed Mr. Gregorian’s remarks. Religion is a kind of identity, he said, and has been used by many secular and non-secular forces to draw a line between us and the other. But Mr. Hussain also spoke at length about the ability of religion to unite people, saying that a faith-based diplomacy approach, where religious leaders work together, can be extremely effective. Through his work as Vice President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (USA), he has seen firsthand the ability of religion to be “part of the solution.”

The next speaker, Professor Tomáš Halík of Charles University (Czech Republic), spoke about the close connection between religion and politics. Religion and politics are important contexts for each other, he said, and there needs to be a “dynamic dialogue, a relationship” between the two. 

Mohamed Bashar Arafat, the President of the Civilization Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (USA), said he regretted that the media only focused on the negative side of religion, like scandals or conflicts. He said that “the word of god is art, what God has blessed us with to bring to humanity”. Mr. Arafat called for a deeper understanding among religions and a clearer focus on the true meaning of religious texts instead of inflammatory rhetoric. 

Professor Aaron T. Wolf from Oregon State University spoke about how, in this day and age, we have become all too accustomed to delegating our spiritual side to certain days and times of the week and that it is of great importance to incorporate our spiritual side in our everyday life. 

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, emphasized that it is not religion that causes conflict, it is politics that cause conflict. He added that it is also important to remember that conflicts have global consequences (for instance the troubles between Palestine and Israel are not just local), but have consequences that are felt around the world.

Farish Noor, researcher from Malaysia, spoke of the importance of seeing faith in practice, which to him is epitomized by the protesting monks in Burma. He also spoke of the dangers of commercialized religion and the reluctance of theologians to enter politics and the public dominion, which is particularly important because of the great power of religion to unite societies. 

James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, gave this chilling statement :“ We have killed more souls in the name of God than saved in the name of God”, wishing to highlight the importance of the language of communication and of not invoking the name of God to justify conflict.

Trends and Changes Within the Contemporary Religious Scene

Time: Tuesday, October 9, 11:30 – 13:00 
Venue: Žofín Palace, Small Room
Organizer: Forum 2000 Foundation 
Form: Interfaith Dialogue Roundtable

by Tamar Trocki & Srdjan Jovanovich

Moderator Doris Donnelly, Professor of Religious Studies at The Cardinal Suenens Center in the U.S., expressed the importance of binding the gaps of freedom and responsibility through religion. Donnelly said that “bridges are not exclusionary; they are open” and that using religion as a bridge will create a “bridge over troubled waters”. Donnelly admired Václav Havel for his ongoing efforts in the political and world arena by saying that he “set the standard for bridge building”.

Keynote speaker, David Martin, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science, addressed the issue of the religious and the secular. He divided the school of thought on these issues into Eastern and Western European views. He noted that following World War II, there was a favorable trend towards Christian democracy, which was supported by the U.S. He also spoke about the major shift that took place in the sixties when the U.S. revolted against capitalism and focused more onmorality and aesthetics, thus creating a massive fragmentation of Western tradition. This eventually led to post-modern and post-secular traditions, which, he said, was the new generation calling it “neo-pagan pantheism”. After this shift occurred, there was a state ofconfusion and everyone recalled different enlightenments. Martin also pointed out the idea of secularization rather than secularity saying that this is an “ideal which other cultures are supposed to conform”. Martin equated secularism and religion in the West to self-realization. With regard to Eastern Europe, Martin spoke about secular totalitarianism saying that “religion emerged simultaneously”. He also spoke about the divide between the Catholics and the Orthodox in Greece, which formed a new political generation. 

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Iran, said that in today's world “radicalism is one of the most dangerous things”. However, Ebadi noted that radicalism does not only apply to religion, but “it can be in different ideologies as well” and she used Cuba and Cambodia as examples to support this notion. The problem with radicalism, according to Ebadi is that it “does not accept any other ideas”which is the way that terrorism was introduced into the world. Ebadi proposed that we should keep ideologies and religion separate and not let them appear in our governments because extremists “abuse religion for war”. Ebadi went on to say that in the Muslim world, separating governments from religion and ideology is seen as a secularist approach that undermines the validity of religion. However, Ebadi said that “secularism is not something against the religious,” urging for this separation. 

Shlomo Avineri, Director of the Institute for European Studies in Israel, echoed Ebadi's urgency for the separation of religion from governments by saying that “religion, in the end, is a private matter”. However, Avineri realistically acknowledged that “state and religion cannot be neatly divided between private and public affairs” and added that both private and public affairs “compete for the public sphere”. He also furthered his point by using the example of abortion in different countries around the world.  

Avineri also made an important distinction in regard to religious texts when he said “the issue is not quoted texts but contexts”. Avineri refuted the idea that Islam and Democracy cannot go hand in hand saying that this is untrue and that the issue with Islam and Democracy is not a unique situation but is the “social and political impact of any given religion”. He said we must look “into Islam and not at Islam”as well as the internal war within Islam when we speak of the current state of affairs. Ultimately, Avineri suggested that all sides must learn to live in the modern world where religion will inevitably continue to try and surface in the public sphere. 

Mohammed Bashar Arafat, President of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, spoke about the objectives of Islam as a religion. He expressed the same idea as Shirin Ebadi in relation to secularism saying that secularism does not mean one does not believe in God. He added that the goal of Islam is to study the whole universe, saying that Islam was not created for Muslims to live in a cocoon “but to live amongst humanity”. The Koran was compiled over 23 years in an attempt to incorporate modern and realistic circumstances. It was not something that was created overnight, and the fact that it took so many years to be completed goes to show that the problem we face today with Islamic fundamentalism and extremism is not a problem with Islamic religion, but that Islam is used by some to “force Muslims towards one school of thought”. Arafat has faith and believes that the young generation of Islam will bring reform to the Islamic world through the values upheld by the wisdom of Islam and through “graduate stages which are needed today”. 

Professor Tomáš Halík briefly spoke about his hope and optimism for the future, seeking a path of compatibility for religion and secularity.


Previous years

Interfaith Dialogue 2010
October 11, 2010 - October 12, 2010
Interfaith Dialogue 2009
October 9, 2009 - October 9, 2009
Interfaith Dialogue 2006
July 3, 2006 - July 4, 2006
Interfaith Dialogue 2004
July 3, 2004 - July 4, 2004
Interfaith Dialogue 2003
July 3, 2003 - July 4, 2003
Interfaith Dialogue 2002
July 3, 2002 - July 4, 2002
Interfaith Dialogue 2001
October 16, 2001 - October 17, 2001
Interfaith Dialogue 2000
October 17, 2000 - October 18, 2000
Interfaith Dialogue 1999
October 12, 1999 - October 13, 1999
Interfaith Dialogue 1998
October 12, 1998 - October 13, 1998
Interfaith Dialogue 1997
September 5, 1997 - September 6, 1997