Interfaith Dialogue and the Social Dividend

Prof. Desmond Cahill, Chair, Religions for Peace Australia, has given an address to the G20 Interfaith Summit at the Gold Coast, held 16-18 November. The topic for Prof. Cahill’s address was Interfaith Dialogue and the Social Dividend. In his talk, Prof Cahill gave a description of interfaith activity:

Interfaith activity, firstly, means the different faith communities not just living harmoniously side-by-side (though this is a good beginning) but actively knowing about and respecting each other and each other’s beliefs in fair and honourable competition, not allowing the mistakes and tragedies of the distant and recent past to pervert the present.


Case Studies of (1) the Victoria Police Multifaith Council and (2) the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace

Desmond Cahill
RMIT University, Melbourne
Chair, Religions for Peace Australia
Deputy Moderator, Asian Conference of Religions for Peace

The Beginning of Global Interfaith Dialogue

In 1893 on September 11th, exactly almost to the minute 108 years before the religiously inspired 9/11 terrorist attacks upon New York and Washington and during the height of the 1893 Great Depression, the Parliament of the World’s Religions held its first session. The 1890s marked the twilight and end of the colonial era of globalization triggered by technological innovations such as the steam engine and the telegraph. The introduction of international conventions and exhibitions were also hallmarks of colonial globalization, and the 1893 Parliament fitted into this pattern. Whilst there had been over the centuries many previous interfaith contacts (e.g. Francis of Assisi visiting the Sultan in Istanbul), the 1893 interreligious gathering was the first truly global interfaith event where religious leaders from East and West met in formal dialogue. While its vision was grand, even global, and inclusive, the first Parliament deliberated in a particular historical and geographical context that was, at times, quite narrow.

The Parliament was diverse for its time, but it could have been and should have been more diverse. The indigenous Americans were not invited nor did immigrant Americans play much of a role; the leading Muslim of the time, the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II, declined the invitation. Few Muslims attended. India and the Indians were to become very popular in the person of Swami Vivekananda. The Asians were called Orientals, the Muslims were Mohammedans. The world was divided between Christians and heathens, Christians and pagans, though many speakers did rise above such disparagement. Boos and hisses twice greeted presentations on Islam, especially when polygamy was mentioned. But generally the atmosphere was open and curious of the different.

Many new voices were to be heard, including the electrifying contributions of Swami Vivekananda. The historical accounts are unanimous in suggesting that the stellar performance of Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) was the highlight of the 1893 Parliament. The Chicago press of the time dubbed Vivekananda ‘the cyclonic monk from India’. From the beginning, Vivekananda threw down the gauntlet to Christian supremacism with the words, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true” (Seager Hughes 1893).

Swami Vivekananda quoted the words from a Bhagavad Gita hymn:

As the different streams having their sources in different places
all mingle their water in the sea, so O Lord,
the different paths which people take through different tendencies,
various though they appear,
crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.

He then went on, “sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair … … I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal” (Vivekananda Society 2009). Unlike some others, the Swami did not argue for one world religion as this is “an impossible hope” but he suggested that each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve their individuality and grow according to their own law of growth. He concluded that the 1893 Chicago Parliament “has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world”.

The Current World of Risk and Unpredictability

Today we live in a world of greater risk, limited controllability and uncertain predictability, exemplified in recent months the fates of the two Malaysian Airlines planes. 2014 has also been, unfortunately, a vintage year for religiously inspired violence focused around the bloodthirsty blitzkrieg of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq against other Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, and against the Christian minorities and the syncretist Yazidis together with its ripple effects across the world. The Pew Religious Diversity Index shows that the most religiously homogenous countries such as Afghanistan, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia are far from being the most peaceful whereas multireligious countries are generally, but not always, at peace.

As Zygmunt Baumann (2003), the renowned Polish sociologist, has highlighted, never before has the human community been more aware of the precariousness of social cohesion, the frailty of human bonds and the disposability of persons in contrast to the yearning for togetherness, the desperation to relate and the increasing difficulty of long-term commitments. This is so even though we are connected, but not necessarily united, through the mobile and the internet. In our texting and online conversations and through our electronic tablets, we have been liberated from place yet our connections are or can be short-lived, often frantic and frivolous, because ‘you can always press delete’. It has become more difficult to trust and love our neighbour. We are no longer even sure who is our neighbour. But we are all neighbours in the global neighbourhood.

Consumerism is destroying what is mystical and makes us unsure about what is moral. Noise has replaced silence. Homes are no longer the building sites of togetherness and intimacy. We live in a world characterized by greater risk and unpredictability. Sexuality has become degraded through the violence against women and young girls and through pornography, including pornography on the internet. We feel we only have limited control. We wonder if the world as we know it will have a happy future. As Zygmunt Baumann (2011) has elsewhere commented, life is being sliced into a series of one-off, ever-shorter projects for the skills in demand at a particular time. And only a stable spirituality or rooted religious tradition can counter the ups and downs of life in a world of limited predictability.

The Importance of Religion and National Social Capital

According to the psychologists, religion is about the 5Bs of believing, behaving, belonging, bonding and bridging (Saroglou & Cohen 2011): (i) believing in faith and its tradition, (ii) behaving in an ethical way, (iii) belonging to a community in solidarity, (iv) bonding with the collective others in our national society and (v) bridging across to the others of this world. Authentic religion, whilst concerned about self-love and self-care, is primarily concerned wit
h the other, the other of the transcendent, the other of family, the other of neighbour, the other of enemy and the other of creation.

The monk or priest or guru or holy person is revered in almost all religious and spiritual traditions, challenging the mundane and the superficial and sharing the wisdom of his or her tradition. They teach that personal peace resides in the tranquillity of self and in the quietness of the other. Each of us feels the sense of transcendence, “the beyond me within me …” Religion and spirituality provide a source of meaning, and each person cannot live authentically without a sense of meaning in something beyond themselves.

The many lazy minds in the university academies and the secularist media commentariat in the West too easily blame religion for the violence. In her very recent book, Fields of Blood, where she analyses the historic relationship between religion and violence, Karen Armstrong, using the image of the scapegoat, argues that religion has often acted as a mask for violence over power and wealth and has usually acted as a mitigating factor to humanity’s inhumanity to itself (Armstrong 2014).

In terms of the social dividend, religion at its best, despite its faults and many failures, adds to a nation’s social capital and its social cohesion. It does this, firstly, through its teaching and public statements of such spiritual and moral values as love, truth, honesty, integrity, compassion, mercy, beauty and hope and against hatred, materialism, narcissism, corruption and crass commercialism. Every nation has a need for multifaith spiritualities of individual holiness and social wholeness. Secondly, religion adds to social capital with its schools, universities, hospitals, aged care facilities and its welfare programs for the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned and the ill. Six core values have been identified as central to the major religious traditions: compassion, love, justice, love for life, tolerance and peace.

It has been said that ‘you can take religion out of the state, but you can’t take religion out of the nation’. The state, in the governance and management of religion and religious diversity, has three special functions: facilitating, brokering and monitoring functions. The first function is to facilitate the observance of religious freedom which is not an absolute right but ought be within the parameters of Article 18 (c) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. The second function is to broker or bridge the relationships between the various religious communities, especially at the national level, but also at the international level. The third function is to monitor religious activity for religious inspired fanaticism and violence which would represent a threat to the nation and its people.

Religious leaders have a special responsibility for social cohesion and interreligious harmony. Management of multfaith diversity is aiming at social cohesion. Religious leaders in particular need to be well-educated and trained in how to exercise quality leadership in culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse societies.

The Critical Importance of Interfaith Dialogue and Interreligious Cooperation

We live in a world where it is less possible to speak of ‘Christendom’ or ‘the Islamic world’ or ‘the Hindu world’ or the Buddhist Confucian world’. Religious diasporas continue to be extended across the world. Now that religion is at world centre stage, interfaith dialogue has become a necessity. And the answers to the world’s current political and religious problems partly lie not in a secularism that often triggers a religious extremism but in religious moderation and in ecumenical and interfaith activity. Fortunately since 9/11 interfaith cooperation has become an impressive growth industry. Faith communities can have four types of arrangements or interrelationships: those of (1) conflict (2) segregation (3) competition and (4) cooperation though in reality these relationships are a mixture of the types.

“Interfaith activity, firstly, means the different faith communities not just living harmoniously side-by-side (though this is a good beginning) but actively knowing about and respecting each other and each other’s beliefs in fair and honourable competition, not allowing the mistakes and tragedies of the distant and recent past to pervert the present. Secondly, it means the diverse faith communities working together in projects that bring mutual and rich benefits to the local and wider community in the spirit of unity-in-diversity. And thirdly it means that the whole community becomes a lighthouse of interfaith cooperation” (Cahill & Leahy 2004: 12)

Kenneth Fernando has articulated within the Anglican Communion ten very useful principles for bettering interfaith relations:

1. We confess our failures and lack of love and sensibility to people of other faiths in the past. We intend to forgive one another, seek the forgiveness of others and commit ourselves to a new beginning.

2. We affirm that good interfaith relations can open the way to better interethnic relations and peace throughout the world.

3. We recognize building true community (koinonia), both among persons and various ethnic and religious communities, as our primary objective. We need to develop a global theology that will be appropriate for the unfolding sense of a globalized world.

4. We affirm the importance of promoting a culture of dialogue within and among all religious communities and indigenous traditions.

5. We condemn violence and terrorism as being against the spirit of all true religion and we pledge ourselves to removing their causes.

6. We shall respect the integrity of all religions and ensure that they have the freedom to follow their own beliefs and traditions.

7. We believe that the different religions are enriched by identifying agendas in which they can collaborate such as making peace, protecting the environment, eradicating poverty and ensuring the human dignity of all.

8. We affirm it is important for us all to listen to and learn from other religions so that we can value religious plurality as a factor that enriches our communities.

9. We endeavour to live out and explain the truths of our own religion in a manner that is intelligible and friendly to people of other faiths.

10. Cultural diversity as well as religious diversity in our communities will be affirmed as a source of enrichment and challenge.

In the interfaith agenda, a core group are provincial and district political and administrative leaders who need to be educated to take the lead in facilitating a local vision for an interfaith culture of peace, brokering or bringing about contact between the various community groups and locally monitoring the state of intercommunal relations. Leadership thus relates to their capacity for community building, and not just of their own community. The challenge of community leadership is to act as catalysts and enablers; to open up the processes of communication, face up to issues and to develop a positive vision and the strategies to get there. Local community and administrative leaders need to pursue the following tasks as enunciated by many community development specialists:

  • serve as a model for personal integrity and responsible behaviours
  • develop and communicate a concrete vision for a local culture of peace
  • articulate forward-looking but realistic goals and the accompanying strategies
  • work to ac
    hieve a high level of community acceptance
  • engage in strategic planning and action
  • respond quickly and positively to new opportunities
  • identify issues and find practical solutions
  • encourage and facilitate collaboration and cooperation between the various sub-groups
  • display resilience in the face of difficulties and disappointments
  • develop leadership potential

At the local level, local interfaith councils, perhaps best based on local government areas, can provide a partial bulwark against interreligious intolerance, hate speech and religiously inspired violence. In the remaining part of my address, I want to focus on two examples of interfaith activity, the first focusing on the work of the Victoria Police Multifaith Council in Australia and the second is the work of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace which has recently moved its headquarters from Seoul to Tokyo whilst the headquarters of the umbrella global body, Religions for Peace International, which is headquartered in New York in the UN Plaza.

Victoria Police Multifaith Council

Social cohesion relates very much to quality policing of a society. There is an old English policing axiom, “The public are the police and the police are the public”. The police are the keepers of the local peace, and they are the key players in creating a local and national culture of peace. Policing policies are at the core of social cohesion and interreligious harmony, and the education and training of police at all levels is a central and proactive strategy against religious radicalism and creating a culture of interreligious peace. There are different models of policing such as militarist policing, zero-style policing etc.. Central to this is a policy of community policing which is, as the term suggests, composed of community partnerships where, in the outlook of the USA Department of Justice, it involves law enforcement agencies working with cultural and religious groups and other vulnerable groups to build trust with the police and with other such groups in addressing public safety issues such as physical attacks on minorities, the arson of religious buildings, terrorist attacks etc..

The strategy partly is to educate police about their obligations and responsibilities, especially in dealing with minorities in accordance with the human rights provisions of a nation’s laws and the international covenants. In other words, community policing is changing police culture and combating police resistance. A model is in the State of Victoria in Australia where there is a Victoria Police Interfaith Council together with multicultural liaison police officers who have been appointed in each police region – senior and local police attend iftar dinners during Ramadhan and on Jewish special occasions and attend Buddhist and Hindu dinners religious festivals such as Vesak in order to build up trust with religious communities and their leaders.

The Victoria Police Action Plan revolves around objectives called contexts: (1) Effective Police Service Delivery (2) Improving Community Safety (3) Working with our Shareholders and (4) Achieving through our People. The Multifaith Council has developed its own aims and objectives in association with the four contexts:

The work of the Victoria Police Multifaith Council (VPMFC) is to work with police in four areas through regular dialogue is (1) to work with police in enhancing the effectiveness of their service delivery in helping police work across religious and ethnic boundaries, to give assistance in managing emergencies and to identify priority areas and improve police information. (2) to assist police in improving community safety through modelling and educating the community in ethical behaviours and in combating the drivers of crime (drugs, poverty etc.), through helping to combat serious and organized crime, helping in the work of rehabilitating offenders after jail, through combating the causes of road trauma and working with police in addressing possible cases of religiously-inspired violence and the impact of overseas events. In (3), the aim is for VPMFC, as a stakeholder, to utilize the network of its religious members in assisting police to reach out to religious and ethnic communities, reflecting social, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity by enhancing the confidence and satisfaction of all members of religious and ethnic communities in the police and its operations and by supporting the recruiting of police and other safety officers, especially from minority communities and in areas difficult to fill. The fourth (4) aim is for the police multifaith advisory council to assist police in improving the knowledge, attitudes and skills of police and other safety officers by assisting in the pre-service and in-service training of police officers and safety officers into the diversity of the community regarding cultural and religious norms, attitudes and practices as well as inculcating ethical behaviour at all times.

This Multifaith Council which was founded in 2005 in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Bali bombings and within a philosophy of community policing. During that time, it has played a key role on three occasions when (i) a group of religious extremists were planning to bomb Melbourne’s largest stadium during the football grand final (ii) when another group had plans to attack an army barracks and (iii) in September 2014 when the terror alert was heightened and in particular when a young Afghani religious zealot from a well-regarded family background was killed when he attempted to stab two police officers several days after having learnt his passport had been cancelled because of his radicalization. At the same time, it published an open letter in the major newspapers calling for calm and vigilance in threatening times, signed by all Council members.

There are many possible strategies such as neighbour watch teams for criminal behaviour, crime-stopper mechanisms, appointment of community police liaison officers, police interfaith committees and so on. As has been said, the emphasis is on working cooperatively with majority and minority communities. The extra advantage in such a strategy is that in the event of provocative actions such as arson or terrorism, the trust created will contribute much to defusing tense and volatile situations.

The Asian Conference of Religions for Peace

Religions for Peace Asia is the world’s largest regional body of religiously-inspired people working for peace and harmony in their individual countries, in the Asia-Pacific region and across the world. It has its headquarters in Seoul in Korea. Working in tandem with its partner and parent, Religions for Peace International with its headquarters in New York, Religions for Peace Asia works to co-ordinate the various Asian religious heritages in pursuing peace and interreligious harmony based on the tenets of truth, justice and human dignity.

Religions for Peace Asia encompasses the Asia-Pacific region, stretching from the countries of the Middle East across to East Asia and including the countries of the South Pacific. Within these boundaries east of the Bosphoros are contained many of the greatest cultural, linguistic and spiritual heritages as well as the origins of Baha’ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism and many other religious expressions that highlight the diversity of humanity. The member nations are Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand. There is also a Women’s Committee and a Youth Committee.

Interfaith cooperation at the international level is never easy because of individual national sensitivities and rivalries even though global trade and
international cooperation have lessened global poverty. The U.N. has developed its Human Development Index (U.N.D.P. 2014) which over the years has shown the rise up the index of the Asia-Pacific countries whilst the African countries have continued to remain in the lower ranks of the index. In 1980, the index was at 0.559, whereas in 2013 it had risen to 0.702. Within the Asia-Pacific region, the worst performer in terms of human development has been Afghanistan which is the worst overall performer on all indices, followed by Pakistan.

ACRP (RfP Asia) is essentially a gathering of national chapters where the real work is done. For example, Religions for Peace Japan is currently engaged in, firstly, network-building through participation in world and regional assemblies, facilitating dialogue between religious leaders and scholars of China, Japan and South Korea, building a better understanding on Islam with Muslim leaders and cooperating with other peace bodies. Secondly, it is conducting research and development for peace education with seminars and workshops and, lastly, it is providing humanitarian programs for recovering from the Great East Japan Earthquake and assisting those affected by disasters around the world. The Australian chapter sponsors the teaching of five faith traditions (Baha’I, Buddhist, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Sikh) into government primary schools, is planning an interfaith service in September 2015 to commemorate the ANZAC battle on the shores of Turkey and World War One generally and is researching the issue of multifaith chaplaincy as well as working towards an annual multifaith lecture in Parliament House during U.N. Interfaith Week early each February. Needless to say, not all chapters function well and cross-national performance is mixed. There are periodic crises e,g, New Zealand, Indonesia, Mongolia. And RfP Asia would like to establish new chapters, not least in the countries of Central Asia as well as Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. And money is always lacking.

The Eighth Asian Assembly was held at the end of August 2014 in Incheon in South Korea. Religious representatives of more than half the world’s population were able to agree on the Incheon Declaration, reflecting Asia’s inbuilt and growing confidence to exert its leadership in the face of a declining Europe and the U.S.A.. “Asia as the birthplace of the world’s major religious traditions has a special place in building a response around binding authentic values, irrevocable standards of virtuous behaviour and deeply-seated inner attitudes, all grounded in the unity of humanity. Spirituality abounds in Asia. As a gift of the divine, spirituality is a transcendent force making Asia one in its diversity in its many expressions. It is an uplifting force of higher quality within the depths of the human person which makes us fit and worthy channels for great love, compassion and service and proclaimed by all religious traditions”. The Declaration specifically mentioned the danger of “hate speech against other social and religious groups and against other nations (which) had significantly increased”.

The Incheon Declaration cited the Global Peace Index (Institute for Economics and Peace 2014) sponsored by the Australian philanthropist, Steve Killelea. The most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark, Austria and New Zealand, and the least are Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. The area or region with the least peaceful nations is South and South-West Asia. According to the 2014 GPI Report, trends in peace are shifting from hostility between states to a rise in the number and intensity of internal conflicts. Analysis of the data suggests that there are eight key indicators of a peaceful nation called ‘the eight pillars of peace’ which were cited in the Declaration:

  • (a) a well-functioning government
  • (b) a sound business environment
  • (c) an equitable distribution of resources
  • (d) an acceptance of the human rights of others
  • (e) good relationships with neighbouring nations
  • (f) free flow of information
  • (g) high level of human capital and
  • (h) low levels of corruption.

It urged religious leaders to support their governments to develop appropriate policies and practical programs around the eight pillars, singling out for special mention vulnerable and at-risk groups, “including women and children as well as migrants, refugees and stateless people. In particular, it encourages governments and religious leaders to work strongly against the evils of child labour, child trafficking, child marriage and drug trafficking”, recommending religious leaders develop practical programs (Rec. No. 7).

The attention of ACRP has also recently been focused on cities since the rapid urbanization has impacted on Asia in a particular way with its 10 of the world’s 21 megacities, urging “religious communities to work with governments in making cities more habitable and sustainable where people can live, work, relax and prosper in a fully human way. Its tenth recommendation encouraged ACRP and its 20 chapters to “develop research and educational programs focused on the cities of Asia, the poverty of urban populations and the environmental impacts on cities and the role that religious communities can play in making cities into places where people can live, work, relax and prosper in accord with full human dignity”.

The achievements of ACRP have been relatively modest, mainly because of a gross shortage of money, but it provides a very valuable forum for networking and cooperation. Since the turn of the millennium, the achievements have been:

  • participation in the special World Assembly held in New York one month after 9/11 to show solidarity with moderate Muslim leaders and compassion for the victims, concluding with an interfaith ceremony very close to Ground Zero
  • the behind-the-scenes negotiations between members of both the North Korea and South Korea national chapters leading to the supplementary declaration at Incheon which criticized ‘dichotomous thinking’ which ‘gives birth to antagonistic relations’
  • the funding of a special project during the ceasefire in the Sri Lanka civil war to repair the small reservoirs of several villages for rice growing which had been damaged during the war
  • the annual accounting at every executive committee meeting in which each national chapter reports on its activities
  • direct participation in the efforts and negotiations to end the conflict in Mindanao helped by the Catholic and Muslim members of the Philippines RfP chapter, including recent funding for an interfaith centre at the University of San Tomas in Manila
  • the support given to the Japanese chapter in holding the World Assembly of Religions for Peace International in Kyoto in 2006
  • the linking of the government-sponsored Chinese Committee of Religions for Peace into the regional and world bodies, notwithstanding the conditions placed by the Chinese regarding the Dalai Lama, Taiwan and the Falun Gong
  • the ACRP cooperative presentation during the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Melbourne in December 2009
  • the delicate negotiating of the formation and entry of national chapters of Myanmar and Malaysia into ACRP
  • the participation of ACRP leaders in important national initiatives, most especially the six World Peace Forums held in Indonesia as part of a strategy to counter religious radicalism in the world’s largest Muslim country but also an interfaith conference in Dhaka and a religion and migration conference in South Korea

Contrary to secularized Europe, Asia in all its diversity has an essentially religious and spiritual vision which is built around dialogue. Rational, creative and constructive dialogue leads to progress and reconciliation and understanding. This implies advocacy by religious leaders in pressuring governments to develop appropriate policie
s and practical programs. But they also have the responsibility to educate one’s own religious community and to help educate the general community about the situation and needs of at-risk, vulnerable groups and about the danger and damage caused by racism, discrimination and social and physical neglect in terms of human rights and human well-being. But beyond each religious community, there is the requirement to educate the broader community. A second responsibility is to help change the self-image of the nation as a growing diverse nation in cultural, linguistic and religious terms, seeing well-cared for and well-educated women and children as national assets and seeing the migrant and refugee newcomers also as assets.

Because of the improved social and economic progress achieved in most Asia Pacific countries as measured on the various indexes and the unprecedented movement of peoples on the move, nations are changing, and changing quite quickly. As this occurs, the national self-image has to evolve and expand to be inclusive of at-risk groups such as the disabled and the aged as well as the women and children, migrants and refugees. There will always be resistance to this as core heritage groups defend the nation’s past and its core historical legacy. Essentially this task means re-interpreting the nation’s past where there will always be some diversity contained in a nation’s history and reframing its self-image in terms of authentic human values and regard for at risk minorities as well as in terms of greater diversity and cultural and spiritual richness as well as linking it into the global village.

The reframing process for any nation will evolve slowly over several decades. The wise person does not hurry history but history does have to be pushed in the right direction, implying that there are many different and additional ways of being Korean or Australian or Indian or Indonesian. Linked to this is to portray immigrants, not primarily as problems or intruders, but as positive assets. Religious leaders, trained in how to conduct themselves in a multifaith society, have a key role to play in their speeches and statements to help the nation evolve in its self-understanding as a more humane and diverse nation.


Responsibility is a gift (Mudge 2008). All religious groups, drawing from the deep wells of their own spiritualities and rituals, must forge their own understanding of helping the poor, marginalized and the helpless in the 21st century. To address most of the issues regarding vulnerable groups, it probably will be necessary to cooperate with other religious groups through interfaith dialogue as a prelude to dialogue with political parties. Our spiritualities animate the best that is human, making ourselves channels of peace for great compassion, love and service as proclaimed all the world’s great traditions.


1. The latest 2014 Global Peace Index (GPI) in its survey of 162 countries encompassing 99.6 per cent of the world’s population and based on 22 indicators such as open conflict, terrorist activity, violent crime and relations with neighbouring countries is grouped around three dimensions: (i) level of safety and security in the society (ii) the extent of domestic or international conflict and (iii) the degree of militarization. In the last seven years since 2008 there has been a notable deterioration in levels of peace. While only 51 countries have improved, there has been a deterioration of peace levels in 111 countries caused, in the past twelve months, by the rise in terrorist activity, especially Islamist terrorism, rise in the number of conflicts fought and the increased number of refugee, displaced and stateless persons.

List of References

Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Polity, Cambridge)

Bauman, Z. (2011) Culture in a Liquid Modern World (Polity, Cambridge)

Cahill, D. & Leahy, M. (2004) Constructing a Local Multifaith Network (Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra)

Institute for Economics and Peace (2014) Global Peace Index 2014: Measuring Peace and Assessing Risk (Vision of Humanity, Sydney and New York)

International Organization of Migration (2014) World Migration Report 2013 (I.O.M., Geneva)

Mudge, L. (2008) The Gift of Responsibility: The Promise of Dialogue amongst Christians, Jews and Muslims (Continuum International, New York)

Seager, R. Hughes (Ed.) (1893) The dawn of religious pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, (Open Court, Illinois)

Professor Desmond Cahill, OAM.

Prof. Des Cahill

Born in Bendigo, Des Cahill spent part of his childhood at Myola East near Elmore. He now is Professor of Intercultural Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne, researching cross-cultural issues, multicultural societies and interfaith relations for the past 35 years. He is chair of Religions for Peace Australia and co-president of Religions for Peace Asia. He led Australia’s successful bid to stage in Melbourne the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s largest interfaith gathering, and was subsequently its honorary Program Director. In 2010, he was awarded the Order of the Medal of Australia for “his services to intercultural education and to the interfaith movement”.

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Source: © Desmond P. Cahill