The numerous interreligious initiatives are varied in respect to scope, impact, and the actors they involve. A main interest is at best to promote and stimulate debate and exchange of ideas, facilitate the recognition of shared values and foster respect and tolerance for diversity. Some initiatives seem however mostly to add to the “marketing of religions” and put on show rather ephemeral and superficial events, where the image seems to matter more than the content.
Many initiatives are concerned with world peace and religions as peacemakers. Religions are solicited to foster peace as an alternative to the use of religion to fuel conflicts. Closely related is the concern to bring about peace among religions as a prerequisite for peace among nations. Interreligious organisations have been created to foster co-operation for global good among people of the world's religions, seeking to promote the realisation of each religious tradition's potential for peace building, engaging religious communities in co-operation around issues of shared moral concerns. Some interreligious initiatives seek to support local interreligious groups in peace making in conflict situations.
Another emphasis is to support the work of the UN from an interreligious perspective. This concern is reflected in different ways. There are attempts to establish institutions, similar to the UN, where representatives of world religious address conflicts, where religious sentiments are involved. There are visions of religions setting up interreligious emergency teams ready to intervene whenever a crisis unfolds. Generally speaking, many of these interreligious initiatives want in this way to lend a hand to the work of the UN.
There are multifaith initiatives articulating and formulating declarations of global ethics, human responsibilities, guidelines for interreligious interaction and commitments, highlighting the importance of values and hence of ethics. The celebration of the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilisations intended to provide an opportunity to emphasise that the present globalisation process does not only encompass economic, financial and technological aspects, but also focus on human, cultural, spiritual dimensions and on the interdependence of humankind and its rich diversity.
Other interreligious initiatives are expressed in conjunction with societal and global issues, injustice, physical poverty, violence and environmental destruction. Religions are requested not to shirk their responsibility towards the planet on whose life our lives depend. Alliances are called for between the religions and economic, societal or issue-oriented institutions or organisations on the subject of poverty, development or environment to mention but a few.
There are interreligious initiatives focusing on yet other specific issues said to be common to all religions as a point of departure for common action, celebration and manifestations.
Exchanges between religious leaders and political and economic leaders are sought to improve the state of the world, creating global partnerships of business, political, intellectual, religious and other leaders of society to define and discuss key issues on the global agenda. Religious leaders are through dialogue with their political counterparts invited to bring the moral authority of religion to help solve the problems dividing communities and nations. Promoting peace, reconciliation and human progress are goals all share.
Statements of principles resulting from encounters between religious leaders and different expressions of world governance are seen to make the world's great religions relevant to the challenges faced by people everywhere. Those involved welcome the creation of frameworks that integrate leaders of religion, business, politics and civil society.
Although there of course is a risk that religious leaders become too anxious to heed the call of the “world”, welcoming that religion is finally being reckoned with as a serious player, it is obvious that the voice of religious people is requested by both business and politics. The reasons may vary from a self-serving interest to get religion, as it were, justifying this or that particular action to a genuine interest developing a dialogue with religion on issues of common concern. There are many in the UN leadership, who express a wish that the UN becomes a body, which not only relates to the different member states but to civil society, religions included. The request of former EU President Jacques Delors to Jews, Christians and Muslims to contribute in “giving a soul to Europe”, reflects the same wish that religions contribute to the building of a new society.
The religious field is changing rapidly. In both national and international spheres, religions are thus increasingly brought into political and economic dynamics to provide a moral and ethical foundation for a viable global order. Global interreligious gatherings capture a measure of media attention. Their symbolic significance is sometimes more noted than their pronouncements and subsequent influence. The request upon religions to play new roles on the world scene has in some ways generated a "competition" among religious traditions to be the first to provide shape to the moral framework.
There are nevertheless new and legitimate challenges for faith communities to look for possibilities through interreligious dialogue and cooperation to address issues of common concern. Globalisation poses new challenges to all communities. There are compelling reasons to seek understanding between faith traditions. The complexity of globalisation calls for cooperation and work toward common responses, while not streamlining enriching differences between religions. The interreligious movement is here to stay. Considering that media often portray religion as so-called religious fundamentalism and a contributing factor to social and political conflicts, the interreligious movement emerges as an attractive alternative and among some as the present-day truly ecumenical endeavour. The interreligious movement is a challenge to traditional patterns of work of confessional organisations. Any deeper over-all analysis of the phenomenon as well as its consequences has however so far not accompanied the movement. The “religions” are not used to being in this new situation, where common thinking is required.
are questions that need to be addressed. Some of them could be expressed
in the following way:
work for the healing and wholeness of creation brings the World Council
of Churches (WCC) into dialogue and collaboration with organisations of
other faith communities or inter-religious bodies. They are needed partners
for the WCC in its effort to foster dialogue and cooperation with people
of other faiths in order to build viable human communities.
Where the “religions” seem unused to being in a situation where common reflection, responses and actions are required, interreligious organisations and initiatives seem preoccupied with their own particular mandate to offer such a space. The WCC is hopefully well placed to offer this space.
There is in spite of the various interreligious organisations and initiatives, no real forum for a responsible discussion how to respond to the obvious requests by civil society and institutions of world governance for multifaith responses and actions. Mindful of the specificity of its contribution, the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue (IRRD) of the WCC would like to initiate an ecumenical and interfaith reflection on various issues raised by different multifaith initiatives. In this way the WCC might contribute to an interreligious discourse and study, sharpen the specificity of its own contribution and equip itself with the necessary tools to carry out its involvement. That this undertaking also be of benefit for similar reflections in other faith communities is something that resonates with the aims of the IRRD.
Such a reflection needs to be informed by the specific problems/issues of concerns and the responses they have received or are receiving in the corresponding interreligious initiatives. The objectives behind this consultation are therefore to learn more about the major existing interreligious initiatives, engage in a reflection together with partners of other faiths on responses from various faith perspectives to issues in interreligious initiatives, study more closely the interrelationship of religious traditions and the main themes in global interreligious initiatives towards the development of measures and standards for a meaningful and constructive participation and involvement.
Together with people of other faiths, reasonably representative and trusted in their own community, the WCC would like to engage an issue-oriented conversation, crystallising the discussion on how to articulate a serious interreligious response to issues of common concern and how such a response could be a driving force in society.
Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue intends to bring together
some thirty participants, each with a particular experience in interfaith
work. There will be some from international interreligious organisations
and multifaith initiatives, enabling a focus on some of the major thrusts
that they seek to represent or particularly address: world peace, global
ethics, economy, poverty and development, and moral authority in support
of the UN. There will be some with an experience in bilateral interreligious
work, some from the constituency of the WCC and some as important resources
from other religious traditions, themselves engaged in interreligious
work. The consultation will take place at the Tao Fong Shan Christian
Centre in Hong Kong April 8-12, 2002. The intention is a consultation
with many insights and considerations, involving several perspectives.