Five preconditions for interfaith understanding

The “key precondition” for world peace is “peace between religions,” said Ambassador Annette Schavan, the German Ambassador to the Holy See, at a conference organized by The Lay Centre last month.

The ambassador was a respondent, along with British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker, at a conference given by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, on the theme “Creating a Culture of Peace: What Can Religions Do?”

In her remarks, Ambassador Schavan offered five “preconditions for inter-faith understanding. Below, The Lay Centre presents excerpts from Ambassador Schavan’s remarks:

German Ambassador to the Holy See Annette Schavan offers remarks at a conference of The Lay Centre on the role of religions in creating a culture of peace. (Photo: H. Goo)

German Ambassador to the Holy See Annette Schavan offers remarks at a conference of The Lay Centre on the role of religions in creating a culture of peace. (Photo: H. Goo)

“The key-precondition for peace in the world is peace between religions. Peace between religions needs inter-faith understanding, especially in modern societies, which are multi-religious societies.

So, let me make a few remarks about preconditions for inter-faith understanding.

  1. Religion should be taken seriously in the public arena.

… In our global context, we can see that religion is growing in relevance. … It is an integral part of the world today. Politics cannot ignore people’s religious convictions. This is all the more true in societies with increasing religious plurality. Freedom of religion is a precious asset. Defending it is one of the duties of a state. A faith-friendly society is characterised by interest in religion and increasing religious diversity. It also needs to expect the religions to be interested in its civilised standards. These are two important points between politics in modern societies and religion. In a religiously diverse modern society, one precondition for the peaceful coexistence of religions is inter-faith dialogue and growing understanding, maybe friendship, of other people’s religion.

  1. To enable religious education.

To be capable of dialogue, we have to be at home in our own religions and receive a religious education that enables reasoned study and stops us taking our own beliefs as absolute. … Our public debates about integration in public societies are always in part debates about religion. If you want to facilitate integration, you can’t ignore religion. Telling someone, ‘Make your home here, but don’t let your religion show too much,’ seeks to drive a wedge between people and their faith. It’s disrespectful to those people and demonstrates ignorance about faith and its significance for humanity. That’s why religious education … is so important.

  1. Religion needs academic study.

… Raising the question of God under the roof of academia facilitates clarification and the spread of information. Europe could and should become a continent of particularly intensive academic study of religions. The experience that the various branches of theology have accumulated in Europe over the centuries and the standards which govern academic work provide a sound basis for dialogue among the Abrahamic religions. Academia is part of the public arena and facilitates clarification and the spread of information as an element of dialogue. …

  1. Politics and religion must be kept separate to coexist peacefully.

Among Europe’s cultural achievements is the separation of church and state, of religion and politics… The historical background to it was the terrible experience of ongoing civil wars over religion throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. They led to the realisation that it was essential to find ways to coexist peacefully. …

  1. Inter-faith dialogue requires us to interact with respect and humility.

The peaceful coexistence of religions is only possible if civilised standards are accepted: respect for every person; respect for human dignity and fundamental rights; the belief that religion cannot use the state to further its own ends and vice versa. These are fundamental ideas, which make freedom possible, generate peace and provide a sound basis for tolerance. … The key there is that criticism is integral to the intellectual culture of inter-faith dialogue. Criticism helps habituate respect. Respect and humility are prerequisite if religions are to make a contribution to advancing peace and liberty in modern societies.”

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