UNESCO International Congress on
Interreligious Dialogue and Culture of Peace
United Nations for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’éducation, la science et la culture
Spiritual Convergences and Intercultural Dialogue
Convergences spirituelles et dialogue intercultural
UNESCO INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON INTERRELIGIOUS
DIALOGUE AND CULTURE OF PEACE
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 14-16 September 2000
1. General Background of UNESCO’s Interreligious Dialogue Programme:
UNESCO’s Interreligious Dialogue Programme ” Spiritual Convergence and Intercultural Dialogue ” aims to bring to light the dynamics of interaction between spiritual traditions and their specific cultures by underlining the contributions and the borrowings that have taken place between them. The programme also seeks to promote reciprocal knowledge and the discovery of a common heritage and shared values. Thus, Interreligious dialogue is conceived as a paramount dimension of Intercultural dialogue. Since the launching of this Programme in 1995, UNESCO has brought together personalities from different religions, spiritual traditions and cultures, so they could acknowledge, through formal Declarations, the proximity of their spiritual values as well as their commitment to interreligious dialogue.
These texts adopted in previous Interreligious Dialogue Meetings, organized by UNESCO in Barcelona (1994), Rabat I (1995), Malta (1997), Rabat II (1998) and Bishkek (1999), recommend the Organization to give priority to intercultural and interreligious dialogue in education and training, with the objective to further reciprocal knowledge of shared spiritual and ethical values and highlight interactions between religions and spiritual traditions. To this end a questionnaire was sent to 4000 major educational institutions worldwide, in order to identify, on one hand, ongoing experiences being set up in the countries and, on the other hand, current needs, in terms of adequate pedagogical tools and specialized teaching. The results, drawn from the collected answers and the elaboration of future programmes, will be examined in workshops on a regional level, those in Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) are already scheduled to take
place in 2001.
Likewise, the UNESCO Chairs on “Scriptures, Spiritual Traditions and their Specific Cultures” are being created in academic centres of acknowledged experience in this field, bringing together teachers and researchers specialized in multidisciplinary aspects of Religious Studies and
committed to the promotion of Interreligious Dialogue. The UNESCO Chairs network aims
to encourage international cooperation and exchange in the field of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
The following Chairs have been established (in chronological order) :
- 1) France: “Chair on Reciprocal Knowledge of Religions of the Book and education for Peace”, The European University Institute Rachi de Troyes (responsible: Chief Rabbi René Samuel Sirat) and University of Reims Champagne -Ardennes.
- 2) United Kingdom: “Chair in Interfaith Studies”, Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations (CSIC) , Selly Oaks College, University of Birmingham (responsible: Mr Joergen Nielsen)
- 3) France: ” Chair on Cultural and Religious Itineraries “, the Centre de Recherche des Religions du Livre , Research Unit of the CNRS, Paris, (responsible: Professor Philippe Hoffman; coordinator: Mrs Nicole Gdalia Kaminski) and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Religious Sciences Section)
- 4) Tunisia: “Chair on Comparative Study of Religions”, The Faculty of Letters of la Manouba -Tunis I University (responsible: M. Abdelmajid Charfi)
- 5) Kyrgyzstan : “Chair on the Study of Cultures and Religions”, The Kygyz-Russian Slavic University , Bishkek, (responsible : Mr Alexander Alyanchikov and coordinator Mr Ednan Karabaev)
- 6) Israel: “Chair in Interfaith Studies”, The Elijah School for the Study of the Wisdom of the World Religions, Jerusalem (responsible : Mr Alon Goshen-Gottstein) ; McGill University of Montreal (Quebec)
- 7) Rumania: “Chair in Intercultural and Interreligious Exchange” The International Academy for the Study of Cultures and Religions at the Rumanian Academy, Bucharest, (responsible : Mr Martin Hauser)
- 8) Uzbekistan : “Chair on Comparative Study of World Religions”, Tashkent Islamic University (responsible : Mr Akhadjon Khasanov)
2. The International Congress on Interreligious Dialogue in Tashkent (14-16 September 2000)
The International Forum ” Culture and Religion in Central Asia “, held in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) in September 1999, was the first step towards establishing an in-depth dialogue in the region. The Forum strongly recommended in its Declaration to continue the joint efforts of reflection
concerning efficient activities in the field of Interreligious dialogue. One of these was the organization of a Conference in Tashkent in 2000, to highlight the cultural, spiritual and ethnic pluralism in Central Asia.
The General Conference of UNESCO, in November 1999, in its 30th Session, approved the proposal of Uzbekistan to host an International Congress on Interreligious Dialogue, organized by UNESCO in the framework of the projects ” Spiritual Convergence and Intercultural Dialogue ” and East-West: Intercultural Dialogue in Central Asia “, in Tashkent from 14 to 16 September 2000. The Congress was opened by the Director General of UNESCO, Mr Koichiro Matsuura, by H.R.H. Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan and by the Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, Mr Hamidulla Karomatov who read a message from President Islam Karimov (Annex II). 80 participants and observers from most of the Religious and Spiritual traditions of the world,
coming from 40 countries (Annex I), took part in the debates introduced by keynote speakers on four topics: 1) Reciprocal Knowledge and Interactions between Religions and Spiritual Traditions; 2) Education on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue; 3) Interreligious Dialogue in Central Asia; 4) Joint Actions for Peace and Conflict Prevention. This Congress was followed by a Symposium on ” Sufism and Interreligious Dialogue ” in Bukhara, on September 18th, as a contribution to laying the foundations of an open and tolerant society by highlighting the revival of Sufism, the mystical and tolerant stream of Central Asian Islam, a spiritual dimension which is
shared with other regions of the Muslim world from China to the Maghreb.
Summary of Discussion
1. Reciprocal Knowledge and Interactions Between Religions and Spiritual Traditions
Six keynote addresses and eight interventions confirmed the basic premise that misunderstandings and misinterpretations arise between one religion, spiritual tradition or culture, and another, from the mutual lack of knowledge and the resulting inability to appreciate differences and divergences. Reciprocal knowledge and closer interaction were identified
as the primary solutions.
As regards the three monotheistic religions, the emerging situation is assessed to be satisfactory. They have already much in common. They trace their origin to a common pair of ancestors. They also trace the foundation of their ethical values to the Ten Commandments.
Several speakers examined other obstacles in the way of promoting reciprocal knowledge and closer interaction among Abrahamic traditions. The most important among them, it was stated, was to forget disconcerting events and incidents in their shared history. A debate on this point resulted in a clarification by one speaker that the acts of remembering and forgetting
together have to be a deliberate initiative in which all parties involved participated. Remembering and forgetting have to be done together, he underscored. This presumes that each accepts to change its own affirmations and fears of the past in order to overcome them. Other speakers
suggested that asking for pardon by perpetrators of religious discrimination, persecution and such other hostilities, and forgiveness by the victims had to be a prerequisite to closer and beneficial interaction between them. The recent asking for pardon by the Catholic Church was acknowledged as a step in the correct direction. Several speakers protested on the basis that a
pardon should be demanded and it might even be given but the obligation to remember prohibited forgetting. Memory lends specificity to dialogue and to friendly relations among religions.
Several speakers underscored the positive trends of dialogue and cooperation among the three monotheistic religions. While satisfaction was expressed on the progress currently being made in Christian-Muslim dialogue and cooperation, the inadequacy of knowledge and understanding of Islam was emphasized as an urgent matter to be remedied. The moderator urged that a study be made of the “anthropology of anguish and suffering”.
Two speakers, representing Buddhism reminded that interreligious dialogue was not an issue confined to the three monotheistic religions. The involvement of eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism had to go beyond their being lumped together as “oriental wisdom”. One speaker spelled out how the new World Buddhist University, established
by the World Fellowship of Buddhists, planned to promote reciprocal knowledge and cooperation.
An alternative to forgetting history and to improving relations among religions was proposed in terms of dealing with history objectively. The discussion concluded with a reference to the third century before Christ decree of the Indian Buddhist Emperor Asoka in which the two directives
were: a) each religion should study other religions and doctrines; b) all religions should come together and maintain contact to develop their inner essence.
2. Education on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue
The religions of the world preach peace but have often been mobilized for conflict. Religions have sometimes become tools of oppression or have been oppressed. In recent years such conflicts have ranged from the Balkans to South East Asia, and despite UN declarations religious freedom is often violated today as it was a generation ago. Among the various measures
that can contribute to improving this situation is the expansion of mutual understanding. This requires strategic changes in attitudes, knowledge in attitudes, knowledge and learning in recognition that our world is now thoroughly pluralist. Fundamentally, there must be recognition that living in dialogue with the other is essential. This does not mean the end of traditional academic study of subjects. On the contrary, study of the texts, of history, of the interaction between religion and socio-economic processes, as well as the role of religion in private life and public space must be strengthened and expanded. However, scholars from inside a religion must also be involved in the critical academic project. In this way both the scholarly community and the religious community benefit, and traditional antagonisms may be deconstructed.
The experience of such scholarship both in its substance and its process of dialogue, must then be transferred into education and teaching. The formal education of children in primary and secondary schools is crucial. Many countries have developed new approaches to teaching religion, history, literature, geography, etc, with the aim of encouraging tolerance and respect for other religions and cultures. Such innovation requires critical reviews and new developments in curriculum design, textbook production, use of multimedia resource and above all, new patterns of teacher training. Many more countries have hardly started such a process of renewal, and until
they do differences of religion and culture will remain a threat to peace.
It is of fundamental importance that the person who is responsible for the education of children is trained for such a dialogical approach. The product of the scholarship being called for must therefore be transmitted into university and college teaching where new generations of teachers and opinion formers are trained. But education also takes place informally in the family and in the community, where the religious leaders (priests, ulama, Buddhist monks, rabbis, etc.) often have the greatest impact. So the colleges and seminaries which train them should also be encouraged to participate in this project.
It is essential that while we think of this in general terms, consideration must always be given to local circumstances, without which failure is guaranteed. Just as a dialogue between religions and cultures is central, so it must be accompanied by a dialogue between the universal and the
local. It was noted that the project of UNESCO Chairs being established by UNESCO
Department of Intercultural Dialogue and Pluralism can become a key player towards the strategic goal of creating a culture of peace. The network has the potential of developing and disseminating the related scholarship while effectively linking local perspectives to the general philosophy. It also has significant role to play in impacting on teaching and training in
both the academic university sector and in the training of religious professionals.
3. Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue in Central Asia
Several speakers of the panel indicated that in Central Asia there is a diverse population, with much experience of harmony among its diverse cultures and religions. Yet, the risk of conflict in the form of militant extremists conducting armed struggles against the governments in the
region was noted as a reality. The strength of militancy, as several speakers noted, is bolstered by the financial support that militants derive from involvement in the drug trade, and also from the moral and other support they receive from organizations and governments outside the region which are antagonistic to the post-Soviet Central Asian governments. One speaker also argued that the West wishes to divide and weaken the Islamic world in order to dominate it. Another noted the world now recognizes the risk of instability in the region, but the international community has also so far taken very little action to address this problem.
Several speakers emphasized that religious leaders and organizations have an important role to play in achieving social harmony in the region. Outside organizations also have a role to play in improving peoples lives and strengthening security, such as the UN (supporting coordination of
anti-terrorist efforts as well as economic development) and others (supporting education and meeting basic needs). Also noted was the need for more information and education about Islam and other religions in order to ensure that the message of moderation which religions teach reaches those who might otherwise turn to violence. Another speaker referred to the tensions in the region.
Two speakers emphasized the value of convening meetings of respected religious and cultural figures in the region to use their moral authority to foster discussion on the pressing moral and social issues facing the region. Another stressed that the most difficult issue in Central Asia is the
different visions regarding the role that Islam and other religions should play in society, and the importance of recognizing that real and legitimate differences exist between the values of conservative Muslims and those with a secular orientation. These must be reconciled in order to achieve harmony in the region. Several speakers indicated that dialogue and understanding
between all different positions are critical, and that concrete measures must be taken to achieve this.
4. Joint Actions for Peace and Conflict Prevention
Most early steps in interreligious dialogue focused on the importance of establishing contact and trust between community leaders and scholars. Subsequent initiatives concentrated more on building a broader framework for dialogue, particularly through education. The emphasis of the Tashkent meeting, however, shifted attention much more towards the basis for collaboration between religions and the possibility of engaging in action to resolve conflict and address wider social concerns.
Setting the background for potential activities, the comprehensive assets of religious communities were widely acknowledged as unparalleled in civil society. Reaching into every town and village, they were seen to represent a rich and culturally highly important resource, particularly in the areas of education, health, welfare and social development. Their well-developed communications and dissemination networks were also mentioned, especially in the context of mobilizing civil society towards practical outcomes.
But beyond the assets of individual religions alone, the benefits of multireligious collaboration gained particular emphasis. The powerful symbolism, for example, of leaders meeting and acting together in situations of conflict can provide an important testimony to the ability of people
to reconcile and live together in harmony. There are also significant benefits to be gained through sharing resources and pooling efforts, not least in reducing conflict for scarce assets. This kind of collaboration, it was thought, could potentially be highly significant for remedying endemic
social problems in many contexts.
Yet, if this potential is to be realized, it was suggested that a number of factors – economic, social, cultural, and political – needed to be considered.
Particular emphasis should be given to existing national commitments to religious freedom and to providing a supportive legislative framework upholding religious rights. Such actions by the State, it was suggested, were of critical importance in ensuring a climate of respect and tolerance
for religious diversity.
Secondly, stress was also given to shifting away from a culture of conflict resolution towards a culture of conflict prevention.
As example of how this might be done, experiences from various local communities and organizations undertaking multireligious collaboration were also presented, providing a highly encouraging picture of wider activities internationally. This included important advocacy and negotiation work in Mindanao and Sierra Leone, as well as more focused work on developing a
legal framework for religious communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
One speaker also stressed the importance of broadening dialogue to include those sometimes labeled as “extremists” or “fundamentalists”, together with the need to be far less pejorative in using such terms. In the same light, it was acknowledged that conflict tends to polarize groups and amplify problems, so that special attention must also be given to drawing in isolated groups. Another speaker stated that extremists might not come to dialogue by definition, and therefore all types of extremism and terrorism should be prevented. The role of the media in this regard was strongly emphasized, with encouragement being given to engage the media as partners in the process of resolving religious conflict.
1. As misunderstandings and misinterpretations between a religion, a spiritual tradition or a culture, and another, arise from ignorance and mutual lack of knowledge, priority should be given to promoting the study and appreciation of all religions at all levels through informal, formal
and non-formal education.
2. As memories of past experiences would not be obstacles to mutual recognition and esteem between religions when they are viewed from neither a desire for revenge nor a sentiment of hate, interreligious dialogue should, where applicable, be directed to facing the past so that memories of past discrimination, persecution and hostilities could be overcome and
fraternal solidarity could be developed between the religious groups for the future.
3. Since all religions uphold peace and harmony as an objective of supreme importance and the ethical mission of UNESCO is to promote peace for fraternity and solidarity among nations, all forms of extremism and terrorism should be condemned
4. To support Interreligious Dialogue, UNESCO should:
- (a) work with other international institutions, Governments and religious leaders to develop education at all levels on a pluralistic and dialogue – based approach;
- (b) support the production of educational materials to foster a better understanding of different religions as integral part of the “History of Civilization of Central Asia” and “East-West Intercultural Dialogue in Central Asia”.
- (c) actively encourage and participate in developing cooperation among University Chairs and Departments of Religious Studies and Culture.
5. UNESCO and other related institutions should explore ways and means to:
- (a) promote and protect with legislative measures where applicable the liberty of religion and convictions;
- (b) prevent intolerance and discrimination based on religion and convictions;
- (c) enhance dialogue and cooperation among religions;
- (d) encourage and support reflection on the place of religion in society and in the state;
- (e) study the effect of secularism on interreligious dialogue;
6. For the purpose of conflict prevention and resolution, the religious leaders and institutions with the support of UNESCO, the international institutions, UNESCO’s goodwill ambassadors and authoritative figures where possible, should:
- (a) work with academic institutions and with one another across religious and cultural boundaries in a respectful spirit of dialogue to promote peace and harmony;
- (b) support efforts to promote education for international understanding;
- (c) foster and encourage wider discussion on potentially conflictual and morally challenging societal issues among the general public as well as meetings of authoritative figures;
- (d) seek and involve the cooperation of networks and institutions dedicated to peace and conflict resolution.
- (e) engage in dialogue with all religions in a spirit of plurality and openness, respecting the principle of the equality of religions.
7. Furthermore, for the prevention of outbreak of violent conflict, UNESCO and international institutions should:
- (a) undertake strategic assessment of causes and circumstances which could potentially draw religions into supporting violence and/or adopting extremism;
- (b) develop consultative mechanisms and processes between religious communities and Governments as a mean of resolving disputes and drawing on religious capacities;
- (c) consider fielding proactive missions of religious conflict-resolution experts at the request or with consent of the state or states concerned;
- (d) promote sharing of information, experiences and resources on religious rights and conflict resolution through all available media.
8. Religious leaders are requested to build solidarity for the well being of all people, paying special attention to the forgotten poor and exploring imaginative ways and means of ensuring a happy life for all.
We, the participants to the UNESCO Congress on Interreligious Dialogue, convened jointly by UNESCO and the Government of Uzbekistan in Tashkent from 14 to 16 September 2000, do hereby:
- 1. Affirm, on the basis of rich and varied insights gained as a result of free and frank discussions on the complex issues pertaining to Interreligious Dialogue, our determination to continue our efforts in furthering interreligious dialogue and cooperation as an important positive step in the struggle for a culture of peace;
- 2. Address our recommendations for consideration and implementation by religious leaders, UNESCO and the international community whose attention is invited in them;
- 3. Express our special thanks and appreciation to His Excellency Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan and His Excellency Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO for their initiative to convene this conference and for their inspiring messages;
- 4. Record our gratitude to the Government and the people of Uzbekistan for their generous hospitality and goodwill.
Bureau of the Congress:
President : Mr Hamidulla Karomatov
Vice – Presidents : Reverend Junsei Terasawa, Monsignor Lorenzo Frana, Mr Abdelwahab Tazi Saoud.
General Rapporteur : Mr Ananda Guruge
Rapporteurs (in order of sessions) : Reverend Jacky Argaud, Mr Joergen Nielsen, Mr John Schoeberlein, Mr John Baldock
Moderators (in order of sessions) : Prince Hassan Bin Talal, Mr André Chouraqui, Grand Rabbin René Samuel Sirat, Mrs Anara Tabyshalieva, Mrs Aziza Bennani, Mr Doudou Diène