||This conference reflects the awareness that we live in a post 9/11 world and is therefore being called: World's Religions After September 11.|
||The conference will meet from September 11-15, 2006.|
The conference will be held in Montreal at
Palais des Congres de Montreal
159 Saint-Antoine Street W.
The events of September 11, 2001 raise crucial issues for the future of religion in the world. Can the religious and the secular dimensions of life be reconciled? Can the relations among the different religions of the world be harmonised? Do we need a new religious attitude in the world symbolised by the word dharma or by some other word? Can the different religions come together in the practised spirituality of yoga or meditation? Must science always exacerbate the tension between religion and reason? Can religion help heal where medicine cures? Must women remain invisible because men and women are indivisible as human beings? Does the media only report religious conflicts or does it also contribute to them?
The religions of the world need to respond in a comprehensive way to the challenges posed by the events of September 11, 2001. This global conference is meant to facilitate this process, now that the various religious traditions have had five years to assess those events.
Sometimes a distinction is made between "world religions" and "world's religions". When such a distinction is drawn then the following seven are minimally listed as the "world religions": Judaism, Christianity, Islam (the three religions of the West); Hinduism and Buddhism (two religions of India) and Confucianism and Taoism (two religions of China). The term "world's religions" then is used to include religions beyond these, such as the various indigenous religions or primal religions (the Native American religions, African religions and the pre-Christian religions of South America and so on); Jainism and Sikhism (the two other religions of India), Shinto, Baha'i,
Paganism and any other religion not included above.
This distinction between "world religions" and "world's religions" will not be entertained by this Congress. For its purposes all the religions found in the world are entitled to be called world religions and the Congress shall endeavor to have them all well represented at the Congress, whether they be Baha'i, Buddhists, Chinese Folk Religionists, Christians, Confucianists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Mandaeans, Muslims, Shintoists, Sikhs, Taoists, Wiccans or Zoroastrians. It will also include those interested in the study of religions as such.
This conference, as noted above, is being organised in Montreal from September 11-15, 2006. The choice of the dates is not unintentional. The conference is being organised to enable the world's religions to formulate a response to the unfortunate events of September 11, 2001
- within the following framework.
(1) The secular and the religious provide two broad points of orientation to human life. The Second World War, which was followed by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, was preceded by the rise of secular extremism in the form of fascism, communism and so on, for which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was designed to serve as an antidote. Might it not be wise, with religious extremism on the rise around the world, to adopt a Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and Duties) by the World's Religions, as a prophylactic against the ideological excesses of religious extremism?
(2) The relations among the religions of the world themselves are of crucial importance. The situation is bad enough if a clash of religions provides a covert basis for the clash of civilizations; an overt clash of religions may even be worse. Proselytization of one religion by another is a major source of conflict among religions. Mahatma Gandhi despaired of peace itself in the world so long as such proselytization continued. Might it not be time to call a halt to proselytization temporarily so that religions could devise ways of transmitting their message without giving the appearance of imposing it on others?
(3) We are accustomed to using the word religion to describe a sphere of human activity, for which other people use different terms, such as dharma, for example. Perhaps we need to realize that not only do religions differ from each other, they might even differ from each other in what they mean by religion. One way to wake up to this fact, and its implications for global peace in our times, might be to examine how the perspective changes if a different word for religion is used to describe the phenomenon usually subsumed within it. Could one then use the word din, dharma or dao as a starting point for such an exercise?
(4) Along with our outer life we also lead an inner life. If in our outer life we seek success and achievement, in our inner life we seek harmony and peace. Can this common search for peace and harmony, embodied in the practice of yoga or similar spiritual exercises, provide a point of convergence for the world's religions in practice, notwithstanding the doctrinal differences which characterise them? Thus religions might turn out to be in sync in spiritual practice while differing doctrinally. Might not a positive response to September 11 then consist in emphasizing the convergence of spiritual practices among the various religions?
(5) Religion used to be the only compass which provided an orientation to human life at one time. This situation has changed gradually over the past few centuries. Science and rationality have become a major option to a religious orientation in the modern Western societies and beyond. The future of the world therefore will be profoundly affected by the relationship between these two great human endeavours to determine the ultimate truth about the human condition. It was assumed for a long time that the two orientations of science and religion were antithetical to each other but with religion becoming more hospitable to rationality and science becoming more hospitable to a sense of mystery, the time may be ripe to ask if the two can walk hand in hand even if they do not always see eye to eye.
(6) Just as there is more to religion than just faith, there is more to healing than just medicine. The well-being of the human being involves the health of both mind and body in recognition of the fact that the human being is a psycho-physical organism and both these components of a human being need to be given full recognition. It may not be a question of mind over matter or vice versa so much as one of taking care of both mind and matter simultaneously. Medicine may or may not address them simultaneously but healing must.
(7) Religion has to do with human beings but for too long the indivisibility of our common humanity into male or female has entailed the invisibility of women in the sphere of religion, thereby imparting a patriarchal orientation to religion which has resulted in gender oppression, the scope and extent of which is now well documented. With the struggle for gender justice in full swing the question naturally arises - do religions possess resources within themselves to transform the gender-relationships within them beyond recognition or must they themselves be transformed beyond recognition as they grapple with the issue.
(8) The role of religion in the public sphere has become pronounced all over the globe ever since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. It is through the media that this heightened role of religion is communicated to us. This raises the question: does the media reflect or refract religious doctrines and practices, specially when it reports about religions which are different from those reporting about them. Thus the media not only reports news but can also make news by the way it reports it. How then could the fair representation of religion in the media be ensured?
This eightfold list is illustrative of the themes which may be canvassed at the conference and not exhaustive by any means. We invite you to propose your own theme or themes and share them with others at this conference, in addition to these eight themes specially recognised at the Congress:
(1) Religion and Human Rights
Additional themes will include:
- Religion, Children and Youth