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Life Shared

A National Conference on Interfaith Dialogue ...

 A National Conference on Interfaith Dialogue and Peace Building was held at Stella Maris College on 8 and 9 February 2013. The Conference marked the culmination of the year-long project titled Interfaith Education and Peace Building: Towards a United World, sponsored by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (UBCHEA). The purpose of the conference, which brought together academicians, activists, researchers and students involved in inter-religious dialogue, was to discuss, debate and promote the idea of inter-faith dialogue as a viable medium for peace building and establishing the values of mutual respect, peace and justice.

  

In his Keynote Address Prof. Fr. Noel Sheth SJ, of Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth Pontifical Institute of Philosophy and Religion, Pune, highlighted the fact that people who are aware of different religions are also more tolerant of differences. Speaking about the key role that educational institutions play in promoting interfaith dialogue, Fr. Noel Sheth pointed out that true peace and harmony could come only from the transformation of society at large. He encouraged educational institutions to include the study of religions in the curriculum and suggested that inter-religious meetings could be conducted at regular intervals to foster a spirit of dialogue.

            The different sessions saw participants discussing various important issues related to inter-religious dialogue and understanding. The speakers at the sessions on The Relevance of Dialogue in Peace Building, and Religion and Spirituality: A Confluence - Fr. Michael Amaldoss, Mr. Harihara Raghavan, Fr. Francis Gonzalves, Fr. Amritraj Arockiam, Mr. Krishnachand Chordia and Ms Parvez Bhote - reiterated the central theme of the conference from different perspectives and spoke about how their respective spiritual practices helped in promoting inter-religious dialogue. They reinforced the idea that beneath the apparent differences in practices and beliefs, the various religions shared a common core of spirituality.

The papers presented by scholars and students also brought out the significance of inter-faith dialogue by pointing out the similarities between various religious and spiritual paths. The report by the students who were part of the IRAP (Inter-Religious Awareness and Practice) programme narrated their experiences of interacting with experts from different faiths and of participating in the prayer and worship of various religions. It also brought out the need for moving beyond tolerance and towards the acceptance of religious differences.

             

The panel discussion held on the afternoon of 8 February was moderated by Fr. Noel, and included representatives from various religions: Christianity (Fr. Jerry, SJ), Hindusim (Ms Chandunissa), Islam (Dr. Abdul Rahiman), Budhism (Ms Radha Yangchen), Sikhism (Dr. Harinder Bir Singh) and Jainism (Ms Priyadarshana Jain). The discussion highlighted the ways in which each of these religions approached various important issues such as the use of religious symbols and the status of women and led to active participation from the members of the audience.

            The session on Peace Building Strategies, animated by Dr. Gladstone Xavier, discussed the ways and means in which we can overcome religious differences and work towards peace in a pluralistic society.

The ideas expressed in the various sessions were reinforced at the Valedictory, by the Guest of Honour, His Highness Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, Prince of Arcot. A man who is himself involved in various groups that facilitate inter-religious dialogue, he spoke of the urgent need for different faiths to understand and accept each other. This message was echoed by Dr. Rekha Shetty in her Valedictory Address.

The two-day National Conference saw a confluence of ideas on the very topical issue of understanding and accepting religious differences. The College hopes to continue its efforts in this area because we are convinced that action based programmes and activities can support and build on classroom based teaching and learning. Given the religious pluralism and cultural diversity of contemporary society, our ultimate aim is to empower students by creating in them a frame of mind capable of dealing with the issues and problems that arise out of intolerance based on a lack of understanding.

  Sr.Maria Sundari FMM.