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Interreligious Dialogue
© UCAN Spirituality/UCAN Spirituality

Interreligious Dialogue

Author: Andrea Di Fabio, M.A. student in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance, University of Padua

European Union

European Commission - Dialogue with churches, religious associations or communities and philosophical and non-confessional organisations

For the first time in European Union (EU) primary law, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), also called the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), explicitly introduced under Article 17 a dialogue between European institutions and churches, religious associations or communities as well as with philosophical and non-confessional organisations, stating:

1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.
2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

In 2013, in order to frame this interreligious dialogue and give guidance to interlocutors in the context of the implementation of Article 17 (3) TFEU, the European Commission adopted specific guidelines based on the principle of "open, transparent and regular dialogue".

In the beginning of the 1990s, the EU Commission President Jacques Delors established the “dialogue with churches, religious associations or communities and philosophical and non-confessional organisations” to foster an open exchange of views between EU institutions and important parts of European society on EU policies. The dialogue aims at offering an opportunity to engage in the European policy making process and it is currently under responsibility of the First Vice President Frans Timmermans. The responsible Coordinator for the dialogue between the European Commission and churches, religious associations or communities and philosophical and non-confessional organisations has been Ms Katharina von Schnurbein since 2012.

Anna Lindh Foundation

The Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) is an intergovernmental institution bringing together civil society and citizens across the Mediterranean to build trust and respect, improve mutual understanding, and support civil society working for a common future for the region. It is mainly financed by the European Commission and co-financed by the 42 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean. Since its establishment in 2005, the ALF has launched and supported action across fields impacting on mutual perceptions – education, culture and media – as well as developing a region-wide Network of over 4000 civil society organisations. Through its action and reflection the ALF aims to contribute to the development of an Intercultural Strategy for the Euro-Mediterranean Region, providing recommendations to decision-makers and institutions and advocating for shared values.

The scope of the ALF is to overcome the misunderstandings and stereotypes which affect relations between and within the societies of the Region. As a contribution to the creation of a space of prosperity, coexistence and peace, the ALF works to restore trust in dialogue and bridge the gaps in mutual perceptions, as well as promoting diversity and coexistence.

Council of Europe

In 2008, the Council of Europe published the “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue” in order to provide a conceptual framework and a guide for policymakers and practitioners on intercultural and interreligious dialogue. This document responds to an increasing demand to clarify how intercultural dialogue, based on the core values of the Organisation (human rights, democracy and the rule of law), may help appreciate diversity while sustaining social cohesion in European societies.

The White Paper argues that the future of Europe depends on the ability to safeguard and develop human rights, democracy and the rule of law and to promote mutual understanding. In this regard respect for, and promotion of, cultural diversity are essential conditions for democratic societies. Therefore, intercultural dialogue has an important role to play and it offers a forward-looking model. It allows to prevent ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural tensions and to deal with different identities constructively and democratically on the basis of shared universal values.

However, intercultural dialogue can only thrive if certain preconditions are met. To advance intercultural dialogue, the democratic governance of cultural diversity should be adapted in many aspects; democratic citizenship and participation should be strengthened; intercultural competences should be taught and learned; spaces for intercultural dialogue should be created and widened; and intercultural dialogue should be taken to the international level.

Nevertheless, the Council of Europe holds that intercultural dialogue cannot be prescribed by law. It must retain its character as an open invitation to implement the underlying principles set out in the document, to apply flexibly the various recommendations and to contribute to the ongoing debate about the future organisation of society.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe emphasised the importance of ensuring appropriate visibility of the White Paper, and called on the Council of Europe and its member states, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to give suitable follow-up to the White Paper’s recommendations. Therefore, as a follow-up, in 2011 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe published the Recommendation 1962 (2011) on “the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue”.

In order to build cohesive societies receptive to diversity and respectful of the dignity of each individual, the document affirms the importance of the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue and of collaboration between religious communities to foster the values that make up the common core of European democratic societies (human rights, democracy, tolerance). The recommendation considers it not only desirable, but necessary, that people of all beliefs and worldviews, religious or otherwise, and various churches and religious communities (in particular Christians, Jews and Muslims) recognise each other’s right to freedom of religion and belief and accept to intensify dialogue based on the common assertion of equal dignity for all and a wholehearted commitment to democratic principles and human rights.

The document formulates several recommendations directed to different actors. In particular, states and public authorities, at local and national levels, have to establish the necessary conditions for religious and convictional pluralism, facilitate encounters organised in the framework of inter-religious dialogue, encourage and support projects jointly conducted by several communities that seek to consolidate social bonds. Moreover, the Committee of Ministers should promote a genuine partnership for democracy and human rights between the Council of Europe, the religious institutions and humanist and non-religious organisations, seeking to encourage the active involvement of all stakeholders in actions to promote the fundamental values of the Organisation. To this end, it should establish a place for dialogue, a workspace for the Council of Europe and high-level representatives of religions and of non-denominational organisations, to place existing relations on a stable and formally recognised platform.

The Recommendation 1962 stresses that building up a dynamic, productive partnership between the public institutions, the religious communities and the groups that espouse a non-religious perception is a crucial condition for developing a new “culture of living together”.

United Nations

United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC)

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), based in New York, was established in 2005 and as the political initiative of Mr. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and co-sponsored by the Governments of Spain and Turkey. A High-Level Group of experts was formed by Mr. Kofi Annan to explore the roots of polarization between societies and cultures today, and to recommend a practical programme of action to address this issue. The Report of the High-Level Group provided analysis and put forward practical recommendations that form the basis for the implementation plan of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. On 27 February 2013, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser assumed the position of UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations succeeding President Jorge Sampaio.

Guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, UNAOC is a “soft power tool”, aiming at building mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious identities, bridging divides and promoting understanding, preventing conflict and promoting social cohesion. It operates in situations where it can contribute to broader efforts to ameliorate identity based crises and promote culturally sensitive development policies.

UNAOC pursues its objectives through a variety of activities: contacts and dialogues with stakeholders (governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental); development of targeted projects; advocacy, including direct public statements or appearances by the High Representative or UNAOC staff; interventions to defuse religious and cultural tensions by mobilizing third parties that can act as forces of moderation and understanding such as religious leaders, grassroots organizations, youth leaders and women leaders.

The Alliance maintains a global network of partners including states, international and regional organizations, civil society groups, foundations, and the private sector to improve cross-cultural relations between diverse nations and communities. UNAOC project activities are fashioned around four areas (Education, Youth, Migration, Media), which can play a critical role in helping to reduce cross-cultural tensions and to build bridges between communities.

Religious institutions


Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

In 1964, Pope Paul VI instituted a special department of the Roman Curia for relations with the people of other religions. Known at first as the Secretariat for Non-Christians, in 1988 it was renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID).
The PCID is the central office of the Catholic Church for the promotion of interreligious dialogue in accordance with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), in particular the declaration "Nostra Aetate" (1965) on interreligious dialogue. It has the following responsibilities:

1. to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of others religious traditions;

2. to encourage the study of religions;

3. to promote the formation of persons dedicated to dialogue.

Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

The origin of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is closely linked with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). In 1960, Pope John XXIII established a "Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity" as one of the preparatory commissions for the Council. This was the first time that the Holy See had set up an office to deal uniquely with ecumenical affairs. In 1966, after the Council had ended, Pope Paul VI confirmed the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity as a permanent dicastery of the Holy See and in 1988 Pope John Paul II changed the Secretariat into the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).

The Council exercises a double role. First of all, it is entrusted with the promotion, within the Catholic Church, of an authentic ecumenical spirit. Second, the Pontifical Council also aims to develop dialogue and collaboration with the other Churches and World Communions.

At present, the PCPCU is engaged in an international theological dialogue with each of the following Churches and World Communions: the Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Malankara Churches, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council the Baptist World Alliance, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), some Pentecostal groups, Evangelicals. Moreover, Christian-Jewish relations are the competence of the Commission for religious Relations with Jews, which comes under the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations

Parliament of the World’s Religions

The 1893 Parliament of World's Religions was the largest event among many other congresses in the World’s Columbian Exposition, an early world's fair held on in Chicago. The World Congress of Religions marks the first formal interreligious gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions and, today, it is recognized as the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide. It was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

Nowadays, every four-six years the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions organizes the world’s largest interreligious meeting, bringing together the world’s religious and spiritual communities, their leaders and their followers to a gathering where peace, diversity and sustainability are discussed and explored in the context of interreligious understanding and cooperation. Since 1883, there have been several other meetings in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), Melbourne (2009), Salt Lake City (2015).

Religions for Peace - Different Faiths, Common Action

The origins of Religions for Peace date to 1961, when senior leaders from the world's major faith traditions began to explore the possibility of organizing a "religious summit." They felt the urgent need for believers around the world to take action toward achieving world peace. The first World Conference of Religions for Peace convened in Kyoto, Japan, in 1970. Since then, Religions for Peace has been guided by the vision of a world in which religious communities cooperate effectively for peace, by taking concrete common action. Religions for Peace is committed to leading efforts to advance effective multi-religious cooperation for peace on global, regional, national and local levels while ensuring that the religious communities organized on these same levels assume and exercise appropriate leadership and ownership of these efforts.

Through Religions for Peace, diverse religious communities discern “deeply held and widely shared” moral concerns, such as transforming violent conflict, promoting just and harmonious societies, advancing human development and protecting the earth. Religions for Peace translates these shared moral concerns into concrete multi-religious action. A central feature of the Religions for Peace approach is its commitment to engage existing religious structures as the “building blocks” for multi-religious cooperation. This approach has strength insofar as it can effectively and efficiently engage religious communities’ already existing strengths to build peace through the power of cooperation.

KAIICID Dialogue Centre - King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

KAICIID is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote the use of dialogue globally to prevent and resolve conflict and to enhance understanding and cooperation. The idea to establish a global dialogue initiative within the Islamic world was presented, in 2005, to the Islamic Summit at Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In 2008, the First International Conference on Dialogue was held in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, bringing together 500 international Muslim scholars, to discuss interfaith dialogue in Islam and to establish parameters for dialogue with followers of other religions.

KAICIID’s mandate and structure are designed to foster dialogue among people of different faiths and cultures that bridges animosities, reduces fear and instills mutual respect. According to this vision, intercultural and interreligious dialogue helps build communities’ resistance against prejudice, strengthens social cohesion, supports conflict prevention and transformation and can serve to preserve peace. The organization brings together religious leaders and governmental representatives in a sustained dialogue for peace.

KAICIID supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. it also tries to combat all forms of discrimination grounded on culture, religion or belief. Therefore, KAICIID implements programmes to overcome stereotypes in a long-term process leading to a culture of dialogue that enables greater understanding of people of other cultures and followers of other religions.

Other non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations involved in the field of interreligious dialogue are: Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL), Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations African Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL), Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA), Elijah Interfaith Institute, etc.

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