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International conference to review the direction of interreligious dialogue

06 May 2005

More than a hundred people from diverse faiths and traditions will participate at the "Critical moment in interreligious dialogue" conference scheduled for 7-9 June 2005 to analyse, assess and review the experience of interreligious collaboration and dialogue as it has been practised over recent decades and might be practised in future.

Religious scholars, academics, human rights activists, humanitarian workers, journalists, and people experienced in working across religious traditions will gather at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva under the themes of "thinking together", "assessing the present", and "imagining the future".

Speakers will include such prominent voices in interfaith dialogue as Swami Agnivesh, Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, Rabbi Ehud Bandel, Prof. Rita M. Gross, H.E. Seyyed Ali Abtahi, Prof. Tariq Ramadan, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Mr Cemal Usak, Prof. Anant Rambachan, Dr Homi Dhalla, Ven. Lama Denys Teundroup, Dr Vinu Aram, Dr Wande Abimbola, Dr.Heba Raouf Ezzat, Dr Nan Kobina Nketsia V, Mr Chaiwat Satha-Anand, and Rev. Valson Thampu (see brief profiles of the speakers below).

Although interreligious dialogue "has broken ground in establishing relations and promoting peace and understanding between people of different religions and cultures[…] "yet many who are deeply involved feel that interreligious dialogue is at a critical moment," World Council of Churches (WCC) programme executive responsible for interreligious relations and dialogue, Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, notes. "One of our tasks today is to make a critical assessment, identifying what we have learned so that we might begin to imagine the future."

The conference will also be an opportunity to address interreligious tensions and divides, the present state of relations between religious communities, and the challenges facing people in today’s world. It will attempt to provide a forum for bridge-building conversations that focus on social justice issues despite religious differences.

Organized by the WCC programme on interreligious relations and dialogue, the conference is also designed to affirm and broaden the Council’s active involvement in and commitment to building bridges and deepened interreligious relations. This conference will attempt to assess the impact and future direction of such work.

Scheduled speakers

Swami AGNIVESH is a Brahmin Hindu leader and activist with experience in issues related to bonded labour and child rights, and a recipient of Sweden's Right Livelihood Award.

Dr Asghar Ali ENGINEER is a Muslim scholar, activist, author and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award from Sweden. A major part of his work deals with communalism and communal violence in India

Rabbi Ehud BANDEL is vice president of the International Council of Christians and Jews and a founding member of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. He is active in peace work and Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Prof. Rita M. GROSS is a Buddhist feminist, a prolific writer, and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin EauClaire, USA.

H.E. Seyyed Ali ABTAHI isthe former vice president of Iran. He is an author, communicator and founder of an institute of dialogue in Iran.

Prof. Tariq RAMADAN is a Geneva-based author and university lecturer reflecting on a new kind of European Islam that bridges Islamic values and Western culture. He is a grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Rabbi Naamah KELMAN is the first woman rabbi to be ordained in Israel. She is dean and director of educational initiatives at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem. She is also active in the areas of religious pluralism, Jewish feminism, peace and interfaith work.

Mr Cemal USAK is a writer and secretary general for the Intercultural Dialogue Platform and vice chairman of the Journalists and Writers Foundation in Turkey.

Prof. Anant RAMBACHAN is a Hindu scholar from Trinidad. He is a professor of religion, philosophy and Asian studies at St Olaf College, Minnesota, USA, and has long experience in dialogue.

Dr Homi DHALLA is a representative of Zoroastrianism and president of the World Zoroastrian Cultural Federation in Mumbai. He is very active in addressing communalism in India.

Ven. Lama Denys TEUNDROUP is a well-known Buddhist intellectual and a leader of Tibetan Buddhism in France. He heads the Karma Ling institute there, and is active in interfaith work, particularly in relation to indigenous traditions.

Dr Wande ABIMBOLA is a chief of African religion from Nigeria who is recognized as Awise Awo Ni Agbaye (“spokesperson and ambassador for the Yorùbá religion and culture in the world”).

Dr Vinu ARAM is a Hindu medical doctor active in interreligious work who is involved in grassroots work (health, HIV/AIDS) at her ashram outside Coimbatore, India.

Heba Raouf EZZAT is a political scientist, lecturer and an advisor of the Islamonline website's English section on Islamic, political and contemporary issues.

Dr Nana Kobina NKETSIA V is an anthropologist and regional spiritual chief of the Essikado Traditional Area in Ghana.

Mr Chaiwat SATA-ANAND is a well-known Muslim scholar, writer and activist in Thailand. He is an expert on militarism, alternative defence, religion and peace, Islam and nonviolence, and modern political philosophy.

Rev. Valson THAMPU is an author, lecturer, theologian and minister of the Church of North India (CNI). He is also a member of the "Religion for social justice" forum.

More information on the conference is available on our website at:

www.oikoumene.org/interreligious.html

Background information on the work of the WCC interreligious relations and dialogue team;

www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/interreligious/index-e.html