Participants in the "Noah Celebration - All in the same boat". Photo: WCC/Peter Williams

Participants in the "Noah Celebration - All in the same boat". Photo: WCC/Peter Williams

The perplexing yet perennial association of religion and violence was probed this week in an event co-hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) and the Zurich-based Dialog-Institut.

The “Noah Celebration” commemorated the Day of Ashura , a traditional Muslim feast and celebration of humanity’s survival after the biblical flood.

Forty participants explored first the phenomenon of violence committed in the name of religion, then the occurrence of violence against religion or religious adherents.

Moderating the first session, WCC associate general secretary Hielke Wolters noted that the undeniable positive aspects of religion in history and society are shadowed by its negative aspects. “A powerful source, religion speaks to the hearts of people,” he said, and informs political and personal morality. “Yet it is also a source of violence and devastation, too.”

Evoking the story of Noah, Ahmet Muharren Athiğ, secretary general of JWF, noted that our globalized situation, with its many challenges and conflicts, “is also like a boat,” and humanity can only overcome differences and conflicts and achieve peace through simple practices, such as eating together, traveling together, staying together, and working together.

Addressing the first question, participants discussed whether religion is a source of love or violence, how to deal with religious extremism, and how to address difficult yet authoritative texts in religious traditions.

In a second session, focussed on hostility or violence against religion, participant discussion centred on how to engender respect for the positive influence of religion and the sacred, whether religion is compatible with pluralism, and how to achieve the harmony and understanding captured in the ideal of Ashura.

The WCC programme on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation organized the programme at the Ecumenical Centre, and IRDC programme executives Clare Amos and Peniel Rajkumar offered presentations related to the questions.

Strengthening inter-religious trust and respect