Let Peace Conquer the World: Religious Learning for an Alternative Globalization
by Johannes Lahnemann
Religions are learning communities. The time has passed when religious communities taught only within their own traditions. The global perspective leads us to transcend such boundaries.
In the present world situation, violence and not peace seems to be conquering the world. There are conflicts in which religions are a contributory factor, as in the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and many other places of the world. There is terrorism under the cloak of religion, for which the events of September 11, 2001, set a particularly conspicuous and catastrophic precedent. There is a new trend of resorting to sweeping generalizations such as "the aggression of Islam" or "the West has no values," and the unguarded use of terms such as "crusade" or "holy war."
In preparation for the Eighth World Assembly of the World Conference of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, religious communities worldwide need to ask themselves what they can contribute in order to confront violence and work for a shared security, its necessary components being the preservation of life, a healthy development, and a lasting postconflict reconciliation.
In industry and commerce today, companies think and act on a global scale. Politicians are increasingly aware of the interrelationships across the globe, and these are often in conflict with the national interests they represent.
When Will Religions and Cultures Think and Act Globally?
The slogan "Let Peace Conquer the World" carries the insight that there is a deep motivation for peace in the religions--not only for personal and inner peace but also for actively overcoming aggression and creating a strong coalition for a comprehensive peace.
The religions are, after all, concerned with giving meaning to life, making interpretations of the world, and not only for short-term goals. The ethic of the great religious traditions is rooted in global, not particularistic, terms. The Declaration toward a Global Ethic of the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1993 shows this very clearly.
Furthermore, religions are learning communities. By "learning communities" I mean a comprehensive understanding of education: teachers, as well as students, have to take part in the learning processes. The time has passed when religious communities taught only within their own traditions. Important as it is to transmit one's own insights, one's own conviction and spirituality, the global perspective leads us to transcend such boundaries. All too often, religions have promoted, and continue to promote, their own convictions in an exclusive, narrow way, without regard for the need to interpret their creed from a global perspective and to respect the richness of the diversity in cultures and beliefs worldwide.
This article is an invitation to share the values, to share the visions, to look with interest and curiosity at the insights, convictions, and experiences of others--not merging them, not creating a uniform and superficial harmony, but facing the present global challenges critically, searching for helpful exchange and cooperation. It presents some core insights from eight years of work in the Peace Education Standing Commission (PESC) of the WCRP, which has taken upon itself the task of bringing the messages and forces of peace inherent in the various religious traditions closer together with the practical possibilities of realizing them (see http:// www.wcrp.de/pesc).
"Let peace conquer the world." This requires common learning in the fields of values and ethics facing the global challenges that threaten life and community on earth. It can be helpful to take the Declaration toward a Global Ethic of the Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago in 1993, inspired by Hans Kung and his colleagues in a number of different countries, as a guideline to be set against the concrete situations, problems, and circumstances. The educational dimension of this declaration has already recently been introduced in the PESC brochure Peace Education from Faith Traditions (Gunther Gebhardt, 2001, p. 42).
The four irrevocable directives in the declaration can lead the way to learning and training for a new "culture" of living together in respect, solidarity, truthfulness, and partnership.
1. Learning for a Culture of Nonviolence and Respect for Life
The Declaration toward a Global Ethic quotes the challenge in this field as follows: "The use of violence, drug trafficking and organized crime, often equipped with new technical possibilities, has reached global proportions." The basic problem here is the view that violent action is rewarded, that the stronger win through, and that using one's elbows leads to success, and this is confirmed time and again by practical experience and is reinforced in the media. This may be confronted with a fundamental insight (which I previously explained in the July/August 2001 issue of DHARMA WORLD, p. 17): people will be equipped for living together in a way that will ensure the continued existence of our planet only if they respect their fellow human beings, feel responsibility for all the living and for the inanimate world of creation, and are sensitive to hatred, violence, and all developments that threaten life and community.
Regarding this challenge, it is necessary to relate the learning efforts quite specifically to the particular context--much can be learned from efforts in parallel contexts.1)
One of the most important things that needs to be learned is the ability to put oneself into the position of the other. Muhammad Mosaad describes this when he reports on the URI (United Religions Initiative) Europe and Middle East Conference in Berlin (2002, p. 50): "In their first separate session the participants decided to face their fears directly and courageously. The roots of hatred are fears, they said. What is the point of meeting without speaking from our hearts and challenging our fears? they asked. Soon there were two subgroups, one for Arabs and one for Jews, writing down all their takes on the other side. When the two long lists were finished up each group chose its spokesman from the other side. In other words, an Arab participant had to speak for the Jews, while a Jewish participant had to argue for Arabs. By doing this, the painful subject was put into a humorous, yet challenging, framework. Before starting this debate the two representatives exchanged their hats, a movement that made everyone laugh and relax. At the end of this heated session each group enthusiastically cheered its representative and emphasized its satisfaction with his performance. Naturally, the debate did not end by someone winning or losing. Nor did any group abandon completely its narrative. Nevertheless, everyone knew that there is another narrative that does exist and which s/he must know." It is a special task of interreligious educational work to initiate experiences like this in order to implement the first of the "irrevocable directives."
2. Learning for a Culture of Solidarity and a Just Economic Order
Again, it is the Declaration toward a Global Ethic that identifies the problems in this field: "All over the world we find endless hunger, deficiency, and need. Not only individuals, but especially unjust institutions and structures are responsible for these tragedies." Education for solidarity therefore depends not only on good will and concepts (these too!) but also on structural conditions; time and again, it becomes evident that children in unjust social structures (most extremely through child labor, child slavery, child prostitution, or as street children) are among the weakest and most easily neglected members of society. But even in the advanced industrialized countries, many young people experience widespread neglect, use drugs, and are willing to resort to violence. Work on the improvement of structural conditions must be understood as a political priority to which the religious communities have to make their contribution. The essential thing is to give the children the basic needs, that they experience love, security, protection, and that they have opportunities to live, learn, and develop with personal support.
In the PESC brochures are documented three very strong and comprehensive movements for learning and practicing solidarity and promoting a just economic order on a spiritual basis.2)
It is typical of all three movements that on the one hand they follow a great spiritual vision and on the other hand they are grassroots oriented. Sarvodaya is a way of awakening along the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path and is present in more than fifteen thousand villages of Sri Lanka. The work of Sulak Sivaraksa is the way of a socially and politically "engaged Buddhism" and, as one very specific initiative, establishing an "assembly of the poor." The Economy of Communion project of the Focolare Movement started in the slums of Sao Paulo. All three movements have developed a concept in which there are not some who are extremely rich and others who are extremely poor but that aims at a more equal sharing of goods. And at the same time they are economically successful. They also offer seminars and training for practicing spirituality as a source that gives strength to life and to actions, and they promote ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and dialogue with those of other convictions. That these movements can set an example for an "alternative globalization" was recently shown through the engagement that inspired help worldwide during and after the tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004.
3. Learning for a Culture of Tolerance and a Life in Truthfulness
The Declaration toward a Global Ethic has also paid particular attention to tolerance and truthfulness. For in this directive the religions, and religious and interreligious learning, are challenged in a special way. Not only has the deliberate and unconscious disparagement of those of other faiths (usually without any well-founded knowledge of their belief) done terrible damage in history, but often enough politics today is carried on with sheer ignorance, deliberate distortion, and disinformation, and thus demarcation and defamation are practiced specifically in the religious sphere. Those who know, those who have a greater understanding, those who have learned to investigate and ask questions, cannot simply be lied to and have the wool pulled over their eyes.
Here, in particular, the religions and religious learning have the necessary task of orientation and encounter that is based on a differentiated dialogue between the religions. The important thing, for adolescents as well as for adults, is to be prepared for a coexistence that is not burdened by barriers of prejudice but in which, rather, it is possible to listen to one another and learn from one another, which leads to the breaking down of barriers and the widening of horizons on all sides.3)
The challenge for globalization is here to widen the efforts through international research, through teacher training and textbook and syllabus development, and through endeavors within the religious communities themselves.
4. Learning for a Culture of Equal Rights and Partnership between Men and Women
The Declaration toward a Global Ethic describes the situation regarding a culture of equal rights as follows: "Numberless men and women of all regions and religions strive to live their lives in a spirit of partnership and responsible action in the areas of love, sexuality, and family. Nevertheless, all over the world there are condemnable forms of patriarchy, domination of one sex over the other, exploitation of women, sexual misuse of children, and forced prostitution." It also describes the conditions for a healthy development of family life in partnership and mutual respect for each other: "The social institution of marriage, despite all its cultural and religious variety, is characterized by love, loyalty, and permanence. It aims at, and should guarantee, security and mutual support to husband, wife, and child. It should secure the rights of all family members. All lands and cultures should develop economic and social relationships which will enable marriage and family life worthy of human beings, especially for older people. Children have a right of access to education." In the great religions we find strong traditions of giving respect and dignity to women, children, and the elderly. But we also have long-lasting examples of perverting these principles through dogmas and regulation of behavior and in practical life. The twentieth century showed many examples of an "awakening," especially of women in the religions through feminist interpretation of spiritual traditions and new concepts of emancipatory learning. Too little has been developed concerning the family as constituting the heart and core of society.
As a very constructive example I would like to highlight the endeavors of Rissho Kosei-kai in establishing and practicing hoza counseling. Koichi Kawamoto explains the concept in the PESC 2005 brochure: "Hoza is a practice that helps to keep Shakyamuni's teaching alive. The term ho in Japanese means dharma in Buddhism, the teaching of the Buddha Shakyamuni, and za means 'sit' or 'seat.'" Its fundamental background is the insight into "dependent origination" as a central doctrine of Buddhism: "In short, present effects are the result of past actions, and present acts will influence future causes. To truly understand human problems requires looking back to past acts and thoughts."
This is put into practice within the hoza sessions, where usually a group of five to eight people who know each other well come together to identify and to clarify problems (these are often family problems) of the individual participants. It is significant that the leadership in these circles is lay leadership and that a major proportion of the participants are women. On the one hand, there is a close relation to Japanese religious traditions, as, for example, ancestor veneration. On the other hand, the way of identifying problems and working around them through changing one's attitudes and behavior (which is always difficult) is so well elaborated that it is worth reflecting on these experiences on an interreligious and global level.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the preamble of the UNESCO constitution (which was taken as the motto for the work of the PESC) proves again to be true, on an international and interreligious, as well as on a personal, level: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed."
Therefore, let peace conquer the world!
1. In our PESC brochures, we have documented a principal analysis of conflicts (HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, "Religions as Motors of Fanaticism or Reconciliation: The Middle East Conflict in a Global Context," 2005, p. 7); activities of the WCRP in areas of tension like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia (James Cairns, "Does Spirituality Help in Conflict?" 2001, p. 33); new regional coalitions (Jehangir Sarosh, "Pan-European Multireligious Leaders Council Inaugurated," 2002, p. 38); media initiatives (Hansjorg Biener, "Radio for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights," 2002, p. 51); activities on a large scale (Velten Wagner, "The World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence," 2002, p. 44); symbolic actions (Yolande Iliano, "Drums for Peace," 2002, p. 39); as well as a number of projects and seminars (Christiane Lahnemann, "Israeli, Polish, and German Youths Visit Auschwitz Together," 2002, p. 39). Each of these examples is closely related to its specific context of conditions, problems, and possibilities while taking into account the mostly far-reaching implications of what is done and experienced.
2. These three movements are: (1) the Sarvodaya (Universal Awakening) movement in Sri Lanka, founded and directed by A. T. Ariyaratne (2001, p. 32; 2005, p. 50); (2) the Buddhist Alternatives to Consumerism and Spirit in Education programs of Sulak Sivaraksa in Thailand (2001, p. 36; 2005, p. 67); and (3) the Economy of Communion project of the ecumenical Focolare Movement, founded by Chiara Lubich (2002, p. 57).
The close relation between spirituality and ethical education is expressed very clearly by Chiara Lubich in the quotation at the beginning of the brochure: "Unlike the consumer economy, based on a culture of having, the Economy of Communion is based on the culture of giving. This might seem to be difficult, ambitious, heroic, but it is not so, because human beings made in the image of God, who is love, find their fulfillment in loving, in giving. This need is in the deepest recesses of their being whether they have faith or not. On this basis, supported by our experience, lies the hope of a universal spreading of the Economy of Communion" (Chiara Lubich in Brazil, May 1991).
3. This area is very widely represented in the PESC brochures, with a special emphasis on the developments in Europe, North America, and the Middle East, but also South Africa. Several articles describe the possibilities and results of textbook research: how, for example, Islam is presented in European school textbooks, how Christianity is taught in textbooks of countries with an Islamic tradition (Johannes Lahnemann/Klaus Hock, 2001, p. 22; Khairallah Assar on Algeria and Syria, 2002, p. 12; Patrick Bartsch on Turkey, 2002, p. 17; Johannes Lahnemann with propositions of principle, 2005, p. 33), taking also into account Europe's interfaith history (Hansjorg Biener, 2002, p. 19). Other papers give fundamental insights concerning education in relation to freedom of religion or belief, tolerance, and nondiscrimination (Mark J. Wolff, 2002, p. 10; James Wimberley, 2005, p. 12); concerning the developments of interreligious education in selected countries (Theodor Kozyrev on Russia, 2002, p. 21; Gordon Mitchell on South Africa, 2001, p. 25; Norman Richardson on Northern Ireland, 2005, p. 17; Jacobus Schoneveld, "Living in the Holy Land: Respecting Differences," 2001, p. 24); and concerning special fields: the experience of women in interreligious learning (Teny Perry-Simonian, 2001, p. 17); interreligious dialogue on university campuses (Patrice Brodeur, 2005, p. 24) or interfaith services as a source for spiritual and ethical learning across religions (Johannes Lahnemann, 2002, p. 27).
Publications of the Peace Education Standing Commission (PESC) of the WCRP, Johannes Lahnemann, editor; Peter Athmann, publisher; Nurnberg [Nuremberg], Germany:
· Peace Education from Faith Traditions: Contributions to the "Dialogue Among Civilisations" (UN Year, 2001)
The next major meeting of PESC members after the Eighth World Assembly in Kyoto is the Ninth Forum of Nurnberg, September 26-29, 2006: Making Visions Come True - Evaluating Concepts of Interreligious Learning (http://www.nuernberger-forum.uni-erlangen.de/home.php).
· A Soul for Education: Projects for Spiritual and Ethical Learning Across Religions (2002)
· Preservation - Development - Reconciliation: Religious Education and Global Responsibility. International and Interreligious Contributions (2005)
Johannes Lahnemann is professor of religious education (Christian-Lutheran) at the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg in Germany. He is president of WCRP Nurnberg, a member of the Round Table of Religions in Germany, and chairman of the Peace Education Standing Commission (PESC) of the WCRP.
This article was originally published in the July-September 2006 issue of Dharma World.
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