Diverse Faiths Seek Common Goals: Dialogue, Addressing Global Problems Agenda of Parliament of Religions

Article excerpt

Even though religion is seen as a driving force behind much of the modern world's turmoil find wars, 8,000 religious adherents from diverse faiths across the globe assembled in Barcelona, Spain, in July for the fourth Parliament of the World's Religions.

Disagreements and conflicts aside, the chance to discuss issues with the broader religious world remains an attractive, if too little practiced, proposition. The parliament is not about the unity of world religions, but about points of convergence in their beliefs and values, said the Rev. William Lesher, chairman of the board of trustees for the parliament's governing body.

"An encounter with the stranger is an encounter with the Divine," said British author and former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong on the eve of the weeklong gathering. Amstrong was among several international presenters at the gathering.

Since the events of 9/11 she has been a frequent panelist and media guest on both sides of the Atlantic, bringing her scholarship on Islam and fundamentalism as well as her work on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism to an ever-wider audience. Although hostility toward Islam has grown in some sectors of society, Armstrong noted that the case for interfaith dialogue has moved from optional to essential in the new global age.

The concept of toleration is insufficient--it "sounds grudging and halfhearted," she said. It is time to advance and to appreciate the scriptures and traditions of other people and their religion. The author urged believers to return to the duty of compassion and respect for the sacred rights of others as envisioned by sages, prophets and mystics of old.

In recognition of his work for interfaith understanding, Fr. Hans Kung received the seventh Juliet Hollister Award given by the Temple of Understanding, a New York-based organization dedicated to interfaith education and peace. The award noted Kung's 50 years of loyalty to the church as a Catholic priest, scholar and reformer.

Barcelona was Kung's third parliament. At the second parliament, held in Chicago in 1993, the Swiss theologian drafted the "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic." The document has become the charter of the Germany- and Switzerland-based Global Ethic Foundation, of which Kung is president. The Hollister award came with a $5,000 grant to the Global Ethic Foundation.

The award came just as Kung's latest book, Islam, is being published, the last of a trilogy that includes Judaism (1991) and Christianity: Its Essence and History (1994). The parliament was a chance for Kung to showcase some of his research on Islam and to conduct a public dialogue with Muslim cleric Tareq Ramadan. Ramadan is the grandson of Hasan-al-Banna, an Egyptian thinker who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 as a call to return to the Quran and to Muslim purity. Ramadan will begin teaching at the University of Notre Dame in the autumn.

Kung opposes the notion that a clash of civilizations is inevitable, given the tensions between modernity and tradition and the long enmities sown between differing creeds. He believes peace among civilizations is possible if religions can live side by side.

In Barcelona he had harsh words for both the Bush administration and for Israeli expansionists. Kung urged the world's religious leaders to put the conflicts in the Middle East and their global effects at the top of their agendas.

In an interview with the news agency Swissinfo, he pointed to "powerful political interests at work in the Israeli and Iraqi conflicts. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his supporters want to occupy all the available land," Kung said. "It is clear that oil is more important than Islam for the Americans. It gives the U.S. a power base for its Middle East policy and helps maintain its position as the world's only superpower."

Kung said he hopes that more Islamic leaders will call for dialogue among the religions. …