Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Towards a Global Ethic

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Towards a Global Ethic

Article excerpt

A short history of the Global Ethic Project

The tree of the worldwide interfaith movement of our times is rooted in one spectacular event, the Parliament of the World's Religions(1) in Chicago in 1893. It has since developed a broad variety of institutional and typological branches. Different ways of dialogue among believers and institutions have been developing for the past one hundred years; these differ in their starting point, dialogue area, partners involved, goals and methods. Scholars of the interfaith movement have studied and described these various branches.(2)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies(3) list two major kinds of dialogue: a "dialogue of life" and an "organized dialogue". The latter can be subdivided into three types: discussion on a subject relevant to the specific community concerned, academic dialogue and spiritual dialogue. Furthermore, a specific type of "dialogue of life" occurs "where people of different traditions come together to struggle for justice, peace, human rights, etc. or to work on common issues that concern society as a whole".(4) This kind of dialogue is motivated by the growing awareness of religious believers of their shared responsibility for our planet, and this approach is necessarily linked to the question of underlying values, of ethics.

It is within this branch of the interfaith movement that the Global Ethic Project has its place. Its "charter" was adopted by more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders at the Second Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1993, the "Declaration towards a Global Ethic". It is, however, important to stress that while the Global Ethic Project has its origin within an inter-religious context, and seeks to establish common ground for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, its scope reaches far beyond religions alone. The fundamental ethical principles, standards and directives proposed by the Chicago declaration are based on the ethic of the world religions; but they are offered as a contribution to the general, global search for a shared ethic of all humankind and indeed can be accepted by non-religious humanists and agnostics too. Any ethic which pretends to be "global" would, of course, contradict its own goal if it referred only to that portion of humankind which identifies with religion.

The First Parliament of the World's Religions was a typical phenomenon of modernity. It convened within the framework of a world exhibition which celebrated the triumph of scientific and technological progress. A cultural programme was, however, organized alongside the "material" aspects of the exhibition, and here the Parliament formed one significant element. The "brotherhood of religions" (the sisterhood was not so much in view in 1893) -- rather than sectarian strife -- was seen as an important component of human progress. In 1893, however, Christianity was still the "dominant" religion and the others were thought to live far away from the centres of power. To bring representatives of many faiths together to listen to one another was indeed a significant bridge-building achievement of the 1893 Parliament.

One hundred years later the world situation has completely changed. According to Karl-Josef Kuschel's commentary:

   Since the religions no longer exist separated from one another in distant
   continents but very close together, questions of inter-religious
   cooperation and capacity for dialogue arise afresh ... If the first
   Parliament of the World's Religions was dominated by modernity, the second
   is dominated by post-modernity. If the first was dominated by a universal
   ideal of the brotherhood of religions, the second had to occupy itself with
   concrete questions of the coexistence of the religions and thus with
   questions of common convictions, values, basic attitudes: in short, with
   questions of an ethic common to all religions. … 
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