Guest Post: Prof. Rev. ‘Public Friend’ Felipe Ribeiro, Latin American Permanent Forum on Religious Teaching (CLAECIR FONAPER), Interfaith Religious Teaching Association of Brazil (ASSINTEC), Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), Quaker Religious Education Collaborative (QREC)
Since its colonization, America has been a multi-religious continent. When operating at their best, these various religious and belief traditions have improved their diplomatic relations with one another and used those cooperative efforts for the common good. This approach has now become one of the guiding forces in American ecumenical movements. That is, the coming together of Christian denominations for common social service works can also serve as the basis for more expansive interfaith dialogues.
This evolution is exemplified by The World’s Congress of Religions held at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago. Also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, it brought together over 27 million people during its 6-month run.
One of the related events was the first Parliament of the World’s Religions. Held in what is now the Art Institute of Chicago, it was the world’s first organized interfaith gathering. The Parliament is still headquartered in Chicago, but it has inspired the formation of a dizzying array of organizations across the globe.
The extraordinary benefits of these ecumenical and inter-religious efforts are widespread, touching nearly every part of our society. Yet, very little emphasis is placed on their history or their contributions. This post highlights some of the broad topics you might consider when developing an ecumenical/inter-religious curricular unit and some of the compelling questions you might encourage students to contemplate and address.
The Role of the Inter-Religious Movement in Humanitarian Efforts
The inter-religious (or interfaith) movement has gifted us with a powerful humanitarian legacy. For example, there are now hundreds of higher education religious studies programs, along with their associated faculties, at numerous universities. These programs don’t simply teach about beliefs and practices; they also help students understand inter-religious rights and duties. Several organizations also operate at the university/college level. As one example, in the U.S., we have the Interfaith America project which helps educational institutions develop inter-religious sheltering spaces and student communities.
The goals of this inter-religious movement are varied but include facilitating the development of humanitarian social services, solidarity economies, peacebuilding initiatives, harm-reduction programs, multi-religious literacy courses, ecomuseology, theopoetics, faith-based sustainable development and green logistics, and faith-inspired efforts to safeguard cultural and natural heritages. Many organizations within this movement also assist with various philanthropic goals, civil rights advocacy, and the social marketing of relevant causes.
While the long list of inter-religious outreach efforts can be incredibly daunting, it’s also a great starting point for student explorations. Widely-known organizations you might want to focus on include: Religious for Peace (RfP), Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI), United Religions Initiative (URI), OMNIA Interfaith Peacemakers, and Sacred Natural Sites. Here are some possible questions for a module centered on the topic of the inter-religious movement.
- Why is America multi-religious?
- What were the religiously-related diplomatic issues during early American colonization?
- What are the similarities and differences between the ecumenical, inter-religious, interfaith, and interconvictional movements?
- What was the role of the inter-religious movement in the defense of freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of consciousness, and freedom of expression?
- What was the role of university faculty – particularly in Schools of Divinity – in the inter-religious movement?
- What are the local inter-religious institutions and social services in your area?
- What are the local inter-religious artistic, cultural, and natural heritage sites and assets in your area?
- What common values exist between inter-religious institutions and the heritage of humanity, as safeguarded by UNESCO?
Why the Inter-Religious Movement Needs Principle Charters
Apart from differences in theology and theopoetics (the study of religious aesthetics), distinct religions present singular systems concerning their social practices and services. The international rule-of-law found in the democratic constitutions of secular states is one standard for cooperation. But the inter-religious movement has also been co-developing continued iterations of experimental dialogues.
This challenging process occurred throughout almost all of the twentieth century, gifting us a well-documented legacy of principle charters and guidelines. Although each tends toward its own vocabulary, the ever expanding ecosystem of inter-religious institutions continues to highlight a long list of relevant philosophical concepts, such as: nonviolence, golden rule, compassion, respect, socio-economic justice, consensus decision-making, gratitude, values, virtues, fundamental moral attitudes, trust, consciousness, social responsibility, duty, global ethics, interdependence, peace culture, joy, and reconciliation ecology.
Since these documents offer great pedagogical opportunities for exploring the common good, it is unfortunate that they are largely unknown in the public sphere. Here are some possible compelling questions to explore the topic of inter-religious charters:
- What are the students’ most cherished values?
- What religiously-related social service organizations address those values?
- Are those values found in other religious or belief traditions?
- Do other religious or belief traditions address those same social services in other ways?
- What do we mean by the “democratic constitutional state”?
- How does the local rule of law operate within those constraints?
- How did the secular concept of laicity develop?
- How do civil society and scholars audit religious and inter-religious institutions?
- What are the common values found across students, schools, cities, countries, or even the planet?
Common Values Data-Analysis and UNESCO
Although many institutions rely on more qualitative research approaches, it’s both important and interesting to contemplate the role of open educational resources (OER). This is especially true when one intends to incorporate data analyses. Many of the world’s most respectable universities are working in compliance with UNESCO recommendations for developing such resources, which promotes the development of Wikipedia for pedagogical use (wikipedagogy). The result is that many laboratories committed to open science can now keep up with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), semantic web metadata, and ontology standards of library information science, all of which are essential to the development of algorithms and artificial intelligences (AI). For this reason, it’s also important that educators understand these important elements of today’s research and help students engage in critical thinking about these communitarian necessities.
Big data data-analysis, diplomatic cross-cultural communication, and the implementation of controlled vocabularies at both meta and domain-specific ontological levels will all be important components of future inter-religious research and dialogue. More importantly, critical thinking about the logic and conceptualizations underlying the development of such philogenetic trees will be essential. Some possible compelling questions for a module on these topics might include:
- Is your school ready for semantic web ontological data-analysis? Or is qualitative research a better option? Why?
- Would other students, school staff, and community members agree with your assessment?
- What are your school’s pedagogical common values?
- Is your school in compliance with UNESCO open education recommendations?
- How might common values diplomacy establish ontologies and their alignments?
- How would students develop a semantic web of inter religious common values?
Qualitative Research Across Inter-Religious and Secular Charters
The extensive ecosystem of institutions within the ever evolving inter-religious movement offers numerous common values charters. However, the educational institutions working with the UNESCO data-analysis methodologies are not working with the inter-religious movement. So, how can we use both in instructional design and in qualitative research?
As one example, teachers could work collaboratively with students to analyze inter-religious and secular international rule-of-law charters. Specific questions might focus on listing the concepts used in their ontological vocabularies, identifying similarities and differences, and pinpointing real life benefits to both the local or global community through cultural diplomacy. Below you will find examples of both inter-religious and secular charters which would be appropriate for such a project.
Interfaith Common Values Charters
(1989) Interfaith Dialogue Principles & Guidelines by the WCC Scarboro Missions
(1993) Manifesto for a Global Ethic by the Parliament of the World’s Religions
(2000) United Religions Initiative Charter for Secular Interfaith Organizations
(2009) Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites by Search for Common Ground
(2021) Call to G20 Leaders: Priorities and Action by the Davos Interfaith Forum
(2022) Declaration on Common Values Among Religions by Religions for Peace
Secular Common Values Charters
(1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations
(1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child by UNICEF
(2001) Earth Charter by the Club of Rome
(2004) Convention on Cultural and Natural Heritage Safeguard by UNESCO
(2015) Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations
(2023) Tools and Resources shared by World Values Day
Some of the more specific questions that would apply to this module include:
- What is the relationship between inter-religious dialogue and common values?
- What are the similarities and differences between various inter-religious charters? How did these come about historically?
- Why are inter-religious common values important for intercultural communication?
- How might inter-religious common values and secular common values interact with one another?
- How can we use this research for the common good?
In sum, the inter-religious movement is the source of many global benefits. However, most organizational analysis has been conducted within and across inter-religious organizations. External perspectives on elements like the movement’s history, its contributions, and the development of charters are lacking, despite the numerous avenues of research currently available. Collaborating with students in both secondary and higher ed. settings seems like a win-win.
About the Author
Prof. Rev. ‘Public Friend’ Felipe Ribeiro regularly collaborates across traditional religious boundaries using the common values found in rule-of-law charters. He has particular interests in pedagogically promoting healthcare and welfare chaplaincy and in developing academic and cultural projects related to interfaith studies, peace studies, open science education, religious heritage safeguard, and multi-religious theopoetics.
He has created detailed historiographical databases and open educational resources (OER) syllabi and historiographies on numerous topics, including “Peace Culture & Interfaith Movements”, “Religions, Law, & Science Methodology”, “Interfaith and Sexuality”, “Contemporary Sacred Art & Music”, “Pan-American Christianity Movements”, and “Quaker, Unitarian, & Universalist Theologies & Heritages.”
He is also involved in numerous, award-winning charity organizations and inter-religious diplomacy networks as a peace ambassador and socio-cultural developer. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook via @operarioribeiro and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.