On the Significance of Religion for Global Diplomacy, by Philip McDonagh, Kishan Manocha, John Neary and Lucia Vázquez Mendoza, Routledge, 160 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0367514358
In our globalised twenty-first century, now in its third dangerous decade, many scientists, political philosophers and other analysts postulate that we have reached what President Biden has described in his address to Congress on April 28th, 2021 as “a great inflection point in history” in respect of the multifaceted existential planetary crisis which threatens irreversible damage to humankind and life in all forms. In other words, it is argued that humanity is now at a crucial turning point ‑ it depends upon the choices we make collectively, in this decade, whether our planet is to suffer or avoid disaster later in this century. The planetary crisis encompasses environmental, political, economic, social, epidemiological, religious and military facets which have coalesced into a red alert threat to life on our small planet. The jury is out as to whether our economic, political and social systems at both international and national levels, built as they are so much on short-term self-interests, can be adapted rapidly into a multilateral global system capable of addressing this unprecedented challenge.
It is this context that a new Centre for Religion, Human Values and International Relations has been launched at Dublin City University, together with a truly significant book, On the Significance of Religion for Global Diplomacy, which has been written as a founding manifesto for the innovative new centre launched by the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, on April 21st. The book and the new centre are seeking to explore how new frameworks of engagement in global diplomacy may be developed to narrow the gap between our unprecedented global problems and our capacity to meet them. The director of the centre, Philip McDonagh, is a former ambassador and is Distinguished Global Fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton University. He is joined in the collective authorship of the book by Kishan Manocha, the head of the Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw, Poland, John Neary, a former ambassador, and adjunct professor at University College, Dublin and Lucia Vázquez Mendoza, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology, Maynooth University.
On the Significance of Religion, though a relatively short book, is an inspirational, imaginative and sophisticated work drawing upon history from classical times and upon what may be learned from the wisdom of the world’s religions, as well as from an interdisciplinary literature, to shape its central thesis ‑ that new forms of historical and religious literacy, allied to new frameworks of engagement, can enable a more creative global diplomacy. It needs to be said immediately that the widespread assumption in the Western world that organised religion is in retreat, and that therefore a secularising world may easily ignore the wisdom embedded in the world’s religions as we address the global crisis, is fundamentally flawed. In Ireland especially, with the collapse of the influence of the Catholic church in recent decades ‑ as described so reflectively by Derek Scally in The Best Catholics in the World ‑ it is easy to be so misled. It is vital to recall that at least 80 per cent of the global population adhere to, or have their lives formed by, the major world religions in respect of motivation and outlook on key issues. Reading On the Significance of Religion provides a necessary antidote to a too easy dismissal of the role of faith systems: both history and current politics confirm that religious impulses can never be quelled but may migrate into politics in a toxic fashion unless religious, moral and spiritual imperatives are integrated into more benign forms of engagement with public authorities, as suggested by McDonagh and his colleagues. Religious literacy is a necessary global and national political and diplomatic skill.
The book’s argument is anchored in a realistic awareness of the current realities ‑ pandemic, climate change and environmental degradation, the impact of digital technologies and increasing social inequalities. In order to take even intermediate steps at regional or world levels in building a multilateral system fit to address our epochal challenges it is vital to enable a deeper engagement by public authorities with religious perspectives as a resource in global peacebuilding and diplomacy. The recommendations are summarised by the authors as follows:
- We can develop ‘axioms of the historical imagination’ to provide a common criterion of evaluation across cultures and from one situation to another. Acting in the light of common axioms creates community, even among people and groups who never interact directly.
2. We propose the following axioms:
• We should examine the patterns of our behaviour in the light of all that we ought to know and can know.
• We should ‘image’ or visualize peace as the rightful possession of the human community as a whole.
• We should identify and explore the factors that accompany healing in a wounded social structure.
• We should recognize that the starting position for political deliberation is inevitably non-ideal.
• Discernment in the midst of opacity in accordance with a common standard should become a core value in the conduct of international relations.
• We should give expressions to a changing diplomatic culture through new frameworks of engagement.
3. In particular, international organisations should use their convening power to bring about new, multilayered, consultative processes, inclusive of the representatives of religion, as an extra dimension within the wider project of making multilateral diplomacy fit-for-purpose. These new processes will underpin the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and complement the day-to-day negotiations that currently take place in a range of diplomatic settings. New consultative processes will require a new style of negotiating mandate aimed at a distinctive diplomatic ‘product’.
4. The ‘product’ will be a combination of (i) the gradual definition of new criteria or points of agreement to govern the conduct of international relations and (ii) confidence-building measures (CBMs) with demonstration value in the perspective of a future ‘age of sharing’ at the global level.
- We can develop ‘axioms of the historical imagination’ to provide a common criterion of evaluation across cultures and from one situation to another. Acting in the light of common axioms creates community, even among people and groups who never interact directly.
The authors explore the criteria for the effective interaction of policymakers with religious actors and the contributions of the world’s religions to values and to social justice and they point towards an “anthropological” development over the coming decades – “a global humanism founded on a broad understanding of the scope of reason. A richer understanding of the meaning of freedom is central to this new humanism.” On the Significance of Religion presents the argument that in an inherently pluralist global society confronted by an existential crisis we need to interact more positively with religions to “mark off the essential common ground” for the multilateral global system to succeed. We urgently need a viable alternative to the “law of the strongest” in international relations.
The authors are very aware of the misuses of religion throughout history and in the contemporary world. They suggest that sustained engagement with public authorities and international relations can help religions to distinguish their permanent core values from destructive attitudes and practices. It is vital to their argument to establish how religions might be enabled to contribute from their wellsprings of wisdom to the paradigm shift necessary in international affairs and to effective, non-violent action in the service of justice and peace. Religions, in particular, may help to identify and explore the factors that accompany healing in a wounded social structure ‑ factors that are easily ignored in contemporary power politics: truth, justice, mercy, reverence for human dignity and flourishing, respect for creation and nature, humility and hope, ethics and a strong sense of what is right, gratuitousness and generosity, knowledge of the particular combined with a vision of the whole, gradualnesss, finding unity in the presence of difference and constructive engagement with the holders of power.
The book focuses not only on Christian insights but draws widely from a world literature to paint a picture of how religious literacy may help develop the new political imaginative leap now required in international relations. I would suggest that this seminal work is best read in conjunction with a wide range of recent religious, political and economic works analysing “the great inflection point” we have now reached. For example, Pope Francis, in at least three seminal works, has illustrated how Christian wisdom contributes to addressing the world crisis: Laudato si’: On the Care for Our Common Home, issued in May 2015, has informed global thinking and assisted in having the UN Paris Agreement on Climate approved in December 2015; more recently his encyclical Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, issued in October 2020, marks a new and fundamental focus on religion at the service of the human flourishing in our world. In Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, in which Pope Francis is in conversation with Austen Ivereigh, there is a scathing critique of the systems and ideologies that have conspired to produce the current crisis and an offering of an inspiring and actionable blueprint for building a better world for all humanity that puts the poor and the planet at the heart of new thinking.
It is important to note how Pope Francis in his contributions draws not only from religious sources but also on the latest findings from renowned scientists, economists, activists and other thinkers. In this he models what is advocated in On the Significance of Religion for Global Diplomacy in terms of engagement. In Ireland Laudato si’ has given rise to two key volumes which ought to be read in the context of Ireland seeking to become “a leader rather than a laggard” in addressing the climate crisis: Laudato Si’: An Irish Response: Essays on the Pope’s Letter on the Environment, edited by Sean McDonagh, and Dermot A Lane’s Theology and Ecology in Dialogue The Wisdom of Laudato Si’. When envisaging a new multi-layered global conversation aimed at reappropriating basic human values and the common good it is evident from such works that religions, in this case Christianity, may have a vital voice. In addition, the 2019 Abu Dhabi document on human fraternity, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam, pointed towards a new international dialogue on the values that bind us and the common human desire for peace. Hope for a sustainable future will only emerge from dialogue and new forms of engagement between religions, human rights and global politics. At a minimum the major faiths share the golden rule: that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us; Christianity espouses as a fundamental ethic love of neighbour, defined as anyone in need, and indeed replaces hate with a revolutionary love of enemies.
Archbishop John McDowell, the Church of Ireland primate, speaking at the launch of the new DCU centre, acknowledged that the churches will have to equip their members and spokespeople to contribute to the public realm as they embrace dialogue in a pluralist context. He spoke, like Pope Francis, of the value of social friendship and of learning epistemological humility. The churches have a voice but do not need to have the last word in the dialogue as they must work within what he described as “a covenant between social friends”. It is evident that if religions, and in particular our Christian churches, are to fulfil the roles envisaged by this book, they will need to invest considerably more resources in developing and communicating a relevant public theology ‑ such as headlined by Pope Francis ‑ if they are to win through in the contest between those who see religion only as a negative force (therefore religion ought to be a matter solely of private concern) and those who see it as a positive and essential resource in public affairs. The renowned theologian Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, has made a key contribution as to how the Christian faith might go about realising a vision of human flourishing in relationships with other faiths in our pluralist public spheres, in his book A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, which ought to be mandatory reading for Christian leaders and activists.
The radical reassessment which has emerged in the field of economics is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the new forms of engagement argued by McDonagh et al. The crash of 2008 and the failure of neoliberalism have prompted economists like Kate Raworth and Mariana Mazzucato to produce a “new economics” which has been commended by both secular and religious figures, in particular, President Michael D Higgins in his major speeches (see MD Higgins, Reclaiming the European Street Speeches on Europe and the European Union, 2016-20, eds Joachim Fischer & Fergal Lenehan) and Pope Francis in Let Us Dream. The case for basic reforms of the capitalist system built upon market fundamentalism and an inadequate understanding of human nature (the solely self-interested actor) is made in such groundbreaking works as Mariana Mazzucato’s The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy and Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. The global pandemic of 2020-21 has only added salience and urgency to the rejection of the neoliberal concept of the economically rational actor, homo economicus, concerned only to maximise their self-interest, which has so long dominated basic economic textbooks: huge inequalities and our global interdependence have been sharply unveiled, as well as our dependence on public services and the state. Of course there are differences in this new discourse: Raworth calls for Western developed economics to jettison economic growth as a target and live within environmental limits while Mazzucato, by highlighting the state’s role in innovation, is asking us to reimagine the state as the driver of economic growth.
Religious thought is essential in reaching a fuller understanding of human anthropology than that provided by neoliberalism in public policy-making: already governments are seeking to develop new well-being measures in place of or alongside the traditional measure of economic growth, gross domestic product (GDP). Such a sea-change will be extremely challenging, of course, especially in the now short timeframe of a decade to avert the climate crisis. In Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, Mazzucato calls for the same level of boldness and experimentation as was applied to the “moonshot” programmes, which successfully co-ordinated public and private sectors on a massive scale when the USA in 1962 set out to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade: we must rethink the capacities and role of government within economy and society and above all recover a sense of public purpose. Though Raworth and Mazzucato are light on how ethics and morals should be restored to economic thinking, their works and others, by opening up a great debate on value, and how value is expressed and measured both in the market-place and in the public realm, are creating a key space for contributions from the world’s religions provided the new forms of engagement argued for in On the Significance of Religion in Global Diplomacy are developed. It is of note that Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England, has entitled his important new book Value(s): Building a Better World for All as he places himself as a leader in the battle against climate change.
While new research and thinking informs economics, and more recently expansive political action – as witnessed in President Biden’s massive public investment measures in his first hundred days in office ‑ are of seminal importance, it is also essential that philosophical and theological contributions may input into popular thinking so that public understanding about the common good and human flourishing, as well as the conditions for sustainability of life and biodiversity on our fragile planet, lays the necessary basis in a renewed political culture. For an example of how a fuller understanding of human anthropology may be reached in a dialogue between secularists and religious believers, Irish theologian Dr Dermot Lane’s essay “Anthropology in the Service of Bridges to Hope” in a collectively authored book in which I was involved, A Dialogue of Hope Critical Thinking for Critical Times, edited by Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, is most valuable. Lane shows how anthropology is “a red thread running through many areas of life: ecology, economics, ethics, education, philosophy and theology” as he argues for a “relational anthropology” from which flows the discovery of the importance of dialogue: it is in and through dialogue that the genesis, development and flourishing of human identity takes place. My own essay in this book, “Key Areas for Constructive Engagement: Solidarity, Community and Active Citizenship”, indicates the common ground that may be developed around these vital concepts between believers and secularists if we are to reach for success in the challenges we face. I argue that we need to develop a new public philosophy, based upon civic republicanism, and engage active citizens in inclusive dialogues between those from faith communities and secular perspectives in deliberative democracy forums, such as a network of local civic forums as we develop at state level new measures of well-being. The recent announcement by the government that it is preparing a New Framework of Well-Being to measure the performance of Irish society is welcome; I and many others have argued for this over at least the last decade.
The sixth axiom in On the Significance of Religion states that a changing diplomatic culture requires the development of new frameworks of engagement. The book seeks to clarify some of the conditions under which a values-led dialogue inclusive of religious traditions and reflecting “the decency of ordinary people” can help to make multilateralism fit for purpose. The wise counsel it provides concerns how such frameworks may emerge in democratic societies and in the European Union. However, in terms of global politics we are now confronted by rising authoritarian governments and in particular Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China. Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia illustrates the political skulduggery and organised crime that feeds a ruthless Putin and it is obvious from Hong Kong that China is not going to join a liberal rules-based international order any time soon, as was hoped when it was welcomed into the world trading system in 2001. The new frameworks of engagement then apply to democracies and to the European Union while remaining open to engage with religious actors (such as the Orthodox churches) and with Chinese and other Asian religious and philosophical traditions in order to lay a better basis for a common understanding about the common good of all humanity than would otherwise exist. McDonagh et al are “thinking big in these dark times” and are right to do so as they seek “a civilizational change, an Axial Age for an interdependent world”. Their method is a multi-layered negotiating process or processes designed to accommodate what really matters to human beings – conscience-based arguments arising out of religion, human values, life-stances, and philosophical first principles.
Two key issues need to be addressed in building frameworks of engagement, as suggested. The first is the widespread use of what has been called “strategic lyin”’ – the telling of deliberate untruths as a political tactic as evidenced by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and the widespread campaigns of disinformation undermining truth, organized by Russia and other actors, which is so destructive of rational exchange. Boris Johnson has been described by Dominic Grieve as existing in a “vacuum of integrity” while Trump and Johnston as liars have been analysed in Peter Oborne’s The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism. It is important to be aware that “strategic lying” goes much further than being a matter of personal and public dishonesty: the strategy is deliberately employed to set the political agenda in a digital age as in the classic case of the £350 million a week on the Brexit bus lie. The purpose was to make the issue of the UK’s payments to the EU the most important issue in the campaign and it succeeded. As we observe with the Republican party supporters in the USA if the lie fits their worldview no amount of “fact-checking” or rebuttal will convince them it is not true. Indeed, rebuttal statements unintentionally amplify and thus inadvertently legitimate and give credibility to the “strategic lie”. Doctored video clips get viewed millions of times and have brought black arts to new levels. Democracies have not learned how to protect the quality and veracity of public communications in the public sphere dominated by digital platforms. Churches and other non-governmental organisations ought to be well-placed to address the “assault on truth” in public affairs by calling out lies and misinformation ‑ a role the British churches sadly failed to undertake in the Brexit referendum.
The second issue is the problem of religious fundamentalism, which is such a force in contemporary world religions: all religions appear to suffer from what has been called a “pandemic of fundamentalism and bigotry” in an important article by Monsignor Tomás Halik, a professor of philosophy and sociology of religion in Prague, entitled “The Revolution of Mercy and a New Ecumenism” in Studies Spring 2021. Halik makes the point that within Christian churches, such as Roman Catholicism, dialogue with those who espouse fundamentalism is not very fruitful or even possible ‑ but he finds “interreligious dialogue, and especially dialogue with educated and thoughtful people outside the church, so much easier than any communication with the people who combine religion with populist and nationalist efforts”. Correctly in my view, he calls for us to concentrate our energies “on deepening a fruitful ecumenism (sharing, synergy, and mutual enrichment) among thinking people, both believers and non-believers”. The drift in Poland and Hungary towards ‘illiberal democracy’ (the authoritarian state) is step by step eliminating the freedom and independence of the media, justice and universities and non-governmental organisations as religion is being used to serve right-wing populist authoritarian ends. It is all too clear that religions, from the USA to India, are being used to foster nationalism, xenophobia, racism and rising inequalities and discrimination. In history it is often a few lone prophetic religious leaders, rather than their institutional churches, that bring the required inspiration and values to bear on what appear to be unsolvable public conflicts: Martin Luther King and Archbishop Tutu are two examples of such contributions. New forms of engagement need to be alert to the dangers of relying only on defensive institutional churches ‑ such as the Orthodox church in Russia, which appears to be in bed with Putin ‑ for such prophetic leadership.
These are realities that must be faced when we aspire to build new forms of engagement and a moral climate of global human brotherhood and sisterhood and respect for the value of every human being in a sustainable and peaceful world. In fact, they underline the arguments made in On the Significance of Religion in Global Diplomacy: international bodies, such as the United Nations and its agencies, and the European Union, and democratic states need to be religiously literate and recognise the importance of religion for collective psychology and seek to draw upon the positive contributions, such as moral discernment and the human values common to the best thought, within all these faiths. McDonagh et al argue that interreligious dialogue can help prepare the way for a better style of global diplomacy and advocate that the form most suited to such dialogue is what is called “scriptural reasoning”: this is a process that encourages each tradition to look more deeply into its own deepest resources and written scriptures and builds relationships and trust. It enables its practitioners to look together at contemporary challenges, including diplomatic and political challenges, with a view to new commitments and new forms of collaboration.
The process is described in Peter Ochs’s Religion without Violence: The Practice and Philosophy of Scriptural Reasoning and has been under way in small groups since the 1990s when Jews, Muslims and Christians practise together close and attentive reading of the sacred scriptures of Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions and this has seeded study-across-difference into an international movement, named Scriptural Reasoning. The book has a foreword from the distinguished Irish theologian David F Ford, who has been a leader in this key development. Ford co-edited in 2006 a valuable book entitled The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning with CC Pecknold and has written insightfully on Christian wisdom and inter-faith wisdom one of his major works, Christian Wisdom Desiring God and Learning in Love. Ford leads us to understand that Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church and that conversations around scripture need to be open to all people, religions, cultures, arts, disciplines, media and spheres of life: let us, he argues, “read for the sake of friendship with all”. Ford notes that secularised societies have generally failed to mobilise religious resources for public wisdom and for peace and that religions have often been defensively reactive or confrontational to secular policies. There is, however, another possibility: inclusive and mutually critical engagement aimed at transforming the public sphere for the better. One of the suggested “Rules for Scriptural Reasoning”, aimed at listening to the cries of a suffering world, is worth quoting:
Scriptural reasoning begins with the scriptural sense that the human world is broken, in exile, off the straight path, filled with corruption, sickness, war and genocide. Scriptural reasoning practitioners come together out of a sense of impoverishment, suffering, and conflict to seek resources for healing.
Jacques Delors, as EU Commission president, sought for religions to give “a soul to Europe”. Under Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, there is a legal basis for an open, regular, structured and transparent dialogue with churches, religious associations, philosophical and non-confessional organisations. This takes place at a high level with the EU Parliament, Commission and Council each year under guidelines published in 2013. The dialogues address topical and political topics on issues such as poverty, social exclusion, environment, human rights, migration, solidarity and the preparation of the six-monthly presidency programmes. The dialogue is inclusive of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahá’í and Humanist participants and other perspectives under a vice-president of the EU Parliament and a Commissioner. The ongoing dialogues indicate that the EU is far more than an economic organisation – it is fundamentally about values such as the common good, human rights, the rule of law and solidarity.
In Ireland, the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern sought to initiate a similar process in 2007 but “the structured dialogue” has lacked “structure” in that it has been not sustained on a regular, open and transparent basis. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, when meeting the pope in Ireland, spoke of “a new Covenant for the 21st Century” between church and state. On January 22nd, 2018 there was a meeting which I attended with leaders of the Christian churches – billed as under the church-state structured dialogue process ‑ to discuss migration, direct provision, overseas aid, Brexit, abortion, homelessness, social housing and education. Taoiseach Varadkar, in July 2019, organised in Dublin Castle what was framed as “a structured dialogue” on the lines of the EU model. This involved the Taoiseach and a wide range of ministers meeting with representatives of the churches, faith communities and other bodies such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association. I attended this meeting on behalf of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the agenda was a broad one covering public issues, with exchanges with Taoiseach and the ministers. The Taoiseach stated that in “a participatory democracy there is a need for regular dialogue with churches, faith communities and non-confessional organisations” as provided in the EU Treaty to promote a pluralist democratic society rather than one based on “absolute secularism”. In expectation of continual ongoing structured dialogues participants were invited to submit their views on how to develop the process. Since this initial meeting there has been no progress, or response to submitted views or even minutes of the meeting, underlining that such a process needs a legal basis and agreed guidelines as well as investment by all the participants in preparing for substantive discussions and progressing outcomes. The government has met with representatives of the Roman Catholic bishops twice during the Covid 19 crisis to discuss their concerns and has held one meeting with leaders of the Christian churches on April 15th, 2021 to discuss issues especially concerning peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. These meetings are a reversion to the more traditional engagements between the Christian churches and governments and fall far short of the new engagement promised by the meeting in Dublin Castle.
One thing is definite: there is much work for the new DCU Centre for Religion, Human Values and International Relations to undertake: at the launch we caught sight of a DCU slogan, “Global thinkers start here”, which is very apposite. Clearly the quality of the future of humankind is now at an existential tipping point. It is vitally important that the DCU Centre succeeds in helping the international community to address the complex and critical challenges we face globally by creating what Pope Francis has called “a culture of encounter”. The centre must develop great public awareness of what is at stake as it challenges both public authorities to create new permanent forms of engagement and our churches and faith communities to develop public theologies which express values and ethics in the context of the political, social, economic and environmental realities of life in the world. Churches would do well to read Rev Johnston McMaster’s Doing Public Theology: An Introduction and his Doing G-O-D in Public: The Practice of Public Theology as short primers of what is required.
The evidence to date of the value of our state’s dialogue with the churches and faith communities in Ireland, as initiated by the then taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has been unimpressive on both sides and needs to be revived and reformed as well as sustained as a multi-stranded permanent process which involves investment on all sides. I have only been able to trace one valuable analysis of the initiative as indicated by Bertie Ahern when taoiseach, that by Kenneth Houston of the University of Ulster in his article “Formalised Church-State Dialogue in Ireland: A Critique of Concept” in The Irish Journal of Public Policy in 2011. Hopefully, the new centre will assist in Ireland setting a headline in new forms of engagement by academic scrutiny and advocacy of how to develop open and sustained dialogues at national and local levels. The dialogues initiated by government concerning a “shared island” have the potential to be rich and fruitful in this regard.
There is much to build on in the European Union and the current process of dialogue of “the future of Europe” which is to run until 2022, if well-developed, ought to result in new forms of engagement concerning values which citizens espouse. Hopefully, these will be informed by the new DCU centre among other thought leaders. As McDonagh et al argue, no region is better placed than Europe to develop new forms of diplomatic engagement inspired by religion and human values and they propose what they call “an agora for Europe” ‑ a place to take the pulse of the people ‑ what President Higgins calls “the European Street”. In 2017 UN secretary general António Guterres launched a Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors which involves a world forum of religions and beliefs that would bring together equal representation of religious leaders and actors, policy-makers, educators and media personnel from all world regions to deliberate on the role of religion in enhancing peaceful, inclusive and just societies. The forum would have regional hubs.
There is clearly a growing awareness of the need to harness positively the values and wisdom which are inherent in the best spiritual and religious tenets and thought. The challenge is to design forms of engagement which will be effective and to do so within the urgent timescale set by the climate crisis: if the challenge is successfully met then the “great inflection point” will lead to a new “global age of sharing” as humankind enters an era characterised by peace, solidarity with the poor, and economic sustainability.
Dr Fergus O’Ferrall is an author and historian, lay leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland 2016-18, and a contributor of essays to the Dublin Review of Books among other journals.