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Recognised, Studied and Put to Good Use: Religious Actors in Global Affairs

While international institutions acknowledge religious actors in state affairs, research institutes and universities focus on the role of religion and religious actors in many disciplines.
Political scientists, representatives from multilateral entities, and religious actors discuss engagement in global affairs on June 10, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. Pictured (from L to R) Fadi Daou, Fabian Winiger, Iyad Abu Moghli, Khushwant Singh, Michael Wiener, Safak Pavey, and on-screen Ibrahim Salama. ©PaRD/Khushwant Singh

On June 9-10, 2022, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Geneva hosted the conference Religious Engagement in Global Affairs and examined where key concepts in political and religious studies overlap.

Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, spoke about how religious actors make up the largest part of civil society. Yet, in government consultations, their role and impact are routinely overlooked. For Karam, who is also a member of the Advisory Board for Multilateralism to the Secretary General of the United Nations, “religious actors are essential to working for peace.”

Shift in Focus 

While multi- and interfaith dialogue is nothing new, with the World Parliament of Religions celebrating a centennial in 1993, how religion and religious actors are considered in world affairs is substantially changing. A shift is taking place from general reluctance and focus on conflicts fueled by the misuse of religion to relying on evidence-based research showing the effectiveness of religious actors in international development, for example.

With a growing body of supporting evidence, religious actors can now also ask for critical examinations of why so little is invested in relevant initiatives that make essential contributions.

Panellists: Religion Matters! – Especially in International Cooperation

At the conference session Experiences, Principles, and Conditions of Success of Civil-Religious Multilateral Engagement in Global Affairs, the United Nations’ Ibrahim Salama, Chief of Human Rights Treaties Branch and UNHCR Partnerships with Faith-Based Organisations and Faith Actors, and Safak Pavey, Senior Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees both spoke positively about the religion and international cooperation. They stressed the good progress made in this field.

During the same session, Iyad Abu Mogli from UNEP Faith for Earth Initiative and Khushwant Singh, Head of Secretariate from the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD), emphasised the role of ethics and values for the much-needed behavioral change to reach the SDGs. The panellists also highlighted the need to include more young civil society actors, seeing religions as having clear responsibility for both issues.

The organisers of the Religious Engagement in Global Affairs conference, including Dr. Fadi Daou, plan to publish the discussions and proceedings of the event to support research and raise public awareness of interreligious engagement’s conceptual and practical development for the good of humanity. The conference was organised in partnership with the European Academy on Religion and Society (EARS) and with the support of La Réforme Progressive.