Revisiting religion post-9/11
World congress to examine place of faith in a world transformed.
World congress to examine place of faith in a world transformed
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the recent escalation of religious conflict around the world have tainted the public's perception of religion, says a McGill professor who believes he has found an antidote.
"Religion has acquired a negative connotation," says Arvind Sharma, the Birks professor of comparative religion at McGill's Faculty of Religious Studies. "It's unfortunate because religion is a force in human affairs, but it can be a force for good or for evil. Like fire, it can cook your food or burn down your house."
Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe religion plays at least some role in most global wars and conflict, according to a 2005 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, a U.S.-based independent public-opinion research group. That's up from 65 percent of Americans responding to the same question a few months after 9/11.
From the Troubles in Northern Ireland to the Tamil secessionist movement in Sri Lanka, power struggles fought in the name of faith have always been a familiar, if sometimes distant, fact of life. Now that religious conflict dominates headlines like never before, and more and more people feel personally affected, Prof. Sharma felt the time was right to organize World's Religions after September 11: A Global Congress, taking place Sept. 11-15 at the Montreal Convention Centre.
With close to 20 guest speakers and panelists as well as some 700 delegates of all faiths, the congress is meant to foster interfaith debate about the role of religion in today's society and, ultimately, to adopt a United Nations-style Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's Religions.
"The UN adopted its Declaration of Human Rights after World War II as a reaction to extremist secular movements such as Marxism, fascism and imperialism, but they were late," said Prof. Sharma. "Today, religious extremism is on the rise, so we can catch it early by adopting a Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's Religions as quickly as possible."
Though he acknowledges such a declaration is unlikely to "solve the world's problems," he believes it's a step in the right direction. "Terrorists will dismiss it, but if the different religions start to talk about human rights, the moderates can go back and exert influence within their own religions."
Topics to be discussed during the congress include the place of religion in war and peace, the relationship between religion and science and the depiction of religion in the media. Guest speakers and panelists include iconic spiritualist and author Deepak Chopra and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.
On the Web:
www.worldsreligionsafter911.com (Media accreditation forms are available by clicking on "Media Zone")