April 2019
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L. Gabriel: The Key to Unity of Religions Is Diversity

There is no doubt about the importance of the proposal to create an interreligious or interfaith council in the framework of the UN. Being a social and political anthropologist with lifelong experiences in Latin America, where I have access to many governments (Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador) and many civil-society networks in my capacity a member of the International Council of the World Social Forum, I want to share with the UPF community the following reflections.

Since the proposed council is not conceived as a direct instrument of the Nation-States and their hierarchical structure but more on the level of global cultures of which religious believers are key constituents, we should try to avoid from the very beginning any quarrel between governments and religious institutions. In other words, the dynamics for the creation of such a Council should be bottom-up and not top-down, reflecting the enormous diversity of religions and peoples involved.

a) On the level of religions there should be an implicit recognition of the diversity of currents not only among the different religious institutions but also within these institutions. Even major religions such as Islam and the Roman Catholic Church are very diverse, perhaps not in their goals but certainly in their methodologies and religious practices. Therefore, an interreligious council should from the very beginning reflect this diversity of currents. Grass-roots relationships are often less conflicted than the insitutional hierarchies of the different religions.

b) Representation on the council should reflect not so much the political framework of Nation-States, where issues of hegemony between larger and smaller States will occur, but center instead on the diversity of people. This recognition of the diversity of people should help prevent discrimination against ethnic and cultural minorities.

c)  The decision-making process the Council should reflect the wisdom of indigenous peoples, for whom consensus is more important than majority rule, in which minority concerns are overruled. Of couse this would imply a longer discussion process, but global civil society organizations and networks have developed procedures which can prevent participants from blocking the dynamics of decision making.

All of these suggestions should be considered as an input for the creation of an inerreligious council that could reflect the diversity of religious families under one God.

Dr. Leo Gabriel, from Vienna, Austria, is a social anthropologist and journalist, UPF Ambassador for Peace, and a Member of the International Council of the World Social Forum.