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P. Åkerbäck: Address to the International Leadership Conference

Address to the UPF International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea, February 6-10, 2011

Dr. Peter Åkerbäck is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden. He teaches the psychology of religion and sociology of religion. His research is into religious minorities and their relation to society and spirituality, secularism and religious change in contemporary Sweden in comparison to other western countries.

I would like to address the importance of interfaith dialogue even where religion on the surface seems to have lost its place, using Sweden as an example.

Sweden is one of the world's most secularized countries, but this does not mean the Swedes are not interested in spiritual matter; on the contrary, most people have a strong belief in some form of abstract god or entity.

Sweden is also not separate from the world, and we are affected by global conflicts. Last December the first car bomb exploded in the Christmas rush of central Stockholm.

Fear struck at once, and many were quickly pointing to religious extremism and to Islam. We all know for a fact that this has nothing to do with the faith of Islam or its many adherents.  Still such events promote fear and hate.

Earlier in the autumn, Sweden's most extreme right-wing party was elected to the Swedish parliament — a political party with the agenda of stopping multicultural and multifaith activities.

At the opening of the parliament, when the bishop of Stockholm spoke of humanity, equal rights of all people, the representatives of the extreme right party stood up and left in protest.

From a Swedish perspective, now more than ever, it is clear that representatives and leaders from the different religious traditions must stand up and show a strong unity.

Looking globally — and I don't not need to remind anyone of the recent events in northern Africa — it is clear that politicians don't have the strength to solve  all the world's problems themselves.

Interfaith dialogue is important, but coming from a country where the religious traditions are in a process of transformation and where more and more people are becoming interested in what we could summarize as "spirituality," it is important that we do not limit our concept of what is a religious tradition.

Today, from a Scandinavian perspective, it is very important that we include as many religious people, spiritual seekers, or whatever they call themselves, as possible. Being religious today takes many expressions, and I think it is important that as many as possible are included. The more who are included, the better the result, I think.

We must not fail here, and the responsibility of the religious leaders is great.