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Youth UPF

Vienna Youth Forum: A New Religious Pluralism?

Vienna, Austria - In advance of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Youth Forum Vienna which will take place in February 2013, the UPF Youth Committee of Austria hosted the first of three events on November 20 with the title: “Towards a new religious pluralism?” addressing one of the UN Alliance of Civilizations forum topics. Around 30 people gathered to learn and discuss more about the topic.

After the MC, Eivinia Ziziunaite, opened with some warm and welcoming words, Bogdan Pammer gave a short introduction on the UN Alliance of Civilizations Vienna Youth Forum. Key concepts such as ‘responsible leadership’ and ‘education on religions and beliefs’ were mentioned.

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The first speaker, Billy Batware, President of United for Education and Sustainable Futures, addressed the question “Diversity of Religious Thought: The Role of Education" and greatly emphasized the importance of respect and recognition of other beliefs. Further, he pointed out the importance of formal and informal education in a multicultural society. On the one hand, schools should provide inclusive education on different traditions of faith, but governments also play an important role in promoting religious diversity and allowing space for religion and worship.

The second speaker, Karim Riehan, a law student, approached the issue from the emotional side, emphasizing that every human being yearns for a peaceful world. Religion plays an important role in society as it forms people’s opinions and values as well as promoting advancements through various cultures and traditions. He also mentioned “the golden age of Andalusia” as an example of Christians, Muslims, and Jews living together in Spain, practicing an interreligious lifestyle through acts such as celebrating holidays together and a humanitarian outlook.

Last but not least, Ewald Schenkermayr, an aspiring teacher, gave further definitions of terms such as religious pluralism, recognizing that religion is not only a system of thought but also a community. He addressed the importance of education. Education and character training start at home, and the common base for every educational step should be the interaction between parents, teachers, and students. Furthermore, he addressed the need for a council of religious leaders connected to the United Nations, a place where conflicts can be resolved through commonly shared values.

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 To conclude this part of the event, the audience was invited to ask questions to the keynote speakers.

After a short break, the forum continued with a world café discussion, out of which the following responses were compiled:

  • What does “responsible leadership” mean in the context of religious freedom?

Unfortunately we don’t see many responsible leaders in this world yet. On the one hand, religious leaders should come together for more interreligious dialogue and should be examples for their followers, while on the other hand, politicians should promote religious freedom; there should not be any discrimination against religions or minorities. Moreover, people concluded that responsible leadership starts with ourselves. Respect and acceptance towards others are prerequisites and should lead to interreligious dialogue in our communities and surrounding areas.

  • How can our society move towards religious pluralism?

As a whole, more dialogue is needed between people of different backgrounds. We should see everyone as a human being; therefore, it is sometimes better to set aside religious differences. Governments should provide platforms for exchange to promote religious pluralism. Moreover, the media play an important role, as they have a big impact on people’s opinions. Education and religious pluralism should also be part of the work place.

  • How can education promote religious pluralism?

In general, education on religious pluralism should be given in school and also at home; friendships with people from other faiths should be encouraged. Schools should teach the basic beliefs of every religion and common values shared between religions. It would be good to practice celebrating religious holidays and festivals together. Another idea would be to give the role of teaching about religion to an independent institution which teaches about all different religious and ethical systems.

  • How should religious pluralism be implemented?

Last but not least, religious pluralism should be implemented through open dialogue among religious leaders. Knowledge about the beliefs of various religions should be common, and people should share in each others' celebrations. Moreover, we should make efforts to meet with people of other faiths to break down barriers, through engaging in activities together such as sports, arts, or even praying together.

To sum up the discussion, each of the world café moderators highlighted the most important points contributed by participants. The active and lively participation of the audience made the event engaging and interactive.

See photos on facebook.

NOTE: In February 2013, 150 youth leaders from around the world will come to Vienna for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Vienna Youth Forum, which will address (1) the universal right to religious freedom and promoting a new religious pluralism through education; (2) media pluralism and the diversity of media content and their contribution to fostering public debate, democracy and awareness of diverse opinions; and (3) shaping a new narrative for migration, integration, and mobility in the global economy. These are the topics of the broader Alliance of Civilizations forum in Vienna on "Responsible Leadership in Diversity and Dialogue." The fact that 3,500 people applied for acceptance into this forum for 150 youth indicates a compelling interest in these issues.

For a report on the second forum, on the role of the media, click here.

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