AFDD Aims for Change Through Exploration of Many Religious Perspectives 

 

The Asia Faiths Development Dialogue, in its second year, brought together people from different religious faiths and different professions from different parts (too many different) of the world in one to share a ideas about how common discussion among people with varying beliefs can achieve peace, cooperation and harmony in Asia and today's world.

 

This year’s conference entitled “Building Peace, Cooperation and Harmony Through Inter-Faiths Dialogue” took place on October 17 and built upon the AFDD’s first conference held in December 2006 by adding in the concept of cooperation.

 

“This dialogue is needed because, despite countless intersections, the worlds do not meet comfortably and we are still groping to find bridges,” said Katherine Marshall, who is involved in the World Faiths Development Dialogue and served as former adviser to the World Bank president, in her keynote remarks. “The vocabulary, the images and stories, and the intellectual constructs of different worlds, can be very discordant and seem far removed.  But in reality they overlap and are intertwined.”

 

The conference addressed this issue of cooperation – or as Marshall put it, “building bridges” – as well as the ideas of peace and harmony in three plenary sessions. The first looked at Cambodian perspectives, the second took a regional and international point of view, while the third explored what inter-faiths dialogue will lead to in the future. 

 

Representatives of Cambodian Islamic, Protestant and Buddhist faiths in the first session all highlighted education as the most important means of promoting peace, cooperation and harmony among the different religious sects.  

 

The panelists of the second session reiterated the need for education and called for religious leaders to disseminate ideas of peace and cooperation among their followers. At the heart of this, said Jose de Venecia, Jr., is the need for people with different ideas to begin talking to one another.

 

“There cannot be peace among nations unless there’s peace among religions. There cannot be peace among religions unless there’s dialogue,” he said. 

 

In the third session, the panelists took different perspectives on how to take the efforts of the AFDD in a forward moving direction in resolving world conflicts. Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State to the Ministry of Interior, pointed out that people can use their similarities to understand their differences, while Tepsakha Khi Sovanratana, Vice Director at Preah Sihanuraja University, pointed out that Buddhists believe that world peace cannot be achieved without peace within individuals. 

 

Overall, the panelists had a common consensus that the diversity of faiths and cultures need to be preserved and valued, especially in the changing landscape of the 21st century. As Marshall mentioned, the inter-faiths movement is becoming a global trend seen on the regional, national and international levels. 

 

“The modern interfaith movement largely reflects changes linked to modernization and globalization,” she said. “First, one’s religion today, in most modern societies, is not a simple given, an inherited identity, and second, religions are far more intertwined today, with different groups living together all over the world, than they generally were in the past.  Thus, a product of modernization is the emergence of plural societies and interfaith work is one avenue to address the implications of this vast social change.”

 

The goal of AFDD is to bring that global movement to a more regional level in Asia. 

 

“We hope that it will be an additional tool and provide a different perspective using faith based understanding to help develop a culture of peace,” coordinator Bandol Lim said. 

 

According to Samrang Kamsan, moderator of session one of this forum for dialogue, peace and development are directly linked.

 

“Without peace, there is no development,” he said. “We would like to ask interfaith groups to educate about peace to work toward harmony in society so we have no more conflicts.”

 

The AFDD will convene in a third conference, but that date has yet to be determined.