We are living in a moment in history where people, economies and governments are connected on an unprecedented global scale; what is popularly understood as globalisation. Although these global connections were at first experienced with enthusiasm and optimism, the last few years have brought a rise of extremist ideas and movements that threaten the peaceful coexistence among different cultures. Political leaders have arrived, such as Donald Trump and Marine le Pen, who defend old ideas of nationalism and promote a xenophobic discourse based on the strengthening of national frontiers. In the UK, since the Brexit campaign in 2016, far-right groups have been growing and hate crime has been experiencing a rising trend, with 94,098 crimes recorded in 2017/18.
Given this disturbing sequence of events, we need to promote movements and actions that can improve cooperation between different cultures and religions. The interreligious dialogue, that is; all constructive interactions between people of different spiritual beliefs, plays a vital role nowadays to encourage a greater understanding between the different faiths, helping to prevent extremism and intolerance. Interfaith cooperation has existed since the founding moments of religions themselves, with examples of cooperation and mutual understanding between faiths being common throughout history.
However, if interreligious dialogue is to have a profound impact in society, one huge gap needs to be addressed: the enormous underrepresentation of women within its formal levels. It is a fact that very few women are found in leadership positions within their respective faith. However, women have contributed enormously to this dialogue at the grassroots level, and have emerged as leaders in many local conflict resolution and mediation processes. One main example was during the Holocaust in Germany, where many Christian and Jewish women started creating religious support networks to help those who were most in need.
Interfaith women’s groups have been very common worldwide, representing an empowering space for religious women to share their experiences of oppression and resistance, and at the same time contribute to a deeper understanding of each other’s beliefs. These groups have on many occasions been of great importance in conflict-settings; building peace through dialogue. Such was the case in Liberia, where Muslim and Christian women were decisive actors in ending conflict and bringing forward a new peaceful country.
Given this experience and success within the interreligious dialogue, it was about time that women started being included at the formal and institutional levels. One of the principal spaces of reunion for interreligious practitioners is the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which was first held in 1893 to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities. However, it was not until 2015 that the Parliament focused on gender equality in the interfaith movement. That year, a Women Task Force was created to advocate for greater representation of women within the global interreligious dialogue and to encourage the empowerment of women within the different faiths. Although this task force was recognised as an important starting point for women’s inclusion, there is still so much work to be done to amplify grassroots leaders and formalise their voices within established institutions.
At JAN Trust, we believe that respect and mutual understanding are key values to encourage peaceful environments for different cultures to live together. That is why we encourage interreligious conversations and have supported local interfaith initiatives, such as the Faith and Future project, that brought together women from the Abrahamic faiths to discuss their religions, beliefs and shared values. JAN Trust recognises faith as a supportive social force that has the potential of improving social cohesion and inclusion.
If you want to know more about what we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.