News / Reflections on dilemmas in Interfaith and Human Rights

Reflections on dilemmas in Interfaith and Human Rights



24 / 02 / 21

By Josh Cass, F&BF Development & Fundraising Manger 

There is a dilemma which runs through at least some interfaith programming, it has echoes in the rather British sensibility of “not talking politics or religion at the table”. It recalls too the now infamous remarks by Tony Blair’s Advisor, Alistair Campbell, who said, “We don’t do god” when the former Prime Minister was asked about his faith. That sense of unease is not unique to the British nor to Prime Ministerial advisors; I have seen this same tension creep in when working with people from around the world. Put simply, religion is a subject which for many people is a challenge to talk about.

So for interfaith, the dilemma is, should one facilitate a process where discussion of how religion shapes one’s life is transparently the primary activity? The risk being that in doing so those who struggle to talk about questions of belief (or those who do not see it as a subject of priority) are alienated. Or should one facilitate a process which by design encourages participation by a wider range of people, and which only begins to explore questions of faith and belief once relationships have been established? Interfaith by the backdoor, some might say.

At this point, some readers might (justifiably) ask: “So what? It doesn’t really sound like there is much at stake here.” And perhaps that is true. After all, if someone takes part in an activity which they are happy to be part of, and, which in addition to getting from it whatever it was that they wanted, they also happen to deepen their understanding of someone from a different background to their own, is that really a problem?

The issue though, indeed, the ethical, possibly moral issue, comes in when we start to think about the intentionality of the process and particularly what the funder is seeking to achieve. Who would argue about a process which placed equal emphasis on participants regardless of background if that process surreptitiously strengthened links between individuals? On the other hand, we might raise concerns about a process which on the face of it was promoted as being about broad engagement but which was funded on the basis that it disproportionately targeted one demographic only. Of course, there are ways in which these kinds of concerns can be addressed. More often than not such strategies require time and resource, to build the trust and understanding between all stakeholders: specifically, the potential beneficiaries, the project staff, and, critically, the funders. In building trust, transparency is vital.

I was thinking about this tension as I recently chaired a discussion for the Faith and Belief Forum on the question of Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) in Practice. Time and again during the presentations and break out room discussions, participants reflected on the tensions in their work to promote and protect this particular Human Right. Given that attendees chose to be part of the conversation, there was general agreement as to the need for effective interventions in the FoRB space. However, it was hard to miss the strong current within the discussion which focused on the challenge of delivering work explicitly under a FoRB label. Participants reflected that for some beneficiaries of potential interventions religion was not a priority and thus potentially alienating, others shared that FoRB interventions labeled as such could be perceived as subversive by the state and individuals who identified strongly with the state. In other words, there was a group of attendees who were worried about labelling their work as FoRB despite the fact that there was a strong need for the intervention. There was also another group, well represented in the conversation, who took the opposite position, and felt that it was important to make use of the FoRB label, and also that it had advantages, for instance, that it enabled them to build international coalitions and solidarity around the issue.

Those readers who have got this far and are hoping that I am about to provide answers are in for a disappointment! (Though I suspect that investing in relationship and trust building is somewhere at the heart of this.) For me, what was interesting was to see more clearly was how similar many of the challenges faced by those working in the interfaith space and the FoRB space truly are.

I would love to hear what you think! Email me at josh@faithbeliefforum.org

This blog was originally posted in www.fromdollisbrooktodoha.wordpress.com

Related news

Subscribe to our mailing list

    We will add your details to our mailing list for the latest news, events and opportunities, including details of how to support us. You can opt out at any time. Your details are safe with us. We will never share them with anyone else. Check out our Privacy Policy.