Theme of youth features at interreligious Congress
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — For growing populations of youth across the planet to become constructive participants in the life of society and contributors to social progress, a fundamental shift in thinking is required about the role of religion in society.
This was one of the main points made by the Baha'i International Community delegation to the 5th World Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held in Kazakhstan on 10-11 June.
This year's Congress, chaired by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had 80 delegates representing some ten religions and over forty countries. Among those who attended were Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The Baha'i International Community was represented by Joshua Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Baha'i International Community, Serik Tokbolat from the Baha'i International Community Office at the United Nations, and Lyazzat Yangaliyeva, the Director of the Office of Public Information for the Baha'is of Kazakhstan.
The focus of the Congress was dialogue among religions, and between religions and leaders of thought and government. Reflecting on the Congress, Ms. Yangaliyeva commented that the striking diversity of faiths present brought into sharp focus the challenge and necessity of cooperation among them if humanity is to build a more peaceful world.
On a panel discussion titled "The Influence of Religion on Youth: Education, Science, Culture, and Mass Media", Mr. Lincoln spoke about positive social change, young people, and the role of religion.
"Religious communities are communities of practice where spiritual teachings are translated into social reality," he stated. "Within them, a process of capacity building that enables young people to participate in the transformation of society, and protects and nurtures them, can be set in motion."
In his comments, Mr. Lincoln also spoke about the contrasting images that have come to define youth in popular thought. Although vulnerable to radicalization on one extreme and apathy and inertia on the other, his remarks highlighted the promise that lies in the young generations.
"Young people can see the contradictions in this world," said Mr. Lincoln. "We know that youth have an acute sense of justice, a yearning for meaning and purpose, a desire to serve and contribute meaningfully, a thirst for knowledge and an innate attraction to what is good and beautiful.
"These characteristics are intrinsic, though they may remain latent and dormant in whole populations when the education and moral empowerment of youth is neglected."
For religion to play a positive role, its leadership must, however, "scrutinize the orientation that has become deeply embedded in so many communities toward the 'other', and challenge the pervasive and harmful claims of privileged access to truth that have fueled some of the most bitter conflicts in the world."
Religious extremism and religious co-existence were some of the other issues discussed at the Congress.
Convened every three years, the Congress is an initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Its Secretariat is headed by the President of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The next Congress will be held in 2018.