In Morocco, symposium explores religion, spirituality and education

March 2, 2012

MARRAKECH, Morocco — What is spirituality? How can religious education encourage it? And what role do both religion and spirituality play in fostering human well-being?

Those were among the questions considered by educators, academics and theologians from the world's religions – including the Baha'i Faith – at the "International Symposium on Religion, Spirituality, and Education for Human Flourishing," held here 24-26 February.

The event – co-convened by the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace (GHFP) and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations – encouraged discussion about how young people can be better educated about religion and spirituality, in order to address such present-day issues as economic injustice and environmental degradation.

"The world today is facing a series of unprecedented challenges," said Scherto Gill, secretary general of GHFP and convener of the symposium. "At the same time, we are also faced with tremendous opportunities, where humans can unite and live together in global solidarity with each other, within a greater global community that works towards the common good."

To meet such challenges and maximize opportunities, she said, the world needs to redefine its concept of "human flourishing" away from a purely economic growth model to one that includes concepts of justice, spirituality and an understanding of wider community.

"Meaning, connectedness, and moral ethics are derived from the spiritual dimension of being human," said Dr. Gill. "So there is a pressing need to educate in order to develop a deeper awareness of the spiritual dimensions of our lives."

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Participants from the world's religions – including the Baha'i Faith – attended the "International Symposium on Religion, Spirituality, and Education for Human Flourishing," held in Marrakech, 24-26 February 2012.

Participants described the symposium as thought-provoking and inspiring. Among them, Jocelyn Armstrong – a New Zealand-based educator – said it helped her to understand the importance of taking a holistic approach to religious education.

"You can discuss issues like honesty and integrity in the classroom, and then look at how religions encourage those virtues," she said, "or how religions value the environment."

Diane Evans, a chaplain at Hereford Sixth Form College in the United Kingdom, said correct knowledge is often lacking about religious beliefs. "The more we can come together to talk about how to improve religious education, the more we can hopefully put into place programs that can eradicate a lot of the tensions," she said.

The deliberations were inspired by 20 papers submitted by the participants, including a working document from the Baha'i International Community (BIC) which explored how concepts of religion and "human flourishing" can be better integrated into education.

"This led to a discussion about the difference between religious education and spiritual education," said BIC representative, Ming Hwee Chong.

"It is only through education," he said, "that the latent potential of every human being can develop, be expressed, and ultimately serve to benefit the individual and his or her community."