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UN experts set out importance of ‘faith literacy’

Published: 10 May 2024 at 09:30

Holding hands

ARU hosts discussion event on promoting tolerance and respect in times of crisis

Human rights experts from the United Nations (UN) discussed the importance of promoting understanding and respect during times of conflict during an event in Cambridge.

Organised by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and Bridging Spiritual Cultures, the Faith, Rights & Community Building in Times of Crisis event brought together UN representatives, academics, young people and charities to take part in panel discussions about building bridges between local communities during a time of rising tensions in the Middle East.

At the heart of the discussion was the UN’s Faith For Rights framework, which sets out guidance to Governments, civil society organisations and religious groups on how to allow individual and collective beliefs to flourish through the protection of human rights. It consists of 18 commitments, including standing up for the rights of minorities and preventing the use of the idea of ‘state religion’ to discriminate against any individual or group.

Speakers included Dr Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch at the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who also leads the UN’s Faith for Rights framework. The framework includes encouraging ‘faith literacy’, which is understanding and respecting other religious perspectives.

Dr Salama said:

“The Faith for Rights commUNity of practices illustrates many examples that can guide efforts to promote more collaboration between people of different faiths and backgrounds.”

Also on the panel was Dr Michael Wiener, who has been working since 2006 at the OHCHR. He was also part of the core team organising expert workshops that led to the adoption of the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Since 2017, he has been working on the design and implementation of the 18 commitments on Faith for Rights.

Arts-based activities formed part of the day, with professional artists, musicians, photographers and a narrative story-teller working with ARU students, who were supported by their lecturers to contribute to the event through interactive creative sessions.  It is hoped the event will unearth new potential research collaborations and inform projects undertaken by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and academic partners.

Margaret Greenfields, Professor of Social Policy at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“We were delighted to welcome expert speakers from the United Nations alongside our network of community, faith and partner academic institutions, as we collaborate to engage with this incredibly important subject. 

“Inter-faith conflicts resonate across the world and it is vital that we work to find the most effective ways to promote tolerance and understanding within and across all communities to promote understanding, dialogue and peace here in the UK and internationally.”

Dr Siobhan Bygate, who is a founding member of the Bridging Spiritual Cultures charity and has worked in academia and the heritage and community sectors for over 30 years, co-organised the event.

Dr Bygate, who teaches Politics and International Relations at the University of Hertfordshire, said:

“In times of crisis and global insecurity, we need to work hard to maintain and indeed improve our safe and inclusive communities at home. This initiative was all about creating and maintaining the space for challenging conversations within a safe space, ensuring people of all different faiths and no faith, of different ethnicities and diverse affiliations are heard and understood within a mutually kind and caring environment. It is all about building the sinews of peace for the future.”