Religious leaders from around the world gathered in St Andrews on 23 September to sign the “Declaration on a Shared Humanity.”
The event was attended by senior members of the Christian Churches and the Catholic Church, members of the Hindu community from the UK and India, leaders of the UK Jewish community, senior Buddhist monks and the representative of the Dalai Lama.
The 130-strong religious delegation from 19 countries was joined by 32 school pupils from Fife in the signing of the St Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity.
The 11-point Declaration, written by St Andrews Professor of Divinity Mario Aguilar, incorporates the teachings of different faiths and embraces the basic principles of “humanity, equality, diversity and freedom.”
It is hoped that the document will be used in schools, and by community and faith groups around the world, to form discussion and foster the idea of a common humanity as a tool against radicalisation.
Professor Aguilar, Director of the University’s Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP), said: “This is a momentous occasion in which a group of religious leaders, members of faith communities as well as the young declare the possibilities of a shared humanity. They declare that religion is not a problem for society, but that it is the solution to isolate those who have been radicalised and do not contribute to the cooperation within society expected by faith communities.
“The St Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity is a particular contribution arising out of inter-faith initiatives and interreligious dialogue promoted by the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics of the University of St Andrews.”
“Those coming to sign have generously responded to an initiative that was born within the University of St Andrews and that will continue with further dialogue and academic cooperation with other academics and faith leaders in India, North and South America, and Africa.”
In a further comment to The Saint, he said, “It is important to the University because the basis of every university is to discuss ideas and to discuss society.
“Inter-faith dialogue happens every day, but it is simply that the University has taken the declaration as one of its historical moments.”
The signing event formed the beginning of the conference ‘Silence, Texts and Service: Towards a Christian, Hindu and Buddhist Dialogue’, a three-day series of special events, prayers and lectures at St Andrews.
Attendees included Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr (Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland), Abbot Lama Yeshe Rinpoche (Abbot of the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre in Scotland), Professor Pascal Fournier (University of Ottowa), Bishop Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger (Austria) and Ramesh Babu (Director of the Cascade Centre for Education in Amritsar, India).
Also present was a survivor of the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway, Lisa Marie Husby – currently a first year management student at St Andrews – who read a poem written by the survivors.[pullquote]The Declaration will also be signed by the University’s Master, Professor Garry Taylor, local school teachers and a dozen St Andrews graduates now active in the field of inter-faith dialogue.[/pullquote]
Speaking to The Saint Ms Husby said, “I read about the conference online after my friends told me about it and then I read the 11-point Declaration and it really spoke to me. The terror attack was on our youth organisation of the Labour party and the Declaration really sums up everything we stand for when it comes to being accepting of other religions, multiculturalism and after reading the Declaration this was something I want to be a part of and attend.
Ms Husby went on to describe the origins of the poem she had recited, “After a lot of the people who were injured had their testimonies in court, the poem was from a poet who wrote about everything he heard in the court and really sums up what he thought it was that the victims said, that they would keep fighting what they believe in and keep fighting for a more accepting and open community.”
She added, “It’s a very broad history in St Andrews and I think it’s a very open university, I mean you have 150 different parts of the world represented, I think it’s the perfect place to sign a declaration like this, with people from different backgrounds and religions.”
The Declaration will also be signed by the University’s Master, Professor Garry Taylor, local school teachers and a dozen St Andrews graduates now active in the field of inter-faith dialogue.
Stephen Gethins, the Member of Parliament for North East Fife also attended and signed the declaration.Speaking to The Saint, he said, “I started my week in Srebrenica, the scene of the worst act of genocide seen on European soil since the Second World War, and what that reminds us is that events like today are when we remember our common humanity is more important than ever before.
“Srebrenica took place in a European country and the resemblances between that and the ongoing conflict in Syria are striking, so events like today remind us that we all have a responsibility to respect one another and think about each other’s views, and this is a fantastic initiative by Professor Aguilar.”
“I sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee and what we need to do is bring people together and talk, the act of state-building, the act of peace-building and the act of inter-faith dialogue is not a short term one but a long term one and an ongoing one, and that’s something that in my role as an MP that I would always want to be involved in.”
The event marks the culmination of the Year of Interfaith Dialogue, an initiative set up by Professor Aguilar to stimulate conversation about the commonalities between the different faiths of the world.
The Year of Interfaith Dialogue was launched in September 2015 with two public events delivered by the Dalai Lama in London and Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi.