Religious identities : For better or for worse?

An interreligious encounter in Geneva
12-14 November 2005



"An end to tolerance?"

How does one best to come to terms with a society of religious and cultural diversity?

This colloquium will enable a meeting of minds, where the discussion focuses on :

1. Experiences of living as a minority with a different cultural or religious background;
2. Experiences of difficulties in how the majority lives with a minority;
3. Attempts towards developing a process to address living together in diversity in a constructive way.

The theme 'An end to tolerance ?' has been chosen because it would help us to take a closer look at the concept of 'tolerance' itself, and would open up many dimensions of relationships of living in pluralist societies especially as minority and majority communities. Some points to illustrate various dimensions of the reality behind tolerance:

1. The minority feels marginalized and at the mercy of the majority. There is a sense of not really being welcome but at the most tolerated in society. One is thrown back at one’s real community (religious, ethnic, racial, cultural). It is here one seeks the safety net needed for dignity. There is no integration. Tolerance is not enough.

2. Among those in majority, in power or in authority, there are many who say that the problem plural society faces is the reward for having been too lax and tolerant. All and everyone have been accepted. Too many have been allowed to enter. The end result is a ghettoization or the development of parallel societies in society, suspicion, stereotyping, and xenophobia. There is a call for an end to tolerance. More restrictions in immigration and refugee policy are seen as the panacea. Integration of the foreigner or stranger is understood as obligations to adjust to the majority culture and religion.

3. Today we need to go beyond tolerance, because today tolerance is mostly understood as non-interference. We need to move towards positive respect. We need to create space for the integrity of the other, while ensuring a living together and a sharing of responsibilities. We need to find a new concept of society, where plurality is affirmed, where we do not look upon minority - majority as the defining category of society, where the minority status depends on the benevolence of the majority. What does co-citizenship mean?

4. Can we re-imagine and rethink a society that is able to cope constructively with religious and cultural plurality? In such a process, there are some questions to be addressed

  • We often look upon the religious and cultural world brought by the refugee, immigrant, and migrant worker without making sense of the complexity, changeability and transience of our own religious and cultural landscape.
  • Who owns the public space?
  • In re-imagining and rethinking a society that needs to be truly plural, can we speak of a common universe of discourse? Are concepts such as truth, freedom, justice, prudence, order, law, authority, power, knowledge, certainty, unity, peace, virtue, morality, religion, God, the human being, etc., robust enough to build the truly interreligious and intercultural society?
  • What would it take to open a process of conversation towards a spiritual and social covenant between people of different faiths in the construction of a new society?
Samuel Kobia
9h30-10h30 ADDRESSES
« How much tolerance do we need?»
« How much tolerance can we stand?»

Rita Gross
Kechat Larbi
Jean-Nicolas Bitter
10h30-11h Break  
11h-12h30 PANELS
Case studies : "Experiences of being tolerated or being at the mercy of the other"
Case studies : "The difficulty with parallel societies"

Alya Adi
Mahinda Deegalle
Shafiq Keshavjee
R.P. Dominique Peccoud

12h30-14h00 Lunch  
« The opposite of intolerance is not tolerance but respect»
Ravin Ramdass
Jean-Daniel Strub
Claus Jungkunz
15h30-16h00 Break  
16h-17h15 ADDRESSES
« Who owns the public space?»
« Do we have a common universe of discourse?»
« Towards a social and spiritual covenant»
Rashied Omar
Anant Rambachan
17h15-17h30 CONCLUSION Hans Ucko