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Religion in Public Life Discussion with Tony Blair, Charles Moore and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Tony Blair, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Charles Moore (from left to right).

from The Tony Blair Faith Foundation

What part should religion play in democratic society? How should democracy respond to the challenges – and protect the positive impact – that faith can bring?

The excitement in the air was palpable as three of the most dynamic figures in Britain took the stage to address these and many more questions about the role of religion in public life yesterday at the Central Hall Westminster in front of a packed house of 450 guests.

Highlights from the event with Tony Blair, Archbishop Rowan Williams and former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, included enthusiastic debate around the protection of religious minorities and free speech, contributions of faith communities to the global society, and confessions about how the media views religion.

Click here to watch the full discussion

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s: 2011-2012 Faiths Act Fellowship

Photography credit to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

The 2011-2012 Faith Acts Fellows

from The Tony Blair Faith Foundation

Those who seek to cause religious conflict are small in number but highly motivated, organized and funded. While there are billions of people who are engaged in their own faith tradition, many have not yet learned how to live or work together well with those of different traditions.

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation decided to tackle this challenge through organising a year-long Fellowship that brought together young people of different faiths to work toward better interfaith action. The Foundation selected 33 outstanding future leaders, who between July 2011 and June 2012, worked in interfaith pairs around the world.  They built understanding between different religious communities by mobilising them around the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular around malaria prevention.

The Fellows represented a diverse cross section of the faith traditions: 11 were Christian, 10 Muslim, 5 Jewish, 3 Hindu, 2 Buddhist, 1 Baha’i, 1 Sikh and 1 Quaker. Thirty of the Fellows were placed in multi-faith pairs in Canada, India, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Click here to read full article 

Why Inter-Faith Understanding Is More Important Than Ever in Leadership

Former Prime Minister of Britain and founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Tony Blair. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation promotes respect and understanding between the major religions and makes the case for faith as a force for good in the modern world. Faith is vitally important to hundreds of millions of people. But religious faith can also be used to divide. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is a response to these opportunities and challenges. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

by Tony Blair
from the Huffington Post

The Alpha Leadership conference taking place today in London is a reminder that despite all the negative news about religion, a different face of faith is visible and real the world over. The Alpha course on leadership, which was begun under Nicky Gumbel of the Holy Trinity Church in London, has been taken by 18 million people world-wide and is all about spreading a gospel of compassion and service to others. A similar message is given out from the remarkable Rick Warren’s church in Southern California where his congregation now numbers in excess of 100,000 people and his global reach extends to every nation on earth.

But such work is not confined to the Christian religion. There are extraordinary Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist organisations that do great work and show selfless sacrifice in some of the poorest and most forgotten parts of the world. 40% of the healthcare in Africa is delivered by Faith groups, notably the Catholic Church.

When we began the Tony Blair Faith Foundation four years ago, there was a lot of scepticism as to whether there really was any interest in inter-faith understanding. Weren’t religion and religious people bound to be introspective and uninterested in the faith of others? Today we are active in 20 countries, thousands of people take part in our programmes and we have volunteers in over 140 nations. The truth is that the numbers of people who have Faith is growing, such growth is not at all limited to the developing world and it is simply impossible to comprehend politics in certain parts of the world – e.g. the Middle East – without comprehending the importance of Faith.

Click here to read the full article

World Malaria Day is April 25th

Rachel Finn and Nina Pine, Faiths Act Fellows for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation

by Nina Pine and Rachel Finn, Faiths Act Fellows for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation

While the two of us have been planning the San Francisco CROP Hunger Walk as our World Malaria Day Event, often we are asked the question, “Why are you supporting malaria prevention efforts at a hunger walk?  Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

The fact of the matter is, however, that malaria and hunger are incredibly intertwined.  Just check out this video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GElrSm2hF2g] from one of our volunteers, who explains her own experience with malaria and why it’s such an important cause in the fight against extreme poverty as a whole.

Delivering food to a community in need is a noble act.  It is a life-saving act.  And yet unfortunately, it is not a sustainable act.  Extreme hunger worldwide is not caused by a lack of food, but rather, systemic social corruption and flawed distribution.  To change the narrative on hunger, we must change the systems of power and the societal structures in which communities live.  To do so is a daunting task, and incredibly complex.

Yet, one effective step we can tangibly make is on the issue of malaria.  Malaria is a disease of poverty – it has been eradicated in parts of the world with access to needed finances, such as here in California.  Malaria is both treatable and preventable.  And yet, a child still dies every 60 seconds from this deadly disease.  It is less a problem of complexity than a lack of resources.

Malaria prevention, elimination, and hopefully one day, eradication, are excellent goals in and of themselves. And yet, the ripple effect from treating it has far larger reaches.  It improves education, because children do not miss days of school due to severe illness.  It improves maternal health by significantly decreasing the number of deaths in pregnant women.  Perhaps most importantly, malaria elimination would drastically improve the situation of extreme hunger around the globe.  Individuals will not have to miss days of harvesting crops due to illness.  Families will not have to decide whether to spend their money on medicine for a sick child, or food for the rest.  Men, women, and children will have the strength they need to fight against the societal blockades keeping them impoverished.

We hope you’ll support us this World Malaria Day in taking a holistic approach to tackling extreme poverty, by recognizing the interconnectedness of problems around the world.  Please visit cropwalksf.org to learn more about our Walk and how to be a supporter.

Will you walk with us?

My Female Faith Hero: Ms. Fatuma Gebril

by Katie Taylor
from the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty.

Ms. Fatima Gerbil knows from personal experience the challenges children in her community face. As a child Fatuma became an orphan, and as she grew older, she began to understand more and more the personal burden carried by parentless children.

In 2003, she started the Community-Based Child Support Program, directed at both Christians and Muslims, in Bahirdar, Ethopia, which began with 87 children. Fatuma’s program focuses on educational and psychological support, as well as developing life- skills. An important part of her advocacy efforts is encouraging schools to provide financial support for orphaned children who cannot afford school fees. These include children who have lost one parent, those who have lost both parents, and those who are in living in great poverty. For children who have lost only one parent, Fatuma works to support that family financially and emotionally. For children who have lost both parents, they look for relatives, and support the family once the child is taken in.

What I find most inspirational about Fatuma‘s story was not only her passion for helping children in her community but how she is willing to try anything to improve the lives of these children. This includes leveraging religious leaders to support her cause, and she has an excellent working relationship with the imams as well as with other government and community leaders.

Fatuma also believes Imams can play a great role in eliminating harmful traditional practices such as child marriage. Imams are highly heard in the mosque. So if they speak out boldly on these harmful traditional practices, it will be easy to bring about the desired change.

Fatuma has become talented at leveraging religious institutions to support her initiatives. Thanks to her efforts, at the ritual Muslim engagement ceremony, it is now established practice for the couple to be asked, in private, if they love each other. The man will also be asked if he understands the woman’s rights. Fatuma has also established an impressive record of legal interventions in unlawful marriages with underage girls or polygamous arrangements. Her role in the community as the protector of the vulnerable has allowed her to expand her advocacy and she looks forward to establishing her programs in new neighborhoods to spread her message of equality.

Katie Taylor is Executive Director of The Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA) CIFA engages and trains leaders from multiple faith traditions to deliver critical development messages and services. These messages link interfaith efforts with those of civil society and governmental campaigns to reduce poverty and disease.

This article is part of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation series: My Female Faith Hero honouring International Women’s Day

Youth Lead the Way to Interfaith Action for Development

By Harsha Sharma and Frank Fredericks
From Huffington Post

A child dies every 45 seconds from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, but what can I do about it?

As young interfaith activists, a Hindu Brit and a Christian American, we’ve been challenged in demonstrating how life in our communities, whether London or New York, can connect to global development efforts.

Making the case for youth in interfaith alone has been a difficult enough challenge. Up until the past decade, youth were little more than a sideshow at interfaith events led by a greying generation. This isn’t to say that religious leaders aren’t important. They are in fact vital to interfaith work. But when religious violence is most often perpetrated by the youth, we should invest our efforts equally in mobilizing them in action.

Yet, interfaith work can entail more than just working towards “peace.” With some of the Millennium Development Goals such as maternal health hardly any closer to achievement than when they started, it’s becoming increasingly clear that tackling issues of global health and poverty won’t be possible without effectively engaging faith communities, particularly the youth.

Effectively engaging religious youth also requires reframing how development organizations view them. Rather than viewing religious youth as a target of such projects, more can be done to view them as an asset to such efforts. This has been a guiding principle for World Faith, which has been mobilizing religious youth locally in the developing world for four years.

For example, Nigeria’s 78 million youth are often identified as actors in violence, leaving hundreds dead in religious clashes. Yet, while the British Council finds that Nigeria needs 25 million jobs over the next 10 years to slow the trend of violence, the youth are often left out of both peace and development efforts. We see this as a global trend, and it’s time to not only engage youth in development, but to value religious youth as an asset in development. Religion plays a critical role in this paradigm, from becoming the source of violence to becoming the inspiration for social action.

But the question remains, can religious youth from the developed world be effectively engaged as an asset to supporting efforts in the developing?

That’s where the Tony Blair Faith Foundation comes in. The Foundation makes the case for faith as a force for good in the modern world. Youth feature centrally in a number of their programmes including the Faiths Act Fellowship — to which we belong as a Fellow and an interfaith coach respectively.

Click here to read the full article

Faith in the Philippines

by Tony Blair

The Philippines is in many ways the perfect place to explore the complexities surrounding the relationship between faith and globalization, both past and present.

As a society deeply influenced historically by Spanish, Indonesian, Malaysian and indigenous cultures, the Philippines finds itself in the 21st century occupying a delicate and profoundly important role in both Asian and Western trade and foreign affairs. I am therefore pleased to announce that the Tony Blair Faith Foundation has just established a deep and extensive partnership in the Philippines: a schools initiative to make inter-faith dialogue a part of social education, a program presently in 17 other nations; and a consortium of universities that will join the global Faith and Globalization course that was begun at Yale in the USA and is now in 8 countries round the world.

The Philippines is a great place to exchange such ideas. It is a fascinating country on the move, facing big challenges but with enormous possibility which it is starting to fulfill. It has a new president with a strong mandate and the determination and capability to succeed and a people behind him willing him on. It is a nation of 100 million, situated in the middle of the rising East, with resources, culture and beauty to shape its future. Its people are hard-working and smart. Its poverty remains real, but so is its potential.

Click here to read the full article

An Interview with Tony Blair on Interfaith Dialogue

From The Huffington Post

In a recent interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, we discussed his attendance at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative held earlier this year, the work of his Faith Foundation, and the importance of understanding religion in a rapidly globalizing world.

Rahim Kanani: While your Faith Foundation’s primary goal is to promote and foster understanding amongst the world’s major religions, and the Face to Faith initiative you’ve described focuses on secondary school students engaging in interfaith and intercultural understanding, what is the role of colleges and universities in tackling interfaith education? Should such instruction be required learning in such a setting?

Tony Blair: My Foundation believes that young people have a pivotal role to play in building a harmonious modern world. After all, they are tomorrow’s leaders. It is therefore vital for students to have a firm grasp on the relationship between faith and globalization. So as well as a schools program my Foundation also has a universities program – the Faith and Globalization Initiative.

Seven universities around the world are currently part of the network: Yale University in the USA, The National University of Singapore, The University of Western Australia, Technologico de Monterrey University in Mexico, McGill University in Canada, Peking University in China and Durham University in the UK. The Faith and Globalization students who are drawn from a huge range of disciplines including international relations, law, theology, economics and business studies are examining the impact of religious faith on politics, business, society, and development in an increasingly globalized society. The focus here is on making the research findings from the university network accessible, meaningful and relevant to policymakers through publications, conferences and policy papers.

Each university customises the course to suit their local contexts and explores aspects of globalization which are particularly relevant to them, for example the key themes in Religions in the Contemporary World at the National University of Singapore are Religion and Technology, Urban Religiosity and Merchandising Religion which reflects the importance of technology in Singapore’s rapidly expanding economy.

Click here to read the entire article.

Tony Blair On Religion in China

From The Washington Post

My interest in China – her history, her people and her culture – began before I was British Prime Minister. During my time in office, I knew power was shifting East and sought to build strong relations with this fast moving new power.

Since then, I have got to know the country even better still. Today, I am a witness to a new revolution happening here; to the rapid modernization and the opening up of borders, culture and society both internally and externally. And whilst power is still shifting East, there is a fascination about what that means for China and for the rest of the world. I hope the new partnership my Faith Foundation is announcing with Peking University can, in some way, help to explain. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has been looking at the issues of faith and globalization for three years now. We’ve been working with some of the world’s leading universities to define and debate these vital questions academically. We started at Yale University in the United States and now have a network of seven leading research institutes, stretching from Mexico to Australia.

I am delighted to be announcing in Beijing that Peking University is the newest member of this group. China’s great wealth of academic, and other, talent is engaging and shaping our world as never before and Peking University holds an esteemed place in the international academic world. I believe the launch of this partnership signifies China’s openness on many levels and willingness to reach out to other universities in a spirit of co-learning and enterprise and to contribute the best of its talent to an international consortium of academics and future leaders. The new course will focus on Western and Chinese doctrinal traditions – looking at different faith traditions in different parts of the world, not just within the Chinese context. This is proof positive of China’s outward-looking perspective. In the future the Peking University and Tony Blair Faith Foundation will co-sponsor a discussion event at the Beijing Forum 2010, under the general theme of “The Harmony of Civilisations and Prosperity for all – commitments and responsibilities for a better world.”

One of the crucial questions for people of faith – and for those who are not – is how does interfaith dialogue impact on international policy-making? How does faith and dialogue motivate and influence decisions on a global scale?

Some in the West may find the idea of debating religion in China strange. They will cite, for example, that proselytising in public places in China remains forbidden. But few are aware that Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Daoism are all officially recognized and almost one third of Chinese describing themselves as religious – an astonishing figure for an officially atheist country where religion was banned until three decades ago.

According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 31% of the Chinese public considers religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives, compared with only 11% who say religion is not at all important. When asked a somewhat different question in a 2005 Pew poll, an even greater percentage of the Chinese public (56%) considered religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives.

Click here to read the entire article.

August 1st, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Religious Leaders Call For Action at 2010 World Religions Summit

Left: Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher; Right: Faith Acts Fellow Nicholas Pang

Left: Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher; Right: Faith Acts Fellow Nicholas Pang

The 2010 World Religions Summit drafted a statement urging leaders to curb poverty, end violent conflict, and protect the environment. Over 80 representatives from the world’s major faiths convened in Winnipeg, Canada from June 21-24 including, for the first time, representatives of the Baha’i faith. The summit convened in the days leading up to the G8 and G20 summits in Toronto with the conviction that the leaders of the G8 nations have the ability to enact these changes.

The conference was attended by both senior faith leaders and youth delegates, including former Faith Acts Fellows from the Tony Blair Foundation. Over 20 countries were in attendance representing Aboriginal, Buddhist, Baha’i, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Shinto religious traditions.

The statement called on leaders to take “inspired leadership and action”:

Acknowledging our common humanity and embracing the imperative to treat all persons with dignity, we affirm that no one person is more or less valuable than another. We urge the political leaders to consider first the vulnerable among us, particularly our children, and to work together to address the dehumanizing scourge of poverty and injustice, and practice and promote care for our common environment, the Earth.

In our diverse faith traditions we have rich histories and powerful dreams for ending poverty, caring for the Earth and being peace-builders. We acknowledge our own shortcomings and inadequacies, we commit to continuing these life-giving actions in the service of the common good. While recognizing efforts already made to address many of these challenges, we expect government representatives to set aside short-term agendas and work together for a future that allows all people on this planet to thrive.

Click here to read more about the 2010 World Religions Summit.

Click here to read more about the Summit and a copy of the report.