Congress of Religious Leaders: Promoting Dialogue between Civilisations

Since its earliest days of independence, Kazakhstan has introduced numerous substantial legislative reforms focused on national policy and strengthening interethnic and interreligious harmony in society.заседание 2 10.06.2015-613

Effective domestic transformation and achievements in the international arena have created an image of a Kazakhstan active in global platforms, including international interreligious and interethnic dialogue.

A stable model of interaction between ethnic groups and religions has been established in Kazakhstan. It is seen as largely responsible for the country’s stability and atmosphere of harmony. It has allowed the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to introduce a new initiative, the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

On Sept. 23 and 24, 2003, Astana hosted the first Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The congress was attended by 17 delegations from 23 countries. The forum focused mainly on countering terrorism and extremism issues. In addition, it has been decided to hold the interreligious forum on a regular basis, at least once every three years, as well as establish institutional structures for the congress.

On Sept. 12 and 13, 2006, Astana hosted the second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The congress was held in a new building designed especially for the event, the Palace of Peace and Accord. The central topic of discussion was “Religion, Society and International Security.” The interreligious summit was attended by delegations from 29 different countries. For the first time, Astana welcomed special delegations from Libya, Thailand, Armenia and South Korea, as well as the heads of international religious organisations from the USA and Switzerland. A final document recognising the role of religion in the modern world was adopted at the congress. It embodies agreements reached over the past three years filled with dialogue and co-operation and is aimed at strengthening the role and mission of the leaders of world religions in establishing global order.

The third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions took place in the Kazakh capital on July 1 and 2, 2009. About 400 delegates representing 77 delegations from 35 European, Asian, Middle Eastern and American countries attended. A central theme of the congress was “The role of religious leaders in building a world based on tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation.” The introduction of certain changes to the format of the congress, such as breakout sessions, were innovations conceived at the third summit.

At the end of the congress, participants adopted a final joint document calling on the world community to continuously support and promote the efforts of religious leaders and organisations in establishing profitable interreligious dialogue and contributing to the maintenance of dialogue of religions and civilisations aimed at improving mutual understanding and respect in different countries and societies.President Nazarbayev noted in his report the role of the third congress: “I am confident that the results of the congress will play a very important, conceptual role in promoting dialogue among civilisations, cultures and religions. It will surely bring people closer together and strengthen interreligious understanding around the world. I want to stress that an open intercultural and interreligious dialogue is a key domestic and foreign policy issue for Kazakhstan.”

On May 30-31, 2012, Astana hosted the fourth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. A total of 85 delegations from 40 countries attended the congress with the central theme being “Peace and Harmony as the Choice of Mankind.” Breakout sessions were focused on current issues in world politics. Another milestone was marked at the fourth congress: the first meeting of the Council of Religious Leaders, which was created at the suggestion of the President of Kazakhstan and unanimously supported by leaders of many world and traditional religions. The council consists of 15 prominent world religious leaders. The establishment of the Council of Religious Leaders has made the Astana congresses an important international institution. The aim of the Council is to define priorities and mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation with other forums and international organisations working to promote dialogue between cultures and economic interaction. A unique message was sent at the fourth congress. Religious leaders addressed people, societies and states with a message emphasising the need for interaction, harmony, peace and justice in the sake of the future of our planet.

Kazakhstan’s main city has now hosted the fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions on June 10–11 this year.The forum’s title is “Religious Leaders and Politicians for Peace and Development.” During the congress, four plenary and breakout sessions took place. They were called “Religious and Political Leaders: Responsibility to Humanity,” “The Influence of Religion on Youth: Education, Science, Culture and the Media,” “Religion and Politics: New Trends and Prospects,” “Dialogue Based on Mutual Respect and Understanding between the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions for the Sake of Peace, Security and Harmony.”

Well known theologians, politicians and public figures spoke about shared responsibility and the influence religion has on young people through education, culture and media during the breakout sessions. New trends in religion and politics were discussed as participants searched for new ways of increasing understanding for the sake of peace and harmony. The discussion about dialogue between religious leaders and political figures was introduced for the first time.

The congress systematically and consistently updates its agenda by taking into consideration major issues and challenges of the modern world. It also develops adequate mechanisms in countering new threats and challenges to the globalising world with one main purpose: ensuring and preserving the spiritual understanding and the security of society and state. Leaders of world and traditional religions have repeatedly stressed that peace and harmony are and have always been core universal human principles and values and a necessary component of civilised development.

The Astana congress of religious leaders has truly reaffirmed its worth and relevance by proving itself an effective mechanism for interreligious cooperation through a dialogue among civilisations. After all, dialogue among civilisations is the interaction of interests existing inside of socio-cultural systems based on universal participation and identifying, recognising and appreciating worldviews and is something that births solutions for the most complex of issues.

The author holds the degree of Candidate of Juridical Science and is Head of the International Centre of Cultures and Religions of the Committee for Religious Issues of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Kazakhstan.