Cathedrals and religious monuments across Europe tell a historical narrative of the continent’s profound Christian roots, but in recent years the role of religion has visibly declined, writes Lusaka based journalist Lennox Kalifungwa.
For many Europeans, faith no longer defines who they are as individuals nor does it have a significant collective role in society. However, for the rest of the world, this isn’t quite the case. 84% of the global population identifies with a religious group, and for many of them, faith is a core part of their identity.
The consideration and inclusion of religion on the world stage is crucial for societal change and for engaging different parts of the world. Religion influences culture, which in turn influences things like political thought and economic policy.
In contemporary times, many Europeans can trace their ancestry to different regions of the world where religion remains a core part of the societal fabric. For people who see religion as foreign – and perhaps redundant – it is easy to disregard the role religion has in the everyday lives of billions across the globe.
This year’s Group of Twenty (G20) meeting of the world’s most economically powerful nations brings Europe’s largest economies to the same table with several rising economies – most of which are heavily religious societies.
For instance, recently India – a home to the world’s largest Hindu population – surpassed the United Kingdom becoming the fifth-largest economy in the world. A secular democracy, navigating tensions around national identity due to growing levels of Hindu nationalism.
Moreover, this year G20 (taking place in mid-November) is hosted by the world’s most populous Muslim majority country, Indonesia. In addition to Islam, G20 nations account for a vast variety of religious affiliations, from Christianity and Buddhism to Taoism and Shinto.
In short, religion plays a major role in G20 – socially, economically, and politically.
Perhaps surprisingly, until this year religion was never at the forefront of G20. And this makes this year’s G20 historic. Because for the first time ever, Religion 20 (R20) – a summit of some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders – is officially a part of G20.
Organised by the world’s two largest Islamic non-governmental organisations, the Muslim World League based in Saudi Arabia and Indonesian Nahdlatul Ulama, R20 are determined to be an example of interfaith dialogue and collaboration. In addition, Indonesia being the host of both G20 and R20 holds great significance: South-East Asia is one of the most religiously diverse regions in the world.
R20 will make the case that faith has influence and relevance for global problem-solving amid the current geopolitical turmoil. The summit will also create a space for leading religious figures to think outside the box regarding how faith can be harnessed to establish shared morality in the global political arena.
The participant list of this year’s R20 will include Pope Francis, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and prominent Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist leaders.
In essence, R20 offers a future vision for religion’s role in solving the most pressing global challenges. The summit creates a space for faith leaders from major world religions to address issues from conflict resolution to poverty alleviation – with a religious framework of compassion and morality.
R20 poses a moral clout over billions of people worldwide as religious leaders are preaching a message of coexistence and tolerance. However, it could be questioned whether varying religions will agree on the definitions and outworkings of these terms without encountering fundamental contradictions.
At R20, the co-chair of the summit Al-Issa announced that the Muslim World League was establishing a humanitarian fund to support victims of war and focusing heavily on Ukraine. The world’s largest Muslim organisation aiding Ukrainians who are largely Christians, does spark intertest an opportunity for dialogue.
According to Al-Issa, we need moral leadership in the face of our greatest global crises which, he suggests, all have “moral and spiritual” foundations – and solutions.
R20 matters for Europe. While irreligiosity might be in its ascendency among European nations, the wider world is incrementally becoming more religious. It would be unwise to ignore this shift and abdicate an opportunity to leverage constructive discourse in religion and its various implications for society.
While R20 takes place in Bali, its ramifications will have a global effect – possibly influencing the way people perceive the world from Brussels and beyond.
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