“What separates us is not the theology of our faith but its politics” said Rev. Dr. Collin Cowan while delivering his key note address at the Interfaith Consultation held in Kolkata that was inaugurated on the 6th of November 2015. Entitled Interfaith Engagement towards building Life Affirming Communities the seminar was conducted at a kairotic moment in global history.

Speaking of the significance of the seminar and paraphrasing Esther 4:14 Dr. Sudipta Singh, Programme Secretary, Empowerment and Training, Council for World Mission, said, “At such a time as this, it is imperative that we seek religious resources that can fund the flourishing of all of life.”

Organized by the Council for World Mission, in collaboration with Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad and Bishop’s College, Kolkata, this consultation brought people from different living faith traditions together to share their views as a means to urge those present at the seminar into realizing that there is a greater purpose for us on earth than mere coexistence. This is of course of paramount importance in the context of the growing conflict in our world today.

The consultation recognized the rich spiritual and ritual traditions of the different living faith traditions of the world which offers us fresh glimpses of the divine as well as provisioning a way towards the affirmation of life. The seminar began each day with an interfaith worship led by Rev. Dr. Peniel Rufus, Rev Rodinmawia Ralte and Rev. Dr. Justin Moses respectively.

Principal of Bishop’s College Rev. Dr. Sunil M. Caleb stressed on the significance of considering how we look at each other and creating life affirming communities by bridging gaps between those of various religious beliefs. The Bishop of the Diocese of Kolkata, Church of North India, Rt. Rev. Ashoke Biswas spoke on the same note in his welcome address after he introduced and welcomed the resource persons.

Swami Agnivesh, an Indian politician and a social activist, then, spoke about the need to liberate ourselves from getting carried away with the concept of religion. He said it is why incidents like the Dadri lynching and murders by the ISIS have been taking place. True, we need to liberate ourselves, but more importantly, as Yusuf Jha, a trainee mufti at the Awqaf, Abu Dhabi, said, it is important that we focus on understanding what our purpose in life is.

Dr. David Singh of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies spoke about two schools of thought seeking integration through debates. He spoke about the Deobandis and the Muslims of Hyderabad and then went on to talk about the Afro-Indians in Hyderabad. CSR Parabhuji, a renowned spiritual guru of the modern world, on the other hand, spoke about the Vedas, presenting both the manifest and the un-manifest reality. He stressed on the importance of oneness of spiritual reality over physical reality.

Head of the Department of Religious Studies at Johannesberg, Dr. Farid Esack, who is a South African Muslim scholar, stressed on the need for us to confront our injustices as it is impossible to build a just society on the existing injustice. He said it is important that we fight the forces impoverishing and oppressing people.

Dr. Sajjan Singh from the Sikh Heritage Centre spoke about how equality and fraternity lie at the heart of what Sikhism is about and Dhammapala Bikhu Bandheji, a Buddhist monk, who chose this path five years ago, spoke on the Buddhist perspective of world peace. He stressed on the importance of being compassionate to oneself.

Executive secretary in the department of Interfaith Relations of the WCC, Dr. Peniel Rufus spoke on the theme ‘Religion Resources – a problem or a promise’, focusing on the relationship between religion and violence. He said the danger of religion lies not only in what people think but how they do so.

Dr. N Krishnan, an academic leader, who has authored and edited many books, spoke on the theme ‘Hinduism – a religion of religions’. He expressed regret at the incidents of intolerance that have been taking place in our country in the name of religion with regard to the so called crime of eating beef.

Swami Sarvaprianandaji, who teaches at a probationary training center in Kolkata, spoke about building life affirming communities in the Hindu perspective in the context of the Rama Krishna- Vivekananda Movement.  He said the highest goal of humanity is spiritual realization.

Dr. Zafar Mahmood, member of the Sachar community and president of the Zakat Foundation of India, spoke about God’s purpose of creating humanity, adding each of us needs to respect members of other faiths. Dr. Raminder Kaur, who was the last speaker for the seminar, spoke about the importance of educating the mind, so as to realize the spirit.

Read the Interfaith Engagement Statement