Articles and Commentaries |
October 31, 2022

The R20: An Inter-Faith Platform in the G20

Written By: Come Carpentier de Gourdon

The existence of the R-20, an inter-religious forum created as part of the G-20 some years ago reflects the evolution of that body, which gathers twenty of the world’s most significant economies, as a putative alternative United Nations Security Council, in the economic and social domains, given the basically unfair structure of the UNSC created by the winners of the Second World War and factually held hostage by the veto-wielding permanent members. Accordingly, the G-20 has taken on board the longstanding notion of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation in order to harness the world’s principal faith-based organisations in the service of its global agenda and resolutions.

The difficulty of achieving concrete and constructive outcomes through inter-religious dialogue is well known. By definition, organised creeds depend on the support of their followers and are usually diffident about the consequences of supporting extensive interactions with other religions which are seen as potential competitors when not traditional adversaries and detractors. Whether or not they encourage and sponsor conversions, religious hierarchies wish to protect their flocks from extraneous influences and this is also true amongst the various sections of what we may broadly call faith families such as Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, within which many deep and often bitter doctrinal and historical divisions endure. Many religions also have no universally accepted leadership, unlike Catholicism where the last word in principle belongs to the Pope (although the Roman community is now deeply divided by Conservatives and ‘Progressives’). Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and even Judaism have multiple branches and currents so that no one can be seen as the only authoritative spokesperson for them. In certain countries, religious bodies are under the control of the State or of a political party while other nations such as France describe themselves as strictly secular, so that religions have no official role in any public issue. On that background, it is not easy to achieve a comprehensive consensus in any inter-religious assembly, outside of general statements of principle which are unlikely to carry much meaning or weight.

The last few years have brought about a general deterioration in inter-religious interactions, despite some punctual and local commendable achievements. There is a process of radicalisation and growing intolerance in certain faith traditions and they are unfortunately the ones which tend to show greater dynamism and expand outside their traditional home-grounds. On the other hand, religions which have become less dogmatic and rigid by embracing modern non-denominational humanitarian ideas at the expense of their own core beliefs and practices have lost many faithful, in some instances to the point of near extinction. Apart from leaving behind an increasing number of confirmed atheists often professing to be only interested in material issues and benefits, the decline of old religions tends to feed in reaction the rise of new sects and more or less spiritual ideologies, usually under the authority of some charismatic figures who don’t always show tolerance for any other creed. We allude here to certain Evangelical new churches in Latin America and elsewhere, to the disappearance of traditional African creeds and their replacements by variants of Christianity and Islam, to Neo-Paganism in Europe and the US, often based on a rather questionable reconstruction of long vanished beliefs (Scandinavian, Celtic or ‘Aryan’ cults) and even to some more or less openly ‘demonic’ chapels which attract people in search of the bizarre, the exotic and the erotic. The religious scene can thus appear to be increasingly heterogenous and confusing and makes it difficult to select, among the many influential faith leaders, those who can agree on a common agenda and still make it acceptable to members of their wider tradition.

One of the ills that continues to affect attempts to make religions come together or at least share certain common goals is the mutual rejection of many of their respective core beliefs. We witness everyday the effects of such disputes between Christians and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Muslims, Muslims and Hindus, not to omit the hostile attitude that many Christian churches and movements display towards Hinduism which they routinely accuse of fascism, fanaticism and backwardness, in order to justify the continuation of proselytising missionary inroads into India and adjoining countries.

Following these few reflections, I will now reproduce some relevant paragraphs of the official description provided by the G-20 online for the activities and aims of the R-20.

The G20 Interfaith Forum (IF20) offers an annual platform where a network of religiously linked institutions and initiatives engage on global agendas (primarily and including the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs)…The G20 process has evolved since it was established in 2008, with various platforms (ministerial meetings, engagement groups) that allow different sectors and communities to present ideas and recommendations to global leaders.

The G20 Interfaith Forum builds on the vital roles that religious institutions and beliefs play in world affairs, reflecting their rich diversity of institutions, ideas, and values. These include interfaith and intercultural organisations, religious leaders, scholars, development and humanitarian entities, and business and civil society actors.

Beginning in Australia in 2014, the G20 Interfaith Forum has convened annually in the G20 host country. The Forums have considered wide-ranging agendas, including economic models and systems, the environment, women, families, children, work, humanitarian aid, health, education, freedom of religion or belief, global security, governance, human rights, and the rule of law. The agenda for each Forum is framed taking into account the annual G20 priorities (outlined each year by the host government), together with topics that the various networks of religious actors recommend that the G20 leaders’ address. 

Mission

The G20 Interfaith Forum (IF20) advances global solutions by collaborating with religious thought leaders and political representatives. Global recognition is increasing for the vital roles faith and religion play in promoting peaceful and harmonious relationships within and between nations…The G20 Interfaith Forum is an annual event where such contributions can be shared, highlighted, and advanced.

The Forum features both international opinion leaders—including scholars, lawyers, and politicians—and global interfaith activists for three days of discussion and interfaith dialogue. In showcasing the broad, global impact of various faith traditions and philosophies from around the world, the Forum fills important gaps in the discussions of the G20 Summits. Social cohesion is strengthened between political representatives and religious thought leaders, and new opportunities are provided for relationship building among all participants.

 Objectives of the G20 Interfaith Forum
  1. Exploring the links between economic development and religion and religious freedom through informed, scholarly discussion.
  2. Facilitating constructive dialogue between societal leaders in faith, government, business, media, education and other social institutions, on how interfaith resources can enhance social, economic and cultural policies and programs for the well-being of all.
  3. Fostering communication channels between the different faiths and sharing ideas, experiences, and “best practices” in building peace and harmony.
  4. Identifying and affirming common values, virtues, and principles among diverse faith and philosophic traditions

A Network of Networks

The G20 Interfaith Forum has consistently sought to build and draw on an inclusive network of networks of public, religious, humanitarian, and academic institutions engaged in a variety of ways in promoting interactions of religious voices, religious studies, and religious communities with the public sector in formulating and implementing global policy initiatives. 

Working Groups

The G20 Interfaith Forum organises its work through a series of Working Groups which focus on areas of recurring relevance to G20 policy priorities. In particular, these standing Working Groups organise research, analysis, and Forum activities that relate to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and other matters of recurring concern. In any given year, additional task force groups may be set up to address issues of particular concern in light of the G20 host country’s priorities or in response to other critical emerging issues. The following standing Working Groups have been established (with sub-focus areas noted in several cases):

  • Reducing Poverty and Inequality (includes job creation and zero hunger)
  • Religion, Health, and Wellbeing (includes COVID-19 responses)
  • Education (includes religious literacy)
  • Gender Equality (includes equal pay issues and trafficking/slavery)
  • Religion and the Environment
  • Religion, Technology, Innovation, Infrastructure, and Media
  • Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (includes sacred sites, corruption, rule of law, freedom of religion or belief, peace building and diplomacy)
  • Refugees, Displacement, and Migration
  • Disaster Preparedness and Relief, Humanitarian Aid
  • Children and Youth

In addition, an Anti-Racism Initiative has been established to examine how responding to the challenges of overt and systemic racism can be addressed across the entire spectrum of issues being addressed by the G20 Interfaith Forum.  More information on the various Working Groups is available here.

Outputs of the G20 Interfaith Forum

Each year, the G20 Interfaith Forum develops policy briefs that are designed to provide substantive input benefiting from insights of a range of religious communities designed to be of assistance to those in official policy-making roles.   In addition, each years Forum develops prioritised concrete recommendations for those engaged in the G20 process—recommendations that are both designed to be delivered to G20 Summit leaders, but have broader relevance to policy-making at the level of public bodies operating at the international, regional, and national levels and to those concerned with global policy issues in religious, inter-religious, and academic settings. 

We will have to wait for the outcome of the next R-20 meeting to be held in November to see if it is anymore concrete and impactful than the previous ones which did not attract much public notice. Most formally religious people tend not to show great interest in other faiths while those who are agnostic, atheistic or define themselves as ‘spiritually curious but not religious’ and pay little attention to the policies of mainstream religious organisations.

Author Brief Bio: Mr. Côme Carpentier de Gourdon is currently a Distinguished Fellow with India Foundation and is also the Convener of the Editorial Board of the WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNAL. He is an associate of the International Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IISES), Vienna, Austria. Côme Carpentier is the author of various books and several articles, essays and papers

 

References:

https://www.g20interfaith.org/historical-support/.

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