7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

The role of religions and beliefs in building sustainable communities

The role of religions and beliefs in building sustainable communities

Assessing the multiple opportunities for building communities from below through dialogue and other encounters

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 15:15 to 16:30

Key points

  • People need to explore different religions and see what the common values are rather than focus on the differences among them.
  • Each person should treat others with respect and dignity to receive reciprocal treatment.
  • Reconciliation and dialogue can bring communities together after many years of conflict.
  • Deeper analysis of the real root causes of conflicts is needed beyond media analysis, which can sometimes be inaccurate.


Participants debated the role of religion. One speaker argued that people should explore different religions. Referring to Alice in Wonderland, she said people ‘should follow the rabbit down the hole’ to explore. If they do, they would see that Islam and Christianity have similar values and that the differences between the two religions are smaller and less important than the values they share.

Another speaker referred to the ‘circle method’ in which each person is responsible for what is in an imaginary circle drawn around their feet. Her view was that if people treat others with respect and dignity, then that is what will be returned to them. She said people owe that to others and they do not have to agree with others as long as they respect their views.

Another speaker explained how in Colombia the FARC rebels and civil society had been brought together after many years of conflict. Civil society only knew about the FARC, who had been living in the jungle for 50 years, via media reports that were not necessarily accurate.

People were encouraged to send letters for the purposes of reconciliation, in which they could ask FARC members questions such as what they were feeling and what they planned to do after demobilisation. The result was that FARC and civil society stopped seeing each other as enemies and victims expressed relief that they had been able to engage in the dialogue.

According to the Global Peace Index, 14 % of global conflicts are directly related to religion. The speaker who referred to this said it is important to analyse the root causes of conflicts rather than relying on what is represented in the media. Another speaker said that the war ISIL is fighting in the name of Islam is not to do with religion. For example, many Muslims and Christians in Lebanon are shocked that some in the West think that Islam is violent when, in fact, it has similar values to Christianity.


Religions can act as strong and self-organising systems that deliver products to large groups of people; for instance, after earthquakes and in refugee crises. The world can tap into these communities for the purposes of peace-building.

Organised by

    Nazila Ghanea
    University of Oxford
    Ben Schewel
    Fellow, Center for Religion, Conflict and the Public Domain
    University of Groningen
    Hala Alkarib
    Regional Director
    Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa
    Odessa Primus
    EDD Young Leader, Czech Republic
    Leonardo Parraga
    EDD Young Leader, Colombia
    Jan Figel
    Special Envoy on Freedom of religion or Belief Outside the European Union
Photo gallery

Password for download : EDD2017