The 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions was a turning point in interfaith work. Up until then, efforts had been concentrated on removing misunderstanding and encouraging friendly relations between members of different religions. At the Parliament, the emphasis was on what religions could do together to address the grave problems facing the world. Of course some interfaith activists had asked that long before. There was, for example, in the eighties an Interfaith Colloquium against Apartheid and there have been interfaith gatherings on ecological issues as well as interfaith prayer and work for peace, but the Parliament for a moment captured the attention of the world and sought to show, at a time of intense conflict in former Yugoslavia and of communal troubles in India, that religions need not be a cause of division but could unite on certain basic ethical teachings.
Can religions also be proactive and help to create a more just and peaceful world order? This is the new agenda.
At the same time, the dangers of religious extremism were alerting those in positions of leadership in the political and economic spheres to the importance of religion in shaping the modern world. The influential book Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft was published in 1994. There is a growing acknowledgement that there is a spiritual and ethical dimension to the major problems facing humankind.
President Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, told the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Prague in 2000 that:
The crucial task is to fundamentally strengthen a system of universally shared moral standards that will make it impossible, on a truly, global scale, for the various rules to be time and again circumvented with still more ingenuity than had gone into their invention. Such standards will truly guarantee the weight of the rules and will generate natural respect for them in the societal climate. Actions proven to jeopardise the future of the human race should not only be punishable but, first and foremost, should be generally regarded as a disgrace. This will hardly ever happen unless we all find, inside ourselves, the courage to substantially change and newly form an order of values that, with all our diversity, we can jointly embrace and jointly respect; and, unless we again relate these values to something that lies beyond the horizon of our immediate personal or group interest.
Dr Kohler, Director General of the IMF has said:
I fully share the call for generally recognised moral standards. A global economy needs a global ethic.