IIC Newsletter 20: August 2006

In April the IIC were the hosting secretariat for the International Interfaith Organizations Network annual meeting. From Chile, Germany, India, the USA and various parts of England representatives of ten member organizations were present: Council of the Parliament of World Religions (CPWR) Interfaith Network of the UK, International Interfaith Centre, Minorities of Europe, North America Interfaith Network (NAIN), Peace Council, Towards the creation of a spiritual forum for world peace at the United Nations, Religions for Peace (WCRP), World Congress of Faiths, and World Fellowship of Interreligious Councils (India). Facilitating the IION annual conference is an important aspect of the work of the IIC as it gives an opportunity for representatives of the different organizations to discuss their activities and to enable us to work co-operatively and complement each other’s interfaith work.

We were delighted that John Battle, MP was able to speak to the conference on the Wednesday morning. John’s parliamentary constituency is in Leeds, where three of the alleged London bombers on 7/7 lived. It was encouraging to hear John speak of the formal and informal interfaith co-operation that existed and continues to exist in Leeds to this day.

On the Wednesday evening of the conference, the University Church of St Mary the Virgin held a reception for participants of the IION conference to which members of the University – both lecturers and post graduate students – and of the wider Oxford community were invited. Canon Brian Mountford gave us a conducted tour of the church and the more energetic went to the top of the church tower and had a wonderful view of the city.

From June till the end of August this summer, we are pleased to have Christopher Veit with us as an intern at the IIC office. Chris is currently helping us to redesign the IIC website. But he will also update the Oxford Directory of Faith Organizations, research funding opportunities for the IIC, and work together with Joy on a number of research topics. But here he shall introduce himself in his own words:
“Over the last two decades, ‘globalization’ has not only been a popular buzz-word. It has also become the meta-narrative of many lives, including mine. The child of German expatriates, I’ve had the fortune of living on three continents for extended periods of my youth. These years of immersion in vastly divergent cultures, from small-town Bavaria to buzzing Singapore and struggling Kazakhstan, have dramatically shaped and shifted my worldview. Together with an increasingly trans-national sense of personal identity, I’ve started to see all of humanity as a sort of extended, albeit somewhat distant ‘family’. This admittedly idealistic notion entails a strong sense of communal responsibility for me. Particularly my friendships with refugees from Bosnia and Chechnya have left a deep impression on me, and have driven me towards doing my utmost to further cross-cultural dialogue and work towards conflict prevention. As a result, I applied myself to the study of history and international relations, stretching to include diverse regional studies, but focusing on the cultural and political dynamics of ethnic conflicts. In the course of my Bachelors degree at the University of British Columbia, I became increasingly interested in inter-religious dialogue and its potential to create a more harmonious future. After completing my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, 2004. Ambivalent as this event may have been in many people’s eyes, certain moments deeply touched me. I particularly remember a brief shared silence during the dedication of a symbolic ‘peace pole’ under the blazing Catalonian summer sun that literally brought me to tears. Here were a few hundred members of various faith groups, some of which have a long history of violent struggle between them. But in this moment, they did not come together in a clash of arms, or even detached philosophical discussion, but with the common goal of peace, joining their hearts for a few precious minutes. Furthermore, the Sikh community generously provided free meals to one and all each afternoon. And for me, this was where the real ‘dialogue’ took place. Whether respected religious leader, academic, seeker or student, we all sat together on the ground, engaging in one of humanities most fundamental activities – a shared meal. Each day I sat next to one or two absolutely interesting individuals who expanded my horizon and shared their worldview or concerns with me. All in all, the Parliament definitely motivated me to explore and become involved in the world of inter-faith relations. At the moment I am pursuing my M.A. in a partner program between the universities of Freiburg (Germany), Durban (South Africa), and New Delhi (India). This innovative degree program, awkwardly coined “Global Studies”, has allowed me to study on three continents for a term at each university, increasing my understanding of how the global South perceives globalization and related rhetoric. My current internship with the IIC perfectly fits both my academic, as well as personal interests and so I am pleased to be here in Oxford this summer, working closely together with our Director, Joy Barrow.”
Chris has been doing extensive work with the Information Technology in the IIC office. He has revised the design and layout of the IIC web-site to make it more accessible and to remove some ‘blips’ that were present. Something completely new is that there will be a link on the home page to a ‘text only’ version of the web-site, especially for those who do not have access to broadband. It is identical to the standard version of the web-site, except that it has no pictures or graphics. As part of the review of the Information Technology in the IIC office, we have purchased the domain name www.interfaith-centre.org for our web-site. However, for those people more familiar with the alternative spelling of www.interfaith-center.org , IIC have also retained that domain name. This means that if you type our previous web address into your search engine, you will automatically be directed to our web-site new website of www.interfaith-centre.org . Another change is that my e-mail address will have a similar spelling to the web-site, therefore, it is now office@ …..tre.org . Please change the address book on your computer accordingly.

Chris had also revised the database, and updated the information, of the Oxford Directory of Faiths. He has restructured the database to make it more efficient to update and also easier for users to access. Several additional faith groups in Oxford are being included and the information with respect to other groups is being updated, where appropriate. This is a very valuable resource and extensively used by a variety of organizations in the Oxford area. As with the present version, the Directory will be freely available on the IIC web-site, and it is anticipated that a new printed edition will be available in due course.

In October the IIC is intending to have a special Friends event; details will follow in my next newsletter which will be published and circulated at the beginning of September.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to contact the IIC office.

Best wishes,

Dr Joy Barrow, Director, International Interfaith Centre