by Chareeni Kurukulasuriya
In a small classroom in Phelps Hall, Yalies gathered to hear Secretary-General Bawa Jain of The World Council of Religious Leaders discuss the religious diplomacy’s role in achieving world peace. Jain was invited by The Yale International Relations Association to give an informal talk on how religion can influence global decisions, followed by a Q&A session. Jain is known not only for his work with the World Council of Religious Leaders, founded in 2002, but also for his role as the Secretary-General of The Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders in August 2000.
Jain began his talk by explaining religious diplomacy through prime examples from his own career, focusing on The Millennium World Peace Summit. He described the difficulty in deciding which religious leaders to invite without offending others and creating fair criteria for selection. Jain ultimately came to the realization, “no matter what I do, there will be people who will be upset with me who were not invited,” and told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan exactly that when asked how Jain would deal with the complex situation. Ultimately, Jain did not struggle with placating uninvited leaders, but instead was faced with the controversial demand by the Chinese delegation that the Dalai Lama be excluded from the summit.
In place of the Dalai Lama, it was agreed that four other religious leaders representing Tibetan Buddhism would attend the summit. However, when they brought with them a message from the Dalai Lama, the Chinese delegates protested the reading of the message, though it had no political statement in it. Jain then expressed that at a meeting such as the Millennium Summit, the aim was for leaders to come together to work towards peace, and that politics must be separated from religion, so the Chinese delegation merely left the room during its reading. In spite of this tension, the summit ultimately successful in that all the delegations signed the statement affirming their commitment to global peace.
Jain continued by discussing the importance of religion in our world today. Of the world’s population, 90% follows some form of religion, and despite its prevalence on a global scale, he said, religion is not used as a force for good nearly enough. Jain criticized religious fundamentalists and conservatives as enemies of religion in the modern day, and emphasized the need for young religious leaders of the future to be properly trained in religious diplomacy. Jain described religious diplomacy as a three-legged stool, dependent upon religion, civic life, and government. He advocated teaching these young leaders management and administrative skills so that they will be capable of effectively influencing governments by lobbying for the ideas that will truly benefit their society.
Another focus of the talk was education on both sides of religious leadership. Jain explained how religious leaders must learn to communicate with today’s generation, and advocated the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter so that leaders can better engage with the younger generations. At the same time, Jain advocated for better education of the youth, beginning as early as primary school, to ensure that ignorance does not continue to propagate bias and prejudice. Jain was emphatic that people can relate to and respect other religions by understanding the core beliefs, values, and holy days of other faiths. With a more comprehensive education for everyone, he asserted, there would be less conflict within sects of the same faith, between different religions, and between those who are religious and those who are secular.
Jain closed with advice to his audience to better educate themselves about their own beliefs and those of three other religions, stating “you have to learn more about your own faith before you can explain it and relate to others.” He encouraged students to engage in interfaith service projects and volunteer with people from multiple religious backgrounds to further their understanding of other faiths. Jain expects that these small steps will foster a more understanding global society capable of achieving world peace. Though Jain does not expect this change in his lifetime, he is confident it will happen in the future.
Chareeni Kurukulasuriya is a freshman in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.