The Influence of Religion in Society: A Critical Review

By Rt. Rev. Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali

  1. The innateness of spirituality: work done in this country and in the USA. ‘Sacramental’ and ‘Secular’ cultures. The relationship of spirituality to morality.
  2. The role of religion in society: cohesion, challenge and renewal. Pathological manifestations of religion and their relationship to nationalism, ideology and political institutions. The question of fundamentalism.
  3. The Abrahamic faiths: their view of the world, of human beings and of human society. The widespread influence of their spiritual and moral vision. The relationship of Christianity and Islam to Judaism.
  4. Christian-Muslim encounter from the very beginning: in the Prophet of Islam’s life-time, during the expansion of Islam and during the great caliphates. The social, political and cultural situation. The Dhimma and its consequences. Scientific and intellectual collaboration. Modifications of the dhimmi system and its eventual abandonment. The rise of Arab, Indian and Turkish nationalism and the contribution of minorities to it.
  5. Reasons for challenges to nationalistic ideologies: colonialism and neo-colonialism, corruption of ruling élìtes, failure of both capitalism and the command economy. Conservative and revolutionary responses to such a situation.
  6. Particular issues to address in inter-religious dialogue:-
    1. The difference between influence and coercion in terms of the rôle of religion in contemporary societies. The importance of civil society. Is theocracy possible? Tradition, customs and government by consent. The relationship of religion to law.
    2. Different traditions about the justifiability of armed conflict. The need for some agreement for the sake of international order.
    3. Understanding human rights: the different weight given to individual and community rights in different traditions. The concepts of universality and reciprocity. The importance of independent agencies in monitoring respect for human rights and, in particular, freedom of expression, belief and association.
    4. The relation between poverty and extremism. Developing more widely-based exchange between cultures and countries.

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