Going Global: the Faith and Globalisation Initiative in China, India and the USA.
As many of our partner universities return to a new semester in January, and new groups of students begin their coursework, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on how truly global the Faith and Globalisation Initiative has become. Last month alone saw major activities in China, the USA and, in a major new development for the programme, India.
At the beginning of the month, Tony Blair visited Beijing to meet with the faculty and students involved in our programme at Peking University. About sixty students were nearing the end of their course on ‘Interreligious Relations in the Global Age’. The course examines the conflicts and dialogue between faiths across the world, from the Americas and Europe, the Middle East, Japan and South Korea, as well as within China itself.
Soon after the focus shifted to Yale University, where Mr. Blair shared the stage with the former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and Yale President Richard Levin, for a wide ranging discussion on global challenges which again emphasised the need to understand and engage with religion. Next, on 10th December, the Faith and Globalisation Initiative was launched in India with a major two day conference that explored religious pluralism in India’s secular democracy. The event brought together about a hundred leading figures from academia, politics, business, civil society and the media. The diverse audience produced a lively and rigorous debate about the relationship between religion and the secular state as India moves forward in the 21st century.
During the event we made official the announcement that we have our first Indian university, Banaras Hindu University, joining our global consortium of universities – bringing the total to 12 and enriching the research, teaching and debate hugely through the perspective that India can bring.
We have also brought together a dedicated group of about two dozen academics from across India, from Kerala to Kashmir. They represent a broad range of different disciplines, psychology, political science, sociology and communication studies to name a few. I am convinced that this group is going to produce some groundbreaking work in the months and years to come.
I finished the month with a short stop in Hong Kong, to visit our partners at Hong Kong University’s Faith and Global Engagement Initiative. Hong Kong is an exceptionally dynamic and diverse place, but I must confess to having never really thought in great detail about its religious dimension. According to official statistics, nearly half the population claims no religious affiliation. About 20% are Buddhist, 15% are Taoist, 12% are Christian and 3% Muslim. So everyone’s a minority, and living in very close proximity.
These three countries, USA, China, and India, will be enormously influential in determining where globalisation leads us. Each has a unique relationship between religion, the state and its wider society. But the experience of each can be mutually informative. The better the leaders in each country understand the other perspectives, not only political leaders but business and cultural leaders as well, the better off we all will be.
2013 is going to be a very big year for the Faith and Globalisation Initiative. Our summer school programme will be returning with some exciting new developments. Over the coming months we will be working with our partner universities to initiate new activities in research, policy development and innovations to teaching. We are extending our reach to work closely with governments, the diplomatic community and exploring executive education too.
For students beginning a Faith and Globalisation course: welcome! You should be in for a fascinating intellectual journey. You are not just taking a course, but joining a global conversation about some of the most important issues of our time. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Craig Bardsley, Faith and Globalisation Initiative Manager.