Montreal is a hub for all three TBFF programmes
Montreal is an unlikely city to be a hub for all three major programmes of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation – the Faiths Act Fellowship (FAF), the Faith & Globalisation Initiative (FGI), and Face to Faith.
First, it is the capital of French-speaking Canada. As in France, Quebec is deeply rooted in Catholicism but has become a decidedly secular state. Its major university, McGill, while decidedly secular in the bulk of its classes and coursework,has a diverse network of student faith groups and organisations, as well as an academic affiliation with The Montreal School of Theology. And though the province recently ended public religious education when it closed publicly-funded Catholic and Protestant boards, it has at the same time mandated a progressive Religion and Ethics course for all schools in the province, - public and private, for grades K to 11.
This confluence of factors make Montreal the perfect place for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. From the social action programme, Nick Pang, a FAF Alumnus, is currently pursuing his Masters of Divinity at McGill while Maya Smith, a FAF Alumna, is pursuing a law degree at McGill as well. The two – a Christian and a Jew – spent a year as an interfaith pair at the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal promoting multi-faith cooperation in ending deaths from malaria.
A few kilometres away, Loyola, a private Jesuit high school for boys, acts as the lead Face to Faith school in Canada. In light of the recent changes in both funding of religious schools and education on religion, Loyola pursues an open discussion of the value and nature of religious pluralism in the public sphere – and encourages other schools in Canada to teach their students the same through the dialogue-driven Face to Faith programme.
But perhaps the most compelling example of Montreal’s engagement with religion takes place in the Faith & Globalisation Initiative (FGI) at McGill. As a lead FGI university, McGill is exploring the role of faith in our world as a groundbreaking interdisciplinary academic subject. On September 7, 2011, Dr. Arvind Sharma, Birks Scholar in the Faculty of Religious Studies, convened the 2nd Global Conference on the World's Religions after 9/11. Speakers included the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Tariq Ramadan, among others. This public-facing event engaged intellectuals and civil society in the role of religion in establishing peace in the world.
One theme emerged particularly appropriate to the setting: Regardless of differences, we must protect each other’s right to believe – for it is only together, in knowing and respecting one another, that peace will be achieved.
Montreal is a practical example of how religion and religious discourse actually thrives within a secular society. The apparent contradiction of faith and the secular is not a barrier to progressive ideas but a resource to be cherished. Vive la Montreal!