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I God and Transcendence

1.1 The significance of the conception of God for humans:
Why God, why Transcendence?

The reli­gions have an under­stand­ing of some­one or some­thing, that encom­pass­es and tran­scends our world and attribute dif­fer­ent names to dis­tin­guish “it”. And this is exact­ly what agnos­tics and athe­ists ques­tion, by deny­ing its sense and some­times com­bat­ing its rel­e­vance.

What is the sig­nif­i­cance of God, of Tran­scen­dence for the indi­vid­ual and for soci­ety at large? Have sys­tems that exclude the con­cep­tion of God, proved their worth in the sense of human­i­ty? What do the con­cep­tion of God and per­cep­tions of Tran­scen­dence look like in the var­i­ous reli­gions? Which poten­tial for vio­lence or peace do these con­cep­tions bear?

1.2 Religions and Spirituality:
What distinguishes a religious person?

Reli­gio­nen haben unter­schiedliche bis gegen­sät­zliche Vorstel­lun­gen von Gott und Tran­szen­denz. Allen gemein­sam ist die Bedeu­tung, die der religiösen Erfahrung zukommt. In diesem Sinne ist Spir­i­tu­al­ität zu einem viel ver­wen­de­ten Begriff gewor­den.

Was aber ist Spir­i­tu­al­ität, was macht einen religiösen Men­schen aus? Trägt Spir­i­tu­al­ität zur Selb­stent­fal­tung bei? Kön­nen Men­schen aus ver­schiede­nen Reli­gio­nen spir­ituell voneinan­der ler­nen und gemein­same For­men der Spir­i­tu­al­ität (Gebete, Med­i­ta­tio­nen u.a.) praktizieren?The reli­gions have dif­fer­ent and even con­trary con­cep­tions of God and Tran­scen­dence. How­ev­er, all of them have one thing in com­mon: the impor­tance that is attached to the reli­gious expe­ri­ence. In this sense spir­i­tu­al­i­ty has become a fre­quent­ly used term. What is spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and what dis­tin­guish­es a reli­gious per­son? Does spir­i­tu­al­i­ty con­tribute to self- devel­op­ment? Can indi­vid­u­als with dif­fer­ent reli­gious beliefs learn from each oth­er and prac­tice com­mon forms of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty (prayer, med­i­ta­tion, etc.)?

1.3 Self image of religions and perception of others:
What is the meaning of terms like “Nirvana”, “Trinity” or “Devotion”…?

The under­stand­ing of the respec­tive oth­er reli­gions is often weak; impor­tant con­tents of oth­er reli­gions are often wide­ly mis­un­der­stood or taint­ed by prej­u­dices.

In this work­shop reli­gious terms and con­cepts will be viewed from an inter­nal and exter­nal per­spec­tive.

And how can ways be found to suc­cess­ful­ly bridge the gap between self per­cep­tion of the respec­tive reli­gion and the per­cep­tion by oth­ers?

1.4 Identity – Rites – Symbols:
Religious identity is privately and publicly expressed through symbols, holidays, religious festive culture and the compliance with dress regulations: The cross, head scarf and Sunday rest are current strikingly prominent examples.

Sym­bols offer ori­en­ta­tion but at the same time hold great poten­tial of con­flict. Which forms of reli­gious expres­sion have been inte­grat­ed in social coex­is­tence? What is their con­tri­bu­tion in this con­text? What poten­tial for con­flict do they hold in pub­lic sphere? And: What are the pos­si­bil­i­ties of pro­mot­ing con­struc­tive and peace­ful coex­is­tence of all cit­i­zens on this lev­el?

1.5 Mature and communicative religious belief:
How do religious people position themselves between the polar opposites of fundamentalism and indifference?

In our cur­rent life reli­gious belief finds itself in a field of ten­sion between reli­gious plu­ral­ism and the claim to absolute truth: reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism seems to be the coun­ter­part to indif­fer­ence towards all reli­gions.

How can inter­re­li­gious dia­logue counter the uncer­tain­ty, reli­gious indif­fer­ence and fun­da­men­tal­ist cur­rents of reli­gions? What is fun­da­men­tal­ism and how is it posi­tioned in the con­text of reli­gion? And how “flex­i­ble” should belief be?

1.6 Freedom of religion, criticism of religion, converting to another religion:
How is the human right to freedom of religion implemented on a political, state level and within the respective faith communities themselves?

Pur­suant to the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights and the con­sti­tu­tions of many coun­tries, free­dom of reli­gion and free­dom of expres­sion are guar­an­teed.

What do these free­doms and rights look like in real­i­ty? Does free­dom of reli­gion con­flict with any oth­er val­ues? How do reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties pro­mote and sup­port the imple­men­ta­tion of free expres­sion and prac­tice of reli­gion and belief? Do they rec­og­nize and allow the free­dom of express­ing one’s crit­i­cism of reli­gion or the right to change or renounce one’s faith and to con­vert to anoth­er reli­gion? And: what role do free­dom of reli­gion, free­dom of con­science and free­dom of expres­sion play in the rela­tion­ship with God?

II The Individual and Society

2.1 The responsibility of religions in the public sphere:
To what extent should and would faith communities participate in political life?

Civ­il soci­ety may rea­son­ably expect of reli­gious peo­ple and the insti­tu­tion­al­ly shaped faith com­mu­ni­ties
a con­tri­bu­tion towards social cohe­sion as well as fair and peace­ful coex­is­tence.

How do faith com­mu­ni­ties respond to these expec­ta­tions and how do they per­form these tasks?

How can pub­lic admin­is­tra­tive ser­vices and insti­tu­tions con­tribute to increase coop­er­a­tion with the respec­tive faith com­mu­ni­ties and in this way strength­en their sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty? And: In what way can reli­gious major­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of reli­gious minori­ties?

2.2 Coexistence in religious diversity:
What are the challenges and are there any inspiring initiatives?

Reli­gious diver­si­ty is enrich­ing, but at the same time holds great poten­tial of con­flict.

What can we do in order to pre­vent dis­crim­i­na­tion for instance on the job mar­ket?

How can we best over­come dif­fi­cul­ties and resolve con­flicts which arise in the pri­vate spheres- for instance in inter­re­li­gious mar­riages or in par­ent­ing?
How do the respec­tive faith com­mu­ni­ties react to these chal­lenges of diver­si­ty? How can we pre­vent the social phe­nom­e­non of “ghet­toi­sa­tion” and mem­bers of minor­i­ty faith com­mu­ni­ties with­draw­ing into so called “par­al­lel soci­eties”?

2.3 Religions and gender:
What are the paths to greater equality between the genders in the faith communities and in society at large?

Con­cern­ing ques­tions such as dig­ni­ty and equal­i­ty for women and men, reli­gious teach­ings and tra­di­tions are still rel­e­vant. How­ev­er, the ideas and views regard­ing the under­stand­ing of “gen­der equal­i­ty” often are wide­ly diver­gent.

In what way do faith com­mu­ni­ties pro­mote gen­der equal­i­ty? How is non- dis­crim­i­na­tion and equal­i­ty reflect­ed in reli­gious insti­tu­tions and lived in every day reli­gious life? And: Which sig­nif­i­cance do tra­di­tion­al stereo­typed role mod­els have in the respec­tive faith com­mu­ni­ties today?

2.4 Partnership, family and sexuality:
In which way do religions contribute to building interpersonal relationships embodied with human values and dignity?

Tra­di­tion­al moral con­cepts and lifestyles are some­times con­trast­ed by more open under­stand­ings of part­ner­ship, fam­i­ly and sex­u­al­i­ty in soci­eties.

What under­stand­ing do the respec­tive faith com­mu­ni­ties have with respect to fam­i­ly, part­ner­ship and sex­u­al­i­ty? How can reli­gious prin­ci­ples be applied in ques­tions of divorce or homo­sex­u­al mar­riage? Which lim­its should the soci­ety lay down (for instance in cas­es of con­tin­u­ous prob­lems in one of these areas)? And: What are the pos­si­bil­i­ties for reli­gious peo­ple to hold on to their respec­tive val­ues and at the same time con­tribute towards a tol­er­ant soci­ety?

2.5 Salvation and healing:
How are the various notions of religious salvation linked to our health?

If we con­sid­er a human being as a uni­ty of body, mind and spir­it, the role of reli­gions in the con­text of heal­ing is not lim­it­ed to the con­so­la­tion of hope of eter­nal sal­va­tion, but also includes heal­ing in a world­ly under­stand­ing. Reli­gions trans­mit mean­ing, mobi­lize psy­cho­so­mat­ic pow­ers and encour­age help­ful­ness.

What effects can reli­gious belief and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty have on health and heal­ing in gen­er­al? Can reli­gious prin­ci­ples also impede heal­ing process­es? What is the con­struc­tive and crit­i­cal poten­tial of reli­gions in regard to mod­ern and tight­ly sched­uled med­ical treat­ment process­es? And: What role can and should reli­gions gen­er­al­ly play in the pub­lic health care sys­tem?

2.6 “Teaching Religion”:
To what extent is religious education a public responsibility and service?

Reli­gious edu­ca­tion is an inter­nal mat­ter of reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties while at the same time a con­cern of soci­ety. Reli­gious edu­ca­tion can address strong moti­va­tion­al forces and plays an impor­tant role in pro­mot­ing peace­ful coex­is­tence and mutu­al under­stand­ing. The con­cepts, sys­tems approach­es, how­ev­er, vary sig­nif­i­cant­ly and range from “teach­ing about reli­gion” to “teach­ing in reli­gion“. Edu­ca­tion is an impor­tant ele­ment of the suc­cess of peace­ful coex­is­tence in cul­tur­al and reli­gious diver­si­ty.

Are there gen­er­al recipes for suc­cess, or is the path to suc­cess based on the respec­tive his­tor­i­cal­ly devel­oped social real­i­ty? How much knowl­edge of reli­gion is nec­es­sary for a suc­cess­ful social coex­is­tence any­way? Which con­cepts of reli­gious edu­ca­tion exist already and how many new approach­es need yet to be devel­oped? And: What respon­si­bil­i­ty does an ide­o­log­i­cal­ly neu­tral state have in this con­text and what is the scope of a city in all this?

III World and Global Responsibility

Interfaith dialogue:
Who communicates with whom about what ? Why? To what purpose and under what conditions?

Glob­al respon­si­bil­i­ty is begin­ning right at our front door. It is based on the pres­ence of indi­vid­u­als with a cul­tur­al and reli­gious back­grund that varies from one’s own in a city. Inter­re­li­gious dia­logue is a cru­cial glob­al issue that serves the pur­pose oof pre­vent­ing the immi­nent dan­ger of a clash of civ­i­liza­tions.

At which lev­els does inter­re­li­gious dia­logue take place- in every­day life, among experts, in com­mon activ­i­ties and events, among per­sons in lead­ing posi­tions? What under­stand­ing do the respec­tive faith com­mu­ni­ties have of each oth­er? Which suc­cess­ful dia­logue ini­tia­tives are there on a local lev­el? And: How can expe­ri­ences and results of inter­na­tion­al dia­logue be com­mu­ni­cat­ed sus­tain­ably on a local lev­el? In what way can cities and local faith com­mu­ni­ties take part in glob­al dia­logue process­es?

3.2 Responsibility for the world:
What potential do the religions offer for a global future worth living in?

Over the past years inter­re­li­gious dia­logue has led to the ques­tion of whether there is a Glob­al Eth­ic of all the world reli­gions as a vision of a glob­al trans­for­ma­tion of eth­i­cal aware­ness for a peace­ful and sus­tain­able future.
What respon­si­bil­i­ties do the reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties assume in the areas of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, ecol­o­gy, social and eco­nom­ic fair­ness, peace­ful con­flict res­o­lu­tion and com­bat­ing pover­ty?

In what ways can local reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties on the basis of the prin­ci­ple of Glob­al Eth­ic coop­er­ate with one anoth­er and with oth­er com­mit­ted peo­ple in ques­tions of devel­op­ment poli­cies, ecol­o­gy, fair trade, etc. And: Will the reli­gions estab­lish them­selves as “glob­al play­ers” and what will be their impact in future?

3.3 Religions and politics:
Is religion a private matter?
Democratic societies are distinguished by a legal separation of Church and State. The state and religions cannot interfere in each other’s spheres, but at the same time rely on close cooperation.

To what extent do reli­gions have a role to play in pub­lic sphere? In what areas is their pres­ence wel­come and con­tribute to a bet­ter inter­re­li­gious under­stand­ing? How can the faith com­mu­ni­ties address com­mu­ni­ty con­cerns and how should the state or a city pro­mote the pres­ence of reli­gions in the pub­lic sphere? And: How are the reli­gions at risk of being used for cer­tain polit­i­cal inter­ests?

3.4 Religions and Human Rights:
Can faith communities convincingly commit to advocating for Human Rights?

Graz holds the title of City of Human Rights and in this way already takes on respon­si­bil­i­ty for advo­cat­ing Human Rights. As they are uni­ver­sal, all reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties are oblig­at­ed to respect and abide by them.
What con­tri­bu­tion should reli­gions make in this area, in their fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples, their polit­i­cal com­mit­ment and their char­i­ta­ble works? How con­vinc­ing­ly do they imple­ment and pro­tect human rights in their own midst? How­do they uphold and pro­mote human rights and how can they coop­er­ate with admin­is­tra­tive ser­vices and NGOs in their engage­ment with human rights?

3.5 Religions and young people:
How can we succeed in offering constructive guidance?

The most pre­cious poten­tial of every soci­ety is their youths. This is why opti­mum devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties rep­re­sent a pri­ma­ry pub­lic con­cern. Reli­gions may offer con­struc­tive and gen­uine guid­ance and action moti­va­tion for young peo­ple.
How reli­gious are young peo­ple? Which shape does reli­gion have for young peo­ple of the cyber- era? What do the faith com­mu­ni­ties have to offer to young peo­ple? What impor­tance does reli­gion have for young peo­ple who grow up in the present youth cul­tures? Which approach­es and best prac­tice exam­ples are there for the faith com­mu­ni­ties’ and youth orga­ni­za­tions’ out­reach activ­i­ties in youth work? How can young peo­ple be inter­est­ed in inter­re­li­gious dia­logue and in this way learn to over­come cul­tur­al and reli­gious bar­ri­ers? What pos­si­bil­i­ties and for joint activ­i­ties and syn­er­gies are there in the pub­lic sphere?

3.6 Religions and the media:
How can the scope and enormous power of the media be utilized best?

The free­dom of the media is an indis­pens­able ele­ment of democ­ra­cy. At the same time the media have a great respon­si­bil­i­ty: Not only do they por­tray events, they also weigh and even con­struct real­i­ty. By pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion, they widen the view but at the same time nar­row hori­zons by restrict­ing the view of the over­all pic­ture to its neg­a­tive aspects (also on and between the reli­gions).

Which role do reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties play in this field- as mere objects of media por­tray­al, as active play­ers shap­ing the media as stake­hold­ers and as media own­ers? How can this coop­er­a­tion be con­struc­tive­ly and respon­si­bly designed and imple­ment­ed in a plur­al soci­ety? How do reli­gious minori­ties present them­selves in the media of their coun­try and how are the por­trayed by the media? What pos­si­bil­i­ties does a city have to posi­tion and present itself in this ques­tion, pos­si­bly off the trod­den paths of com­mon media rep­re­sen­ta­tion? And: How can more media pub­lic­i­ty be cre­at­ed for inter­re­li­gious dia­logue?