Exploring Interfaith dialogue in European Youth Work
Article submitted by Eurodesk UK Partner, the ASHA Centre
The Need for Interfaith Dialogue in European Youth Work
The importance of and urgency for interfaith dialogue in youth work is best understood as a response to the growing nationalism, racism and sense of disaffection across Europe, typified by the populist backlashes against both the so called European Refugee ‘Crisis’ and immigration in general. In order to tackle one of the most disturbing challenges to the principles of European programmes and unity in recent times, interfaith dialogue in youth work is generally underpinned by two simple ideas:
- The peoples of the world can learn a lot from each other’s philosophical and religious traditions
- We are strong together
A culture’s religion and philosophical thought encapsulates its people’s values and ideas, and is integrally related to a sense of identity for many. Ignorance and/or intolerance of each other’s traditions is at the root of xenophobia and nationalism and if we want to understand our fellow Europeans and neighbouring cultures, we must understand each other’s religions. Youth workers working in a multicultural context therefore need to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of different cultures, religions, traditions and philosophy. Through looking at the philosophical foundations and historical origins of these traditions, there are opportunities to explore ideas and concepts that are highly relevant to the needs of youth workers, for example the nature of true leadership, effective action in the world, how to foster social harmony and productive political systems, and how as a society we can create a sustainable relationship to the natural world. In this way, interfaith dialogue can be seen as directly responding to the needs of European youth work.
Going beyond the ‘norm’
The reality of today’s multipolar geopolitical landscape seeks to remind youth workers that today’s interfaith dialogue must go beyond a more common kind of interfaith dialogue which often focuses on the so called ‘Abrahamic’ faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). This is often to the detriment of religions originating in other parts of the world, which, in terms of population, antiquity, historical influence and cultural richness are just as important. Religions originating in South and East Asia (specifically historical India and China) continue to be powerful, dynamic, and enduring forces in many societies. The presence of people in European countries of South Asian, South-East Asian and Far East Asian origin means that people engaging in intercultural work in society need to have knowledge of the religious aspect of Asian society.
The economic and political rise of China and India also means it’s more important that European people understand these countries’ religious heritage and culture. Furthermore, the religions of China and India have exercised an enormous influence on the formation and development of global political, economic, cultural, moral, and philosophical systems. For example, Eastern religion has had a significant impact on certain outstanding European figures, such as Tolstoy and Jung as well whole movements of Euro-American culture, such as the 19th Century German Romantic movement and the New England Transcendentalist movement. Certain practices particularly associated with the religions of the east, such as yoga, tai chi, feng shui, meditation and vegetarianism, have entered the mainstream of European society. Moreover, an increasingly holistic approach to interfaith dialogue also acknowledges the urgent need for an informed understanding of Islam, given the following:
- The significant and increasing population of Muslims in European societies
- The political and social significance of refugees and migration from predominantly Islamic countries
- The geo-political importance of the Islamic world
- The high profile of terrorist atrocities committed in the name of Islam
- The rise of ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and America
- The historical, cultural and philosophical richness of Islam
In short, all of these religions are highly relevant to European Youth Work.
Opportunities for getting involved
In terms of funded opportunities for youth work and young people across Europe, Erasmus+ is a highly developed and accessible programme with hundreds of opportunities available across the continent and beyond. While it is not specifically aimed at interfaith dialogue, it can be navigated to filter opportunities based on this topic of interest.
As a youth worker, make sure you register on SALTO-Youth. This platform gives you access to a training calendar (with opportunities ranging for first timers to veterans across a wide range of youth work topics, e.g. Youth Work Against Violent Radicalisation), a toolbox and a partner organisation finding tool.
As a young person, be sure to visit Eurodesk. They are the first point of call to any question no matter how simple, they are available in all European countries and they can provide personal guidance on how to engage with and benefit from mobility opportunities. Eurodesk will help direct you to whatever theme and activity you are passionate about and are experts in guiding you in the use of the EU’s one-stop-shop for mobility opportunities; the European Solidarity Corps.
The ASHA Centre, a Eurodesk UK partner organisation, is currently leading an Erasmus+ Key Action 1 Mobility of Youth Worker Project titled ‘Faith in the Future: Inter-religious Dialogue, Youth Work and the Future of Europe’. This project will realise three training courses that seek to develop professional and personal competences for youth workers and leaders in relation to Interfaith Dialogue. For more information on the project including participation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For general guidance on Erasmus+, please email email@example.com.