Exploring holy and unholy alliances – Why religion matters in promoting sustainable development

On 5 December, the GIZ Representation in Brussels hosted its End of the Year Event. For the 2017 edition a threefold event was organised, focussing on the role of religion in the context of international cooperation as well as on its cultural dimension.

More than 100 guests from the international cooperation landscape were welcomed to the Representation and had the opportunity to debate on how and to which extent religion and in particular religious actors can engage in moving forward the sustainable development agenda. Religion is the fabric of our societies: it creates important global networks, influences social cohesion, people’s behaviours, identities, but also decision making. However, religion can in some cases deter sustainable development by, for example, promoting behaviours that do not fully respect human rights and is often abused for power struggles, economic interest, and even used to legitimise violence.

The panel discussion, moderated by Karin Kraml, journalist and former Member of the European Parliament, included Ján Figel’, EU Special Envoy for the promotion of the freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, Fr. Olivier Poquillon OP, General Secretary of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU, Awraham Shalom Soetendorp, Founder and President of the Jacob Soetendorp Institute of Human Values and Rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Community in The Hague, and Nabiela Farouq, Policy Advisor to the Sector Programme Values and Religion at GIZ. The discussion was characterised by a rich pool of personal experiences that were shared with the guests creating an emotional participation.

The speakers were able to express views on how interreligious bridges can be built, agreeing that religious literacy and inter religious dialogue are crucial, especially in those context where social tensions derive from difficult relations among different religious faiths. Personal experiences and lighter anecdotes supported a plea for reconciliation and cooperation among religious beliefs, also though the acknowledgement of past wounds and civic education.

After the discussion, the guests were invited to wander around the photo exhibition “Values and Religion through the eyes of photographers”, which was inaugurated with the presence of two of the photographers, Lars Bösch and Ania Szkoda. The exhibition, which followed a photography workshop organised by the Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie Berlin and GIZ, includes photographs by eleven artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Tanzania. In their works, they captured values and religion without stereotypes, in light of individual experiences and local contexts.

Inspired by both the discussion and the photo exhibition, the evening was spent in lively conversations and exchange on own thoughts and experiences and served as a farewell to 2017 with a lot of inspiration for the upcoming year.

From left: Karin Kraml, Jan Figel, Awraham Shalom Soetendorp, Nabiela Farouq, Fr. Olivier Poquillon OP. Copyright: GIZ