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April 7, 2016

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Opens Berkley Anniversary Symposium

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Opens Berkley Anniversary Symposium
On April 7, 2016, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright delivered the opening lecture for “Rethinking Religion and World Affairs,” the tenth anniversary symposium of Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The symposium included two days of discussions centered on the role of religion in international relations today.
Speaking to a full audience of students and faculty in Gaston Hall, Albright wove personal history and professional experience into a case for religion as a force for peace. Despite viewing an increase in religious extremism and violence throughout her career, she spoke out on her continued belief that religion has shaped the world positively and serves as a unifying, humanizing force that transcends culture and politics.

Albright noted that today’s conflicts and terrorist activity are not new. However, she said that groups like Boko Haram and ISIS have the ability to wreak wider-reaching impact in a globalized world than their historic counterparts. In response, she called for greater use of technology to combat terrorist narratives and increased engagement with pro-peace leaders across all faiths.

Albright celebrated that in recent years, understanding of religious values and views has become more common for institutions like the Department of State. But she cautioned that given the limits of government involvement in religious affairs, it is ever more critical for non-governmental research groups like the Berkley Center to continue their work. She challenged scholars and the Berkley Center to do more to bring religious factors into wider research, to prepare students with religious literacy, to improve public discourse on religion, and to encourage dialogues across religious communities to promote peace.

In closing, Albright emphasized the importance of dialogue to encourage peace and collaboration and welcomed continued discussions on the subject throughout the symposium and the Berkley Center’s future work.

Rethinking Religion and World Affairs: The Berkley Center Tenth Anniversary Symposium

Founding Director Tom Banchoff delivered opening remarks on the second day of the Berkley Center symposium, reflecting on the necessity of understanding the complex and emergent role of religion in international affairs.

The first panel convened Jose Casanova of Georgetown University, Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago, Akbar Ahmed of American University, Miroslav Volf of Yale University, and Preet Singh of Preet Singh and Partners. Mediated by Casanova, this discussion tackled issues like the successes and failures of interfaith dialogue, areas of future progress, and the relationship between religion and violence.

While all of the panelists agreed that interfaith dialogue has made immense progress over the last decade, they identified places where the interfaith community could improve. Nussbaum spoke of the importance of widening the interfaith movement to not only include more faith traditions, but also to include dissident forces within each faith.

Other panelists emphasized the need to be humble and recognize that the interfaith movement is not a novel concept, but centuries old. Every expert agreed that a prerequisite for the success of the interfaith movement is changing perceptions on the ground. Scholars, nonprofits, and governments must engage individuals to understand that though there are fundamental differences between faiths, all people share a common human dignity.

The second panel, “Religion, Violence, and Peace: Rethinking the Connections,” featured Shaun Casey of the Department of State, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, Bryan Hehir of Harvard University, Sayeeda Warsi of the U.K. House of Lords, and Thomas Banchoff. Panelists noted that religion has the positive potential to integrate people into society, to mitigate humanitarian and environmental catastrophes, and to construct peacebuilding efforts. While most panelists did not reject religion’s connection with violence, they argued that religion was primarily a positive force and marginalizing faith as violent is detrimental to peacebuilding efforts.