LISD Convenes Colloquium in Vienna on Religion, Values, and Spirituality

Photo Credit: Richard Trenner/LISD, 2017.

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University convened a colloquium, “Religion, Values, and Spirituality: The Impact on Diplomacy and Security,” in Vienna, Austria, at the City Palais Liechtenstein, on June 4-6, 2017. The colloquium was convened in honor of the10th Anniversary of LISD’s Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations (PORDIR), and in cooperation with ProOriente Wien.

The colloquium was hosted in the style of a Princeton seminar, whereby all participants were invited and encouraged to participate and speak throughout the meeting on the impact of religion and values on the theory and practice of security and diplomacy. Participants were seated in a circular arrangement to facilitate open discussions, and importantly, so that both senior and junior participants could engage and exchange ideas with one another at the same table in an egalitarian framework. The seminar explored new personal, meaningful, and sustainable ways to achieve honest dialogue through direct contacts and interactions between representatives of all faiths and religions, agnostics, atheists, across all genders and between generations. LISD Founding Director Wolfgang Danspeckgruber chaired the colloquium. 

The colloquium began in the evening on Sunday, June 4, with an opening dinner for participants in celebration of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, hosted by LISD. The reception included welcoming remarks by Wolfgang Danspeckgruber and a special prayer recited in the tradition of breaking fast. The following morning, on Monday, June 5, a High Mass with Choir and Orchestra was held in St. Augustin Kirche in celebration of the Christian Holiday of Pentecost.

Over the course of ensuring two days, participants engaged in seminar topics focusing on three key themes: Religion in the Digital Era; Community and State Building; and Modern Identity Formation. In the opening session, “Generational Perspectives on Religion, Values and Spirituality,” participants discussed the obstacles to honest and open religious dialogue. Participants underscored the ways in which religion can oftentimes be instrumentalized for political means, reaching at times to a global scale, the ways in which curiosity can serve as a mechanism for greater understanding, and the ways in which religion can classify conceptions of identity in daily life.

The conversation then continued in Working Session I, “Seeing Is Believing: Religion in the Digital Era,” during which participants discussed the role played by new technologies and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube on the ways people consume information related to religion, values, and spirituality; the ways that faith communities influence members of their congregations in the use of the internet and social media, and the ways in which digital platforms are utilized to present themselves to wider audiences; and the influence of non-state actors in promulgating certain religious practices online.

Working Session II, “The Role of Religion and Values in Community and State Building” focused on the ways that religion and values can enhance, impede, or reflect community and state building; the ways in which religious institutions can be afforded the free space to function in a state or community; and the similarities in the ways that religion and democracy both provide spaces for people to manufacture inclusion and exclusion. The conversation that began in Working Session II continued in Working Session III, “Modern Identity Formation: The Role of Religion, Values and Spirituality,” and participants discussed the need to pay attention to cohesion within communities to understand what constitutes community; the need to pay close attention to true demographic changes in order to better understand how collective identity can transform; and the foundations of religion in bringing together strangers through a common identity.

Finally, a special and unique closing session held on Tuesday, June 7, was led and directed by only female panelists and featured Dr. Barbara Buckinx, Associate Research Scholar in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University; Lachlyn Soper-Lembke, Senior Conflict Advisor at US Africa Command; Professor Rani Mullen, Associate Professor, College of William and Mary, and session chair Rana Ibrahem, Special Assistant to the Director of LISD. The closing session highlighted 1) the special privilege of religion to be both unapologetic and able to stand for something outside the state, 2) the religiosity of women in comparison to men and the ways in which women become the targets of religious radicalization, and 3) the importance of inclusion within religious dialogue whereby the right mix of actors can shape and inform the outcome of a successful religious exchange or newfound understanding.

The colloquium closed on Tuesday, June 7, with an inter-religious and spiritual celebration featuring prayers and remarks from representatives of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions, as well as participants from all faiths and practices.

A Chair’s Summary of this colloquium is forthcoming from the Institute.