CRGA releases new report: Theologies of Hope

In February 2016, the Centre on Religion and Global Affairs (CRGA) held a consultation on Religion, Violence and Failed States in Beirut. The vision behind the conference was to explore the relationship between religion and violence in conflict zones. With some 35 delegates, we undertook a comparative analysis of Boko Haram, ISIS and Al Shabaab, looking at how they emerged, evolved and performed, as well as their claimed theologies and ideologies.

A key outcome of this comparison was the recognition that, unlike the common public debates, violent conflicts are not caused by religions. We noted that religions play a central role in providing meaning and order in a chaotic world, belonging and solidarity, and social and welfare support. We observed how central faith is to people’s lives, and how, while media attention focuses on extremists, many more are moved to help improve their communities because their faith gives them strength. It is also clear that religious individuals play key roles in peace building initiatives, caring for the poor and those in need.

It was agreed that extremists in all religions follow similar strategies: they point out the challenges and problems, they provide ill fated solutions, and they claim a better future. While most people simply want to challenge extremists by condemning their chosen strategies of violence, not many people seek to address the same issues extremists speak about, which is why they are able to mislead certain young people.

What we need are religious thinkers and activists focusing not on why such extremists are wrong, but rather, on Theologies of Hope to counter the theologies of war, exclusion, destruction, revolutions and macro political agendas. Such Theologies of Hope will not be about grand political revolutions, but will speak to the individual believer, to help them to see a light, a motivation and a reason to work towards betterment of this world, not just for themselves or people of their ethnicity, nation and religion, but for all.

In fact, such a message is not about defeating extremists. It is about shifting our energy to help a new generation of people of faith, grounded in their tradition and at home with their identities, making this world a better place. It is about helping them to realise that yes, the world is not a fair place and is full of problems, but they have a direct personal responsibility to do something meaningful about those problems.

Therefore, as CRGA, we have decided to bring a group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars to look into their own faith traditions and provide a model of Theology of Hope for their own coreligionists. They were asked to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. How does your religious tradition read the world?

  2. What is the basis of hope in your faith?

  3. What are the grounds for personal responsibility?

  4. Why shouldn’t the person give up hope and continue?

The report include not only answers to these questions as building blocks of a theology of hope, but also demonstrate how rich religious traditions are and how central it is to provide meaning and hope in a seemingly out of control world is to them.

The implications of this approach are clear; rather than seeing religions merely as sources of conflict, there are more reasons to religions as powerful and constructive agents of change. Rather than spending our energies to refute extremists, it may be more meaningful to provide alternatives to the same questions they claim to be answering.

You can download the report here.

CRGA Launches New Programme

CRGA launches its new programme Beirut Conversations. Aim of the programme is to create a safe space for experts, politicians, diplomats, civil and faith society leaders in the Middle East and North Africa to discuss sensitive issues and propose new perspectives. It seeks to be a catalyst for change and provide a neutral platform for individuals with diverse backgrounds to meet and learn from each other.

Beirut Conversations are by-invitation-only events with an intentionally limited participation to 20 delegates. All discussions are made under full confidentiality. CRGA produces a page long summary of general themes discussed after each Beirut Conversation for a wider audience. Each Beirut Conversation is divided into two parts: better understanding, and reflections on solutions. 

Each year, CRGA will hold five Beirut Conversations each at an undisclosed location in Beirut. The first three Beirut Conversations for the remainder of this year are scheduled as: 

  • October 2016: Theologies of Hope: An Alternative to Extremist Ideologies?
  • December 2016: Do Western efforts to promote religious freedom help minorities?
  • March 2017: Are 'Western' and 'Eastern' values doomed to clash?
  • June 2017:  Good Governance and Religion; what role can faith actors play? 

If you or your organisation wish to be considered as a delegate, kindly get in touch with us with a description of your work and why you should be a participant. 


Consultation: Future of Religious Freedom Advocacy

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
— Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental human right. It cannot be denied to an individual even in most extreme circumstances. However, we are witnessing a worrying trend of increasing persecution of individuals on the basis of their religions or beliefs, including atheism. As persecution evolves from being state oppression to abuses committed by non-state actors and local communities, human rights promotion and protection efforts on religious freedom are facing serious challenges in adopting to new conditions. 

On December 15, CRGA is gathering a group of 30 officials, NGO and faith leaders, and experts in London from UK, Kenya, Canada, USA, Ghana, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, and Turkey with Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Ahmadi, Baha'i, Mormon, Jewish and of no religious backgrounds. The day long consultation is to focus on current trends in key countries and issues, reflections on what kind of strategies to address them work or do not, and what type of advocacy needs to be pursued. The gathering is unique as it provides a neutral space both for officials who work on these issues as well as people who live in persecuted setting to come together and reflect with a desire to develop better solutions. 

While the discussions in the consultation are confidential, CRGA will release a general document summarising key points and proposals.  

Turkish Elections

Our Director, Ziya Meral, is interviewed by BBC World on the implications of June 7 national elections in Turkey.

Ziya Meral is interviewed by BBC Persian on the implications of elections, with a specific emphasis on foreign policy and Iran. In Farsi;