A cultural amalgam
The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World holds a conference on religious pluralism in Lebanon and the Middle East.
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The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW), in partnership with the European Project for Interreligious Learning (EPIL), held a conference entitled “Reconciliation: Committed to Staying Together, One People, Multiple Confessions” at LAU Beirut on February 4-5.
The convention was part of the fifth and last module of EPIL’s two-year study plan, which aims to train women to understand and manage religious diversity in order to build equitable and peaceful communities.
EPIL functions as a “roaming college” that focuses on Christian-Muslim relations and on the role of women in creating a culture of peace. Forty women from Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Germany, and Bosnia and Herzegovina partook in the two-day seminar, which addressed religious plurality in the Arab world, postcolonialism in the Middle East, and the challenges of constructing a civil society.
“Lebanon is like a second home to me,” said Teny Pirri-Simonian, co-founder of EPIL, at the outset of the conference. “I am very delighted to be here with all of you.”
Under the theme “Living Together as Good Neighbors,” Lebanese economist, historian and former Finance Minister Dr. Georges Corm spoke about Lebanon’s shifting identity over the years, calling Lebanon the “only country in this day and age that is completely similar to the Ottoman Empire in terms of political structure.”
“Unfortunately, however, the country’s outdated, 19th century political structure has jeopardized and put a strain on its congruent pluralism — religious or otherwise,” said Corm.
Moreover, the power vacuum that Lebanon is characterized by was largely responsible for various religious communities’ timid search for solid, albeit foreign power affiliations in the early 1970s, leaving many sects in the country under the patronage of different foreign states.
But the main difference between various communities in Lebanon, as Corm aptly pointed out, is in fact related to the diversity of the country’s geographic milieu and subsequent economic gap.
Other speakers included President of the Syriac League in Lebanon Habib Ephrem and Dr. Seoud el Mawla, representative of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council, who spoke about religion in the public sphere. On the second day of the conference, Reem Maghribi, founder and editor of Sharq magazine, an English- language publication about Arab culture and lifestyles, and Nahla Haidar, member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, addressed the challenges and achievements of women in the Arab world in the context of Arab revival.
“It’s important to see how religious plurality is viewed and tackled in non-secular countries,” said Marleen Kramer, a theological studies student from the Netherlands. “Learning about the challenges that people in Lebanon and the Middle East are facing makes us see things from a different perspective, and might even help us to solve some problems of our own.”
During their 8-day stay in Lebanon, EPIL’s participants visited several mosques and churches, in addition to various archeological sites.
“Women are the mothers and sisters of generations to come. If interreligious and intercultural communication is practiced at home, and passed on to their respective communities, the result will be a more peaceful world,” says Anita Nassar, assistant director of IWSAW.