Religion today provides more sensational headlines and political debate topics; more inspiration to make a difference and more despair about the future than it has in decades. Few issues are more emotional than religion and few issues are more relevant today to peace and prosperity. Are faithful followers ready to confront the challenge of religious pluralism? Can we find ways to come together for the sake of our communities? Yes, I’ve learned that it’s possible, but only if we “Harmonize NOT Homogenize.” Here’s how I discovered that truism, and why I’m choosing to share my story now.
In 2008, Rachel Osikoya responded from the United Kingdom (UK) to the question, “Will Religious Diversity increase as a focus for diversity professionals?” She followed up with a 2015 perspective. Read both responses side-by-side…
2008 RESPONSE: I would say that multifaith diversity is already just as important as other elements of diversity. When looking at diversity and inclusion in the UK religion and belief are always a factor. Most large corporates in the UK have multifaith rooms or quiet rooms for prayer and contemplation. There are also a number of independent organisations that are available to help companies understand best practice on how to deal with workplace multifaith issues.
“A Third Way” conference, small but fervent in participation, was recently held in Chattanooga, TN. The main point and goal of the conference was this: How do we have a strong Christian identity that is also benevolent to others? So many times “tolerance” goes along with a weak identity, weak loyalty to a tradition. On the other hand, people who are really strong in their beliefs can sometimes behave in hostile ways (or perceived hostile ways) to outsiders. The idea for the conference was that there was a “third way”—a way to have a strong identity that is generous and benevolent to outsiders.
Despite an increase in lawsuits related to religious expression and workplace discrimination, religious diversity is an area of Diversity & Inclusion often missing from leadership development. The silence is due to lack of exposure and to fear, perhaps well-founded, that religious diversity training may actually increase animosity in the workplace, rather than build bridges. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling sanctioning public prayer as an American tradition, a tradition that has often been Christian, the role of diverse religions in the US is increasingly murky and contentious.
The night atmosphere is alive with colour and sound. Vibrant costumes adorn humble people as they dance to ward of evil spirits. Bright fires cast a warm glow; the balmy warmth of incense caresses the air. Our spirits soar. This is a traditional Buddhist festival in Nepal. Contrast this with another scenario I experienced: Before we alight the bus in Beijing we are told not to ask questions. We are told not to mention anything political. We giggle and laugh, every one of us thinks it’s a joke. But our guide tells us again firmly, he is 100% serious. We could get arrested and thrown in prison and that is no laughing matter.