Reflections from “Communities of Faith and Belief Dialogue Conference”

We are Olivia Brooks and Alice Taylor, two trainee teachers of Religious and Moral Education (RME) about to go into our probation year. We were invited along to the “Communities of Faith and Belief Dialogue Conference” from the 5th-7th of December. This is a blog about our experiences.
As teachers of RME, interfaith relations are extremely important to us, and relevant to our work with pupils in secondary schools. Having dialogue and developing friendships between different members of faith and non-faith communities, it also develops awareness of diversity and allows people to explore the beliefs of the ‘other’ in a safe and welcoming format. This will help tackle prejudices among different communities, which were brought up in a humorous way at the event. It is important for us to come together, and able to explore what we have been taught about others, and become able to establish our own truths, based on experience. This is a reason that RME is taught in schools – to foster interfaith relations through inviting speakers into schools, and enabling pupils to experience other faiths and traditions by visiting places of worship, or sacred sites. Many children in Scotland already have an experience of interfaith dialogue in practise. Often in RME, we explore the common ground – which was one of the themes of the weekend.
It would be difficult to deny that different faith traditions have disagreements, and differences. However, focusing on interfaith relations enables us to explore what they have in common, so what we can meet problems and injustices in our society, signing from the same hymn sheet.
One of the first steps of fostering this common ground is through dialogue between communities. This also inspires different faith and non-faith communities to share their best practices, enabling communities to learn from each other. For example, at the Conforti weekend, funeral poverty was one of main issues discussed, the conversation highlighted that all faith and non-faith communities wanted to tackle this problem. During discussion different issues, and different solutions were highlighted. Barbara Potter from the Quaker tradition recommended “Ae Fond Farewell,” an organisation that seeks to provide low cost funerals and tips on how people can save money on funerals. One of the most important parts of the conference was the opportunity throughout the weekend to ask ‘difficult questions’ anonymously, which were answered by a panel discussion with members from the Humanist Society Scotland, The Church of Scotland and the leader of the Conforti Institute, a Roman Catholic.
Having discussions on common goals and showing what communities can do and are doing to tackle issues that can affect anyone regardless of beliefs highlights the similarities different communities have. We live in a world where we are fed negative images of both faith and non-faith communities through the media. Having these positive belief-centred conferences allows us to focus on the positive, and focus on moving forward. Also it allows students in RME to see how people are already working towards making a positive difference in the world by putting their positive beliefs and values into action.
At the end of the weekend, some ‘next steps’ were established. We have agreed to pass on details, to ensure that the conversation does not just span one weekend. The conference will also happen once per year to ensure that this positive dialogue can be turned into positive action, in the future.

Views expressed are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Humanist Society Scotland.

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