Sarah Snyder addresses United Nations colleagues on religious dialogue

Sarah Snyder, Founding Director of the Rose Castle Foundation, gave a talk addressing United Nations colleagues on 'the power dynamics one must be sensitive to within inter-religious dialogue efforts'.

Organised by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, Sarah's address was part of a conference on how the UN can further advance inter- and intra-religious dialogues.

Sarah's address is shared below:

Identifying tomorrow’s leaders, not today’s

For understandable reasons, our political systems often focus on short-term results rather than implementing sustainable measures that will bear fruit in the long term. For example, our governments are effective at identifying, and at times eradicating, influential leaders of extremist worldviews, sometimes at the expense of noting the next generation of leaders currently in formation beneath them.

How can we identify and reach tomorrow’s leaders before they are shaped by ideologies which perpetuate their mentors’ teaching? At Rose Castle Foundation, we are specifically working with emerging faith-formed leaders in the seminaries and universities where some of tomorrow’s leaders are currently in training. Whilst this is just one subset of those emerging leaders (many never reach higher levels of education), it offers an important opportunity to reach those gathered in formational centres of religious and ideological education. We believe this small but effective approach plays an essential contribution to shaping the thought and practice of tomorrow’s leaders.

Scripture and tradition

This links to a second powerful dynamic: the role and influence of scripture and tradition in justifying violent means to so-called righteous ends?

Living and working in northern Mali, for example, I witnessed the training of children in select Quranic teaching that justified the use of violence towards disbelievers. In the absence of any other religious teaching, these children grow up with a distorted view of their responsibilities as Muslim citizens of the world.

By contrast, in Oman, I also witnessed the power of a nationwide Quranic schools programme that combats misuse of religious ideologies, not by negating scriptural teaching but by amplifying such teaching within localised mainstream tradition. It’s focus is on teaching a holistic Islamic worldview, deeply rooted in scripture and tradition, that promotes peaceful and alternative approaches to challenge the status quo. I am convinced that harnessing the power of scripture and tradition, within local cultural contexts, is key to shaping the thought and practice of tomorrow’s leaders, today.

Women and community leaders

Thirdly, and also closely linked, is the role and influence of women community leaders in fragile states.

Not necessarily senior women in public roles (significant though they are), but rather the wives and mothers of senior religious and political leaders who are themselves catapulted in to significant and influential leadership by virtue of the public role played by their menfolk.

Whilst working with the Archbishop of Canterbury, we initiated a programme called Women on the Frontline specifically addressing the wives of church leaders. These women receive little or no training for their roles, and yet end up as de-facto leaders – in thought and practice – of their wider community. We delivered scripturally grounded training in mediation and peace-building in conflict-impacted contexts like South Sudan, DRC, Burundi and Melanesia.

Working with women in these particular contexts, requires the permission and support of their menfolk also. We design teaching carefully within local and cultural norms to ensure training is not perceived as a threat, but rather to enhance the ability of women to work with other women - equipping them to continue training the next level of community leaders within their spheres of influence.

Too often, these women are over-looked because they are once-removed from the public decision-makers (the latter being their husbands, brothers, sons and fathers). Yet their ability to effect change is significant.

At the Rose Castle Foundation, we are interested in exploring how best to expand this work beyond the church to the wives and female influencers of other religious and political leaders in fragile contexts. We would love to support you in doing this through our respective networks of religious and traditional leaders.

So, in conclusion, I commend three ways in which we can address some of the power dynamics at play within inter-religious dialogue approaches:

  1. To work with tomorrow’s leaders, currently in formation – many of whom can be found in particular seminaries and universities.
  2. To recognise the vital role of scriptural and traditional teaching in shaping those very leaders, and the importance of this teaching in forming resilient/flourishing citizens of tomorrow.
  3. To support leadership training for the women who sit just beside their male counterparts – the latter holding public positions of power (eg as religious leaders) but the former catapulted in to significant and influential roles by virtue of their relationship to a religious or political leader.

If scaled with cultural and religious sensitivity, these three methods can play an important role in shaping tomorrow’s leaders.

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