International Gathering Of Scholars Will Establish Foundation For 2003 Meeting Of World Religious Leaders In Italy

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A press conference is scheduled for 1 p.m., Tuesday, May 14, at the Bailey Center, Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Religious traditions face many of the same challenges today: a widespread questioning of traditional morality, a lack of meaning in people’s lives, and the moral dilemmas often posed by technology. An international gathering of religious scholars will examine these issues as well as explore how they might nourish interfaith respect and cooperation during a May 12-14 conference, "Actualizing Human Potential -The Vision of World Religions," to be held at Mt. Sequoyah.

Participants in the Fayetteville conference will create an intellectual and programmatic framework for a gathering of 40 world religious leaders at Lake Como, Italy next year. Among patrons and attendees of the meeting in 2003 are the Dalai Lama, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, president of the Art of Living Foundation, Patriarch Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Rabbi Lau, the chief Rabbi of Israel, and Bishop Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Scholars of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism will hold three days of intensive discussions in Fayetteville, to identify the key issues in which various religions can have an impact on society, form a closely-knit team of scholars that can in turn serve and counsel religious leaders, and provide a foundation for the 2003 conference.

Together with its academic partners, the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas and McGill University, the Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions is organizing the Fayetteville conference, with support from Bishop Griswold.

Violence in the Middle East led organizers to move the conference from Jerusalem to Fayetteville.

Participants include Bishop Stephen Sykes of St. Johns College in England, professor Vincent Cornell, director of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas, professor Ashok Vohra of New Delhi University, professor Richard Hayes of McGill University, professor Barry Levy, dean of Religious Studies at McGill University, and Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein.

"The world is a global village in which religions must cooperate, not compete," said Dr. Goshen-Gottstein, conference organizer and director of the Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions, located in Jerusalem. "We must have serious study, reflection, and dialogue, in order that religions regain a significance that has been lost in many quarters. We will work to create a permanent framework for such cooperation."

Participants will explore the continued relevance of religion and the way in which different faiths envision the potential of the individual. They will also examine how each particular faith meets the challenges of modern life.

"Traditionally, religions prescribe the path through which their vision for the full flowering of the person can be achieved. Testing these visions against the context of contemporary reality is a fresh way of examining their relevance," said Dr. Goshen-Gottstein.

These discussions will form the basis of the 2003 conference, which the Fayetteville participants will attend as moderators.

"Our affiliation with this effort and with the Elijah School certainly broadens the academic and outreach activities of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies," said Vincent Cornell. "The Elijah School is committed to promoting religious teachings as a means to world peace and understanding. Scholars such as Dr. Goshen-Gottstein don’t shirk being critical when religions fall into exclusivist and militant postures. The King Fahd Center will be part of this important, ongoing effort to educate the public about a variety of religious traditions. Religion can become a force for unity and tolerance, rather than a weapon used to sow dissent, mistrust, and fear."

The Elijah School, which is also organizing next year’s conference sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, is in the process of establishing interfaith chapters in 15 major North American cities and in Europe and Asia. Each chapter, consisting of both religious and lay members, will receive materials created during these conferences.

"When religious leaders come together next year, we want them to feel they are at the heart of a wide and ongoing conversation," said Dr. Goshen-Gottstein, "The study and reflections of our scholars can filter down to interfaith groups around the world, in turn providing further background for the gathering of world religious leaders. We’re expounding an integrated interfaith vision, uniting scholars, religious leaders, and communities at large."

A consortium of 13 academic and theological institutions in Jerusalem, the Elijah School offers programs that bring together scholars from the finest universities in Europe, North America and the Middle East, as well as world religious leaders such as Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.





Dear Mr. Moderator and Distinguished Scholars,

First of all I want to welcome you and commend you for your dedication to the success of the "Actualizing Human Potential" conference next year. You have my full support and blessings.

As you come together for the preparatory meeting of major world religions, it is important to hold the vision of what the religions of the world have in common. In actualizing human potential, we must see that there is a spiritual thread that is the basis for all religions; human values. Indeed, human potential cannot be realized unless the spiritual potential is practiced. Let us see that our symbols and customs may differ widely but our values are basically the same. It is this realization that can bring the success of this noble and necessary cause. It is the God given right of every person on this planet to have health, food and shelter as well as peace of mind and a smile on their face. When the religious leaders come together with this in mind, then the full human potential will be realized and peace will reign.

I am happy about the formation of an Interfaith Academy and I encourage religious and spiritual leaders from every faith to learn more about each other’s beliefs in order to foster acceptance and understanding of all traditions.

Sincerely in Your Service,


His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar



Dr. Vincent Cornell, Director, King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, (479) 575-4157,

Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Director, the Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions,

Lynn Fisher, communications, Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, (479) 575-7272,



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