King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, challenged conservatism when he traveled to the Vatican in 2007 to launch an initiative for dialogue between religious leaders, according to Bawa Jain.
Jain, secretary-general of the World Council of Religious Leaders, cited Abdullah’s meeting as an example of religious diplomacy during a lecture yesterday afternoon before an audience of nearly 40 Yale undergraduates and Divinity School students. At the event, organized by the Yale International Relations Association, Jain presented his strategy to improve religious diplomacy and invited students to discuss the consequences of religion in politics and society. Jain said he thinks better educating young religious leaders as well as the general public is the key to fostering constructive religious dialogues.
“What we seek in our plans for religious diplomacy is getting [religious] leaders to come together and work on social issues,” Jain said.
Religious figures have a strong political influence that transcends national boundaries, he said, adding that they are often more popular than politicians — when the pope makes an announcement, for example, Catholics around the globe listen. Jain said he works closely with the U.N. secretary-general, and he gears his plans toward making religion relevant to young people’s lives as part of a larger effort focusing on education.
He said he hopes to bring young religious leaders to universities such as Harvard and Yale to train them in management, government, social media and social issues.
“Religious leaders function as CEOs, taking care of investments and looking over huge societies, so imagine how much more efficient they would be if they were given formal training in management,” Jain said. “They have enormous influence on government leaders, so imagine how much more efficient they would be if they were given political background.”
If the leaders are properly educated, they can act as powerful advocates for issues concerning society and the environment, he said. In addition, he said, religion must keep up with technological developments in social media to convey its core messages. Jain offered suggestions for the way dialogue should proceed between religious leaders, saying that leaders should discuss social issues instead of theology, and that cross-religious cooperation should be the overarching goal.
Jain also outlined plans to extend religious education to school curricula. Students should learn basic information about major religions, such as when holidays occur, he said, to develop a stronger mutual understanding.
“How can we relate to each other if we don’t know what is sacred to each other?” Jain asked.
But three students interviewed expressed skepticism about implementing religious teachings in the American public school system, since some people consider discussing religious ideas around children contrary to the nature of secular education.
Still, audience members said they agreed with Jain’s idea that education is “where it all starts.” Rudi-Ann Miller ’16, who is originally from Jamaica, said Jamaican students at her school are tested each year on four major religions and one smaller religion so they learn to understand different groups of people.
“In Jamaica, this sort of education was a really big part of our primary schooling and I think we did benefit,” Rudi-Ann Miller ’16 said.
In addition to working with the World Council of Religious Leaders, Jain travels around the world to speak on religious diplomacy and his commitment to peace.