What will see me through
the next 20 years
(and I am less sure of those 20 than I was of “forever”)
is my knowledge that even in the face
of the sweeping away of all that I assumed
to be permanent, even when the universe
made it quite clear to me that I was mistaken
in my certainties, in my definitions,
I did not break.
The shattering of my surities
did not shatter me. Stability comes from inside,
not outside…

Lucille Clifton, b 1936
from “Wisdom for Life” Exley 2000

I have recently returned from the Conference of European Univeristy Chaplains in the Netherlands and a conference of the UK Chaplains in Higher Education Association in York, both engaging with the major themes of Secularisation and Religious Pluralism.

The Dutch chaplains accepted the challege of bringing these two themes together for exploration. We began with a modern historian giving us an overview of Dutch responses to pluralism within a context of growing secularisation, and continued the exploration with an athiest philosopher making a case for religion in secular society, a Catholic theologian turning the common view of church on its head and a second generation Moroccan Muslim challenging western cultural assumptions.

In the UK I noticed a high level of energy for interfaith dialogue. No doubt the “London Bombings” has been a big impetus. The UK Inter Faith Network brought together university student leaders from the major faith groups, representatives of the National Union of Students and the Government’s diversity unit to talk about interfaith relations on campus. All spoke enthusiastically about the need for students of different religions to meet to develop greater understanding of each other , with students from different religions beginning to form interfaith forums on campuses across the UK and engaging in social development projects together.
The Church of England has initiated a major research project to get a picture of the engagement of the different faiths in Higher Education and its preliminary findings were discussed at the York conference.

Nevertheless the Flinders model of a “community of colleagues” still seems to be a standout model, though we have plenty to learn from the experiments being undertaken overseas.

The workshop I presented in the Netherlands and the UK postulates that when secularisation and religious pluralism intersect, the overlap is “spirituality”. I think there’s a PhD in there for someone!

Let me know if you’d like a copy of my workshop paper. I haven’t put it on the Web because it has been forwarded for publication.

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