Cultural diversity is now an integral part of every society. Behind the promotion of “intercultural dialogue” is a drive to make this diversity a source of mutual enrichment, understanding, reconciliation and tolerance. This research project focused on the role of education in promoting an open approach to others.The work of educational staff, particularly in post-conflict countries, is key to understanding contemporary forms of violence and to educating young generations to be more open to the cultural diversity that will structure their country. Teachers and instructors are in an ideal position to promote the benefits of cultural diversity and interreligious dialogue by teaching new generations about tolerance and accepting others.
The following methodology was used. Research was carried out in two countries which, though diametrically opposed in many ways, demonstrate, as intended by our study, that most conflicts in the world today are caused by a complete breakdown in dialogue between religious and ethnic communities – according to UNESCO’s 2000 World Culture Report, 86 out of 92 of the world’s current conflicts stem from internal causes. In this context, diversity is a tool to meet the challenges of globalization, not a source of dispute. We began the first part of our study in Thailand, where we actively observed interaction within Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities in the city of Ayutthaya over a two-month period.
Working in close collaboration with teachers and instructors from different religious schools, we were able to obtain very encouraging results which may help us better understand why this country has not experienced inter-community strife the same way other countries in the region have over several generations (India or Sri Lanka, for example).
The second part of our study was carried out in Lebanon. Examining the case of Lebanon is of paramount importance: the country is a unique example and an essential component of research into intercommunity and interreligious dialogue.
Work in Lebanon began in close collaboration with Offre Joie, one of the few Lebanese non-governmental organizations which operates locally with the country’s different communities. Offre Joie is a non-political association which for 20 years has worked for unity and civil participation by bringing together Lebanese youths of all faiths and origins to share and work together on social projects. Following this initial groundwork with Offre Joie, we then conducted one-on-one interviews with academics, political figures and teachers whose area of work is intercommunity dialogue in post-civil war Lebanon. Our goal was to highlight their longstanding and ongoing efforts to change attitudes by re-establishing dialogue between communities and encouraging mutual forgiveness.
18 February 2010
Translated from French by UNESCO