Monday, November 22, 2004

The Reception of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio

Scholars of Religion were treated this week to time in the lovely city of San Antonio. The AAR continues its superior tradition of conference organization, and the town showed itself to be exceptionally well suited to host the 1000’s of guests in attendance. The enchanting Riverwalk, the natural synergy between hotels and housing and the ample facilities of the easily accessible convention center, and finally a great tradition of conference services have all mixed to make a splendid environment for the week of important (if occasionally esoteric) business at hand. Apart from the habit of convention and tourist destinations to find a way to convert every tiny need into another buck out of your pocket, San Antonio is a pleasant venue indeed.

For the past 20 years the IRFWP has hosted a reception at the annual meeting of the AAR, and this year was no different. Three steady trademarks make up the signature of this IRFWP tradition:
1. We meet on the evening prior to the formal start of the conference
2. We have an hour of a scholarly panel
3. We have an hour to catch up and relax together

1. Meet before the official start of the conference

As a professional society, presentations at the academy tend to carry for participants a touch of pressure, competition, and exacting rigor from peers and competitors. Further, often times academic obligations often require scholars to treat relatively rarified, even esoteric subject matter. This is simply the reality of any professional community. This is not to be decried, it is the stuff of genuine, and hard won expertise.

But this battle over minutiae is often a waste of powerful minds, when we consider the legitimate, broad, religious concerns which occupy the minds of intelligent people at this time in history. We of the IRFWP deliberately have our meetings before the frenetic, and rough and tumble, formal schedule begins. During this time, scholars are fresh, relaxed, and often in the best condition to offer thoughts relevant to pressing matters of religion and peace in contemporary world affairs.

2. Have an hour of a scholarly panel and
3. Have an hour of time to relax and socialize

The IRFWP reception is meant to provide two important benefits to participants; 1. An opportunity to engage in intellectually stimulating dialogue, and 2. A chance to catch up with friends and make new contacts in a warm atmosphere with plentiful refreshments. The academic section is also the time in which the IRFWP director reports on the work and progress of the organization.

The Responsibility of the Religious Academy in Foreign Policy and International Relations

As an active peace foundation, the IRFWP and the providentially central organization under which it carries out its activities (The Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, IIFWP) always looks for activist applications of intellectual product. One major commitment of the IIFWP is its devotion to peace initiatives. These include the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI), the Northeast Asian Peace Initiative (NEAPI – with special focus on tensions on the Korean Peninusla), and many others.

Especially in the Middle East the role of religion is so immediately apparent. Furthermore, following 9/11 tragedy US foreign relations always face an interreligious dimension in its foreign policy. This is why we chose this topic as a way to see how we better can benefit from scholarly insight in the pursuit of peace, sought at the international level.

Speakers this year were Professor Clayton McNearney (American Studies, Marshall University), and Professor Cromwell Crawford (Indological Studies, University of Hawaii). McNearney focused on the classroom. He delineated 5 ways in which professors and teachers can approach curricula and the construction of syllabi to equip students to better interpret and engage political discourse, and better analyze and position themselves vis a vis the political actions of their nations. McNearney’s work was creative, constructive, innovative, and practical.

Professor Cromwell spoke briefly of the peace oriented foundations and centers which are part of the University of Hawaii, and then went on to discuss how the expertise of religion scholars is vital to guide discernment relating to the threat of terrorism on the one hand, and the equally dangerous threat to freedom on religion on the other.

Frank Kaufmann
November 21, 2004