A group of three nuns wearing masks


Georgetown Faculty Discuss COVID-19, Global Issues at G20 Interfaith Forum

By: Henry D. Brill

October 21, 2020

Georgetown faculty explored critical issues in international development—including the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking, and education—at the 2020 G20 Interfaith Forum, held virtually from October 13 to 16.

The G20 Interfaith Forum is an annual summit where religiously linked institutions engage on global issues framed by the G20 agenda. This year, the forum welcomed over 150 faith leaders, government officials, and scholars for discussions on the coronavirus pandemic, global inequality, and climate change. 

Faith actors can play important roles in responding to such issues of global concern, according to Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD). 

“Religious communities can point to the most urgent needs and act as watchdogs in implementation because this is their central concern and mission,” says Marshall, who plays a key role in planning the annual conference as vice president of the G20 Interfaith Association.

​Religious Actors Respond to COVID-19

Marshall moderated a panel discussion on “Responses to COVID-19: Priorities and Accountability” on October 14, exploring how faith actors contribute—both positively and negatively—to the coronavirus crisis and response. 

“The panel was focused on the critical issues of trust and accountability, which are vital for effective responses to the COVID-19 crisis,” says Marshall, who leads Berkley Center research on religion in the global response to the pandemic. 

Panelists discussed a wide range of issues, from faith engagement with public health guidance to the integration of religious voices in policy debates on pandemic response. 

“Main takeaways pointed to the opportunities and responsibilities for religious actors to respond to the crisis, both by monitoring spending and keeping a sharp focus on how vulnerable groups are faring,” says Marshall. 

Faith Action on Human Trafficking

The emphasis Marshall placed on vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 crisis echoed another Georgetown-led panel exploring “Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery,” held on October 13. 

S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, research affiliate at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, guided the panel through a discussion on best practices and next steps in faith action to end modern slavery. 

“Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are some of the worst forms of exploitation of the most vulnerable people across the globe,” Kadayifci-Orellana shared in her opening remarks. “Faith-based actors have unique strengths, resources, and opportunities that make them important partners in the work against this global problem.” 

Panelists considered a wide range of issues in faith engagement on human trafficking, from interfaith collaboration to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The panel emphasized a more holistic perspective of addressing the issue of human trafficking, using a conflict resolution framework to look at the issue from multiple points of view,” says Kadayifci-Orellana. 

Education for Religious Literacy

Thomas Banchoff, professor of government and Georgetown's vice president for global engagement, also considered how to create a more peaceful world as part of an October 15 panel on “Education that Supports Peace, Religious Literacy, and Cultural Diversity.” 

Education is one especially critical way to bridge divides and promote peace during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Banchoff. 

“Because the pandemic has increased awareness of our global interdependence, there is a greater urgency today around education for inclusion and religious literacy,” he says. 

The panel addressed some of the challenges in promoting religious literacy at all levels of education and explored how to scale best practices of interreligious dialogue. 

“Working together across lines of religious and cultural difference we can better address a range of global challenges," Banchoff shared. “Participation in the G20 Interfaith Forum is aligned with Georgetown's institutional commitment to intercultural and interreligious dialogue."

Looking to the Future

Although the 2020 meeting is now concluded, Georgetown continues to support the ongoing work of the G20 Interfaith Forum in advance of the G20 Summit next month. 

“The Berkley Center and WFDD have provided substantive analysis and background for policy briefs published by the G20 Interfaith Forum,” Marshall says. “The next step is to prepare specific recommendations that are to be presented to the G20 leaders before their summit in November.”

Marshall is optimistic about the future of the G20 Interfaith Forum, especially as it pushes for official recognition as a G20 Engagement Group. 

“The aspiration is that religious bodies can come together and bring personal insight and wisdom, as well as knowledge and experience from the rich networks that work on global issues, to the G20 platform,” she explains.

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