Professor Alberto Melloni, director of the Fondazione per le scienze religiose Giovanni XXIII (Fscire), joined Berkley Center Senior Fellow Katherine Marshall for a discussion about religious and interfaith networks in global governance on September 3.
The event was convened in the run-up to the 2021 G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, which will be hosted by Melloni and Fscire next week. Marshall has been a lead organizer of the annual conference, serving as vice president of the G20 Interfaith Association.
“This is the kick-off event in a Berkley Center effort to think about the role of religion in global governance,” explained Marshall, who set the stage by highlighting the recent resurgence of religion in world affairs.
The Revenge of God
Melloni opened the conversation by providing a historical reflection on the role of religion in the modern world, highlighting flaws in the secularization thesis of the 1960s.
“What has become more and more evident in the last 50 years is that one of the easy prophecies of the 1960s was wrong: the idea that the imaginary world in which everything was right was a world with no religion,” explained Melloni. “Actually, what we have seen since then is that religions are not disappearing.”
The professor now believes that a global process of religious climate change is underway, where the temperature of religious experience is increasing as religions assume a large role on the international stage.
“God, expelled by secularization, is returning,” he said. “In general, the return of God says to the political leaders that they must take religion into consideration, that there are some people who define themselves as religious leaders who ask to be heard in the public space.”
Interreligious Dialogue for Peace
Interreligious dialogue can be a significant avenue for religious leaders to be heard in the public space, but it is not without its challenges, according to Melloni.
“Since the 1990s, interreligious dialogue has always repeated the first mile,” said Melloni. “The first mile is important because it says that violence has no legitimation from a theological point of view, but it is also very easy because it usually ends with kisses and candles among religious leaders.”
Melloni emphasized that making progress in interreligious dialogue will be an important step toward advancing global peace, commenting,
The challenge is to restore a very pragmatic idea of principles. Everybody can root in their religious or non-religious tradition an attitude of responsibility in front of others.
Professor Melloni cited the “parva carta” (small charter) as a potential guide for principles that can help to shape dialogue and action on development challenges, from pandemic disease to global hunger.
“The ‘parva carta’ is as small as a yellow post-it, with three lines: We shall not kill each other, we shall help each other, and we shall forgive each other,” he explained. “It can collect different efforts and create in the market of dialogue a more transparent and cooperative attitude.”
Faith Engagement at the G20
Melloni also provided reflection on the G20 Interfaith Forum, a platform where religious and interfaith networks engage on global agendas, and its work to bring together political leaders, religious practitioners, and academic researchers.
“The Bologna interfaith forum has a visible character that is not relying on religious authorities only,” he said. “It puts under the same tent the political leaders, the religious authorities, and the people of research.”
According to Melloni, one challenge for the upcoming G20 Summit, as well as multilateral organizations in general, is the rise of global inequality.
“What I hope from the IF20 is to overcome, to an extent, the way that these large organizations often overlook the vulnerable,” explained Melloni. “The G20 represents 80% of the world’s GDP—and this is exactly the problem, not the solution.”
Working in solidarity across lines of difference will allow the G20 Interfaith Forum to play an important role in addressing issues of global concern, according to Melloni:
If the summit is to be a summit of leaders and not of followers, it needs to be dedicated to a way to heal the three pandemics of war, hunger, and pestilence.
This conversation was the kick-off event for a Berkley Center project on Revitalizing Global Religious and Interfaith Networks, which will help to guide center research and programming for the 2021-2022 academic year.