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Scriptural Gathering Celebrates U.N. Interfaith Harmony Week

REPORT: Sri Lanka Hosts 6th International Interfaith Conference on Holy Books

The 6th International Interfaith Conference on Holy Books was held the first week of February at the Sarvodaya Institute of Higher Learning in Sri Lanka. About 125 delegates from different parts of the world attended the four-day program, held in celebration of this year’s U.N. Interfaith Harmony Week.

Intertextuality delegates and guests this year in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Every other year for the past ten years, the Cosmic Community Centre in Kerala, India has sponsored “intertextual” conferences bringing together scholars and leaders from different religions to talk about their “holy books.” The Centre has been a pioneer in promoting the ideals of the United Religions Initiative in India. Specifically, it was established to promote dialogue and to study different religions with the intention of encouraging students to form their own interfaith groups. Its activities have included participating in the International Day of Peace Rally, holding interfaith exhibitions, celebrating Gandhi Jayanthi as a day of youth service, and embarking on pilgrimages of study. 

This year, in collaboration with the Dr. Alexander Marthoma Centre for Dialogue in Kottarakara, India, and the Sarvodaya Santhisena Institute in Sri Lanka, the conference was held outside of India for the first time, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In 2004, as president of the Cosmic Community Centre, I was invited by Melbourne University in Australia to an interfaith conference. I met eminent scholars from different parts of the world who are deeply interested in holy scripture, so I suggested the idea of a biennial conference on Holy Books. The idea was welcomed wholeheartedly. Our first conference was held in 2005, attracting a large number of scholars from academic and theological circles. 

Every other year we selected a particular theme:

2005    -      Intertextuality of the Holy Books
2007    -      One Word, Many Versions: a Re-reading of the Holy Books
2009    -      Holy Books and Violence
2011     -      Holy Books and People of Differing Faiths
2013     -      Holy Books and Life after Life
2015     -      Holy Books and Eco Spirituality

At each conference, we publish a book including all seminar papers from that year. These books are widely circulated for discussion and study.

This Year in Colombo

Dr. A. T. Ariaratne – Photo: Compassionate Activist

Keynoting the Colombo Conference was Magsaysay Award winner Dr. A. T. Ariaratne, popularly known as the Sri Lankan Gandhi. Interfaith dignitaries from Australia, South Korea, and the United States as well as India and Sri Lanka brought greetings and good wishes for the gathering.

Nineteen papers were presented. Eco-spirituality was explored from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Zoroastrian perspectives. Specific papers included “Revisiting Green Spirituality through the Lens of Vedic Scriptures,”  “Towards an Islamic Environmental Ethics,” and “Water: The Great Divide between the Earthly and the Ethereal.”

The conference book, Holy Books and Eco Spirituality, was released by Dr. Victor Kazanjian, executive director of United Religions Initiative, with the first copy presented to Dr. Vinayaka Ariaratne, general secretary of Sri Lanka’s Sarvodaya Movement.