Religion and secularism

Vanessa Kisuule Aya Haidar Simona Levi Markha Valenta Richard Bartlett
7 July 2017


Gold group: results of first iteration

How do you create societies of value pluralism?


Does tolerance mean allowing people to make harmful decisions for themselves and others?


Gold group: results of second iteration

“Tolerance” is not enough. There needs to be engagement, resilience and common ground (shared rituals behavior, language and values).


Civil society organizations have an important role in enabling this, particularly organizations that transform the self as well as society.


The goal is to strengthen pluralist society on the basis of minimal viable consensus while maximizing agency.



Gold group: results of third iteration and final statement


This statement is a work in progress, an invitation to more development:

The issue of religion and society is very complex. It has impacts at different scales: from the interpersonal (how I behave with you), up to our collectives, organizations, neighborhoods, and cities and countries. 

The instinct in our team was to focus on the small scale and then move up and out to larger scales. We agreed we want to live in a pluralist society. This requires some minimum consensus, like “people shouldn’t kill each other”, and much more room for autonomy, agency, and respect for difference than we usually get to enjoy.

Our attitudes to difference can be incompatible with our desire to be pluralistic, but attitudes do change. We as organized citizens, can host carefully designed spaces where we encounter difference in a way that shifts our attitudes.

Difference provokes big feelings in people. You might believe abortion is about women’s freedom, whereas someone else might believe abortion is about killing babies. Those are big differences that create big feelings. But small differences can create big feelings too: entire religious communities have split over a difference of interpretation of one line of scripture. 

The aim of these “spaces of encounter” is for people’s feelings to build a bridge of empathy for the other, rather than a canyon of mistrust or dismissal. We have opportunities to provoke people to grow towards more pluralistic attitudes, at many scales. We could find many examples:

As an individual, you can replace demands with requests. When you tell me that I “should” do something, it implies you know what is best for me. If you tell me I “could” do it, that emphasizes my freedom of choice, my agency. These small linguistic changes may help to shift my attitude, but they won’t resolve urgent social crises.

In our neighborhoods, we can do things like hosting social events, offering free food, games or dancing. Events like these can help a neighborhood of diverse residents to become much more harmonious, as they exchange stories and discover similarities they value more than their differences.

Some cities and countries are hosting deliberations, where people practice this skill of finding agreement despite their differences. See for instance the story of how taxi drivers, Uber drivers, city officials, and citizens collaboratively wrote the new transport legislation for Taiwan.

Across all these scales, we notice people’s personal, unpolished stories make a big difference. When I hear you tell your own story, in your own voice, when I hear the full nuance of your experience, with both your observations and your sensations, then I am invited to empathize. 

I and they become “we”.

***Here we include photos of the Gold flipchart notes and a list of critics***

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