The Master of Religious Education (MRE) program at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) is a prime example of how religious studies are pioneering new roads in the implementation and practice of both teaching and learning and also interfaith peace building.

I was born in the Netherlands, stereotypically known as the land of windmills, tulips, bicycles and cheese. Among intellectual types, the Netherlands is also known as the land of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, of Erasmus and Spinoza.

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On March 6, 2008 UTS President Tyler Hendricks, Field Education Director Chris Antal and six UTS students attended a conference entitled “Religion in Multilateralism: Dodging the Pitfalls of Extremism”. The conference took place at the United Nations Headquarters, New York and was jointly organized by the United States Institute of Peace and the United Nations University.

Dr. David Little, Dr. David Steel, Dr. Qamar-Ul Huda and Dr. Gisela Webb were key speakers at this event. All of them are experts in the fields of Religion, Conflict and Peacemaking. Topics which were touched upon during the conference were: identity of extremism and pitfalls of extremism, what is role of religion in our world, how we can encourage people and discourage extremism, and whether religion is the source of violence. The speakers mostly talked about their personal experiences during their journeys in countries with interreligious and interethnic conflicts, which made the conference more bright and alive.

All the students were exited to participate in this event at the UN. Furthermore, after the conference we had the opportunity to visit the World Association of Non Governmental Organizations (WANGO) office next to the United Nations building. We enjoyed the good hospitality of Mrs. Genie Kagawa, and students were inspired to hear her explanation about WANGO and International Interreligious Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) activities.

For me personally, as a student from a post-communist country, most inspirational was the testimony by Dr. David Steel. He visited Yugoslavia and had the opportunity to talk with many religious leaders there. He said that all of them share that the main problem of separation in Yugoslavia was the ideology of communism but not religion and nationalism. It was not because of religion, but due to a lack of it, that people have come to this situation.

Dr. Qamar-Ul Huda, said that in Pakistan thirty-three religious organizations and schools recently announced ten reasons why the Taliban it is not an “Extremist group”. One of the main reasons mentioned was that when you are in the process of surviving, you have to preserve your religion.

At the same time Dr. David Little noted that most people use violence not because of religion and belief in God but because of their personal interests. In many countries like Iraq, Bosnia, Sudan, Cyprus, Sri-Lanka religion is not a main source of the conflict.

I was wondering why nobody at this conference talked about God and an understanding of His will as a source of resolving problems. It made me think – do people in fact believe that real belief in God and an understanding of His will could truly unite people of different religion and ethnic groups or because of this belief they become enemies? Because in my opinion if religious people talk about God’s view point on situation today, but not about their personal opinion it can force many people to practice peace for the sake of God but not just for the sake of their community.

About the writer: Alexandr Zamusinski, from Balti in Moldova, initiated his studies at UTS in Barrytown in September of 2007 and is enrolled in the MRE program.

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