The Thirty-Fourth Congress – in brief
After two Asia-hosted congresses (Taiwan 2006, India 2010), IARF returned to its historical roots in Europe by gathering in the heart of a leading British university, founded in the 1880s by Empire luminary the Unitarian Joseph Chamberlain.
The soaring clock tower ‘Old Joe’, at the focal point of the Victorian-redbrick heart of the campus, is named after him, and modelled on the campanile of the Tuscan city-state of Siena.
This subtly reminded that the European roots of our association’s mission reach back before theologians Faustus Socinus and the martyred Michael Servetus, to Renaissance Humanism itself – as expressed, for example, in the Heptaplus of Pico della Mirandola, a mystico-allegorical exposition of the creation which elaborated the idea that different religions & traditions describe the same God.
Again, being in Birmingham, the history of persecution of free thought in the Old World was recalled to us by the exile suffered by another of the city’s illustrious Unitarians: the discoverer of oxygen Joseph Priestley, minister in the city until anti-Dissenter riots named after him drove him off to Pennsylvania.
But with the Twenty-first Century liberal world having witnessed with deep consternation over the summer of 2014 what global media are now calling ‘The New World Disorder’, our gathering was mindful that humanity’s dark history in this regard is/was being starkly repeated as we met, and not very far from Europe’s borders.
For religious freedom, most salient among the several conflicts that fill our screens is of course the ascendancy of the so-called ISIL – undoubtedly the most dire armed challenge yet seen to the post-war Human Rights discourse.
IARF’s Peacebuilding Commission has issued the following statement in this regard:
“Violence of ISIL attacks Religious Freedom“ (PDF 1 page)
In all, our Congress featured over thirty presentations, most of them related to the theme of what challenges must be faced (and opportunities found) in the communications revolution whose frontier we all currently ride.
For those who may wish to revisit the program, please find here the text body of the printed version (speakers abstracts & bios):
IARF 34th World Congress Handbook (PDF 40 pp, illustrated)
A strong feature of the third plenary was 11 young adults from our main project work in India delivering a summary dramatised account of the last four years of their work (since the last Congress) in the form of mimes of human rights abuse and defence, following a 9-minute video, which you can see here.
…and a blogpost from one of our participants is here.
At the General Meeting of the membership, the Council 2014 to 2018 was elected.