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UCC moderator Mardi Tindal and Abdullah Al Lheeden, of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Islamic Affairs, at the opening ceremonies of the World Religions Summit in Winnipeg. Photo by Samantha Rideout

Religious influence

Should faith play a role in world affairs? Leaders at the 2010 World Religions Summit in Winnipeg think so.

By Samantha Rideout

The eyes of the world are on politicians as the G8 and G20 summits draw near, but religious leadership is just as powerful as political leadership, says Dr. Alberto Quattrucci, who spoke at the World Religions Summit’s opening ceremonies yesterday.

“I believe that religions have the power to change hearts and minds,” said Quattrucci to an audience of about 80 religious leaders from around the world, gathered at the University of Winnipeg. “And even the most resilient political structures can be changed by the hearts and minds of the people. The opposite is never true.”

Dave Courchene, a spiritual leader from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, said that in order to be effective, politicians need to work with spiritual leaders and tune into their own spirituality. “We mustn’t limit ourselves to simply intellectualizing the world’s problems,” he said. “Obama has assembled the greatest intellectuals to help him. But when are they going to leverage people of the heart?”

To claim there’s a need for spirituality and religion in world politics goes against the grain in a time when secularism is often seen as a prerequisite for democratic decision-making.

For instance, when Washington State legalized a form of physician-assisted suicide in 2008, legislators were urged not to consider so-called religious values while deliberating the bill. “We respect everybody’s faith,” said Anne Martens, the spokesperson for the group in support of legalization. “But we don’t think they should impose it on the entire state.”

But maybe it’s healthy to acknowledge that the power of religion in world affairs is alive and strong. The Middle East conflict, the global struggle for gay rights and the continuing unrest in Iraq are each examples of political situations with undeniable religious influences. 

When I was studying world religions at the University of Ottawa, my classmates liked to debate whether religion was a good influence in the world or a bad one. I think history shows it can work either way.

The delegates here at the summit intend to harness the power of religion to push for the fulfillment of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which are designed to improve the quality of life of the poor and the vulnerable. “We, the leaders of the world’s religions and spiritual traditions, need to build a more human third millennium,” said Quattrucci to enthusiastic applause.

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