Interfaith dialogue. The relationship between faith and science. The unification of people through beauty itself. These were some of the key themes touched upon in today’s Vatican-sponsored TEDx conference.
TED is a global non-profit project that works to promote the dissemination of ideas, with each presentation given in less than 18 minutes. This conference came about through the sponsorship of the Pontifical Council for Culture and through the initiative of the Courtyard of the Gentiles.
The conference, which explored the theme of religious freedom in today’s society, welcomed a widely diverse group of speakers, from scientists, to interfaith leaders, a pop singer, and a sportsman. Included among the keynote presenters were ZENIT’s own Rome Notes correspondent Elizabeth Lev, and Rabbi David Rosen, interfaith advisor to the chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Rabbi Rosen, who is also the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, spoke about the importance of forums such as TEDx for promoting interreligious dialogue. “TED has built up a reputation for itself internationally,” he told ZENIT. “It’s an enormously impactful vehicle for conveying ideas around the world. In modern technology, and in media, there tends to be what you might call something of a secular-bias, or even a disinterest in religion. Sometimes people might have hang-ups about religion of various kinds. To be able to utilize this vehicle, to convey profound religious messages, and especially from my perspective the importance of interfaith encounter, is a great opportunity.”
Interreligious dialogue, he said, is “an enormously exponential growing industry. We don’t have the resources to respond to the growth.”
“When you say, however, ‘Where is it going?’, that to some extent begs another question: ‘What is it?’ We could say that it is a web of lateral and vertical lines crossing, not only across different geographical locations, where it’s not the same thing in one geographical location from another geographic location, but it’s not the same thing in the same place. One activity is not the same as another. You have everything from what a colleague of mine used to call ‘tea and sympathy.’ People come together over a cup of tea and get to know one another, to the rarefied, esoteric engagements between scholars.”
He admitted that the language used to promote interreligious dialogue today is, to a certain extent, taken from the corporate financial world. “But when you break them down and see what they mean, they mean very simple things: capitalizing means you take the full benefit of. All the language here that’s used is simply a different way of saying in modern parlance that we need to utilize all these resources to be a blessing as much as possible.”
Lev, an art historian, spoke at today’s TEDx conference about the role of beauty in the conversation about religious freedom. “There is a role that beauty and accomplishment and achievement play,” she told ZENIT. “On one hand, we always feel the terrible losses, like when we heard [today] the princess of Kuwait speaking about the loss of her culture the war has caused, the invasions have cause.”
The Church, Lev said, recognizes that “beauty brings about dialogue, and that beauty has the possibility to create a setting in which one can start with an accord: that there are good things in the world.”
“You would be hard-pressed to find someone who says: ‘That Raphael painting: nothing good about it.’ You can start with the idea that there is something good and uplifting in the world, and then realize there are different ways that people go about achieving it.”
For instance, in the Vatican Museums, Lev noted how “you see these people walking down the hallways with their heads lifted up. People walk through the Vatican Museums with their heads up, not looking down. They look up, and they look around, and they wait to be amazed. They want wonder. They want amazement.”
“That’s what this TED conference is about,” she continued. “People sit for those 10 minutes, and they wait for something, and then someone hands them that amazing piece of information. People love wonder, and people love amazement. And that sense of being in awe helps people to be more open to one another.”