Dialogue as key to the future of Europe

A democratic approach to a cultural and religious diversity that is rooted and has formed within European and Austrian history has become a fundamental sociopolitical task. How can we react to this diversity? What is our vision of tomorrow’s society? How are we going to succeed in building a society that is dynamic, unbiased and without any discrimination, promoting integration for everyone in agreement with their human and civil rights?

On the basis of European values, respecting and promoting cultural and religious diversity by ensuring a dialogue between religions and cultures in public life plays a crucial role and has become vital to  establishing an identity in the 21st century. Today’s society is becoming increasingly pluralistic calling for an increase in interfaith dialogue and joint working as well as encouraging peaceful interfaith coexistence in order to prevent religiously and culturally motivated conflicts. Interfaith dialogue is therefore a requirement of our times. Increasing diversity needs a dialogue across ethnic, religious, linguistic and national borders to promote social cohesion.

Different spiritual and religious traditions form values that can guarantee a life in dignity for all human beings. Therefore it is crucial to find a new understanding of particularities and pluralism. Trust and respect between religions are deepened by conversations, local, regional and intercultural discussions on religion and violence, perception of “the other” and a search for identity within pluralistic societies. The dialogue with religious communities and associations is promoted by establishing dialogue forums, including people that very often have not yet become part of such institutions.

Nowadays most of the world’s countries are characterised by religious pluralism, making a dialogue essential on all levels.  Such a dialogue can be initiated in various ways, e. g. within a personal context, in a conversation to get to know one another, via project dialogue or mediation dialogue in case of conflicts as well as in meetings between school classes and representatives of other religions and cultures. Since Christianity is still the majority religion in Austria it is to say that most meetings do not have a structural symmetry to them, i. e. representatives of prevailing Christianity are meeting with minority religions, discussing their issues concerning mainstream society.

Therefore one of the objectives of the dialogue is working on a thriving environment for everyone. Interculturalism and multireligiosity are not mere terms but real life overlaps and encounters between cultures and religions in all their diversity. A constructive approach towards different cultures and religions is therefore essential and can be realised by creating platforms where interfaith and intercultural dialogue can take place on equal terms for every participant.

The European Union has the aim to devise and execute a comprehensive integration policy that is based on common principles and an integrative concept, which can only be achieved by reinforcing existing capacities. On a local level a coherent, effective and efficient integration policy can be guaranteed by establishing platforms where integrative and dialogue-oriented institutions have the possibility to exchange information and experiences.

Graz has a long-standing tradition of different cultures and religions meeting one another thanks to the continuous effort of the City policy based on tolerance and social justice realised by various institutions: the integration department, the peace office, the Human Rights Council and the Interfaith Council, cooperation and dialogue initiatives. The commitment of individuals as well as the Churches, ecumenical groups and religious communities contributes to a peaceful coexistence of all religions and cultures in Graz, a city that for good reason has earned the proud title of “Human Rights City”.