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Executive Director of Leimena Institute, Matius Ho, delivered his presentation regarding the Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy (CCRL) program at the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit in Washington D.C,. United States on January 31, 2023.


IL News 002/2023

Jakarta – The Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy (CCRL) Program, which is currently being developed by Leimena Institute, became one of the highlights at International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit 2023 in Washington D.C., United States (US). Executive Director of Leimena Institute, Matius Ho, as one of the speakers at said event, stated that the CCRL program has been considered as contributing broadly to strengthening religious freedom and tolerance.

This year’s IRF Summit was held on January 31-February 1, 2023 as an initiative involving civil society, religious leaders and the government. The event was opened by the IRF Summit Co-Chair, Sam Brownback (Former US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom) and Katrina Lantos Swett (President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights), as well as remarks via video by the US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken.

Matius Ho along with two other panelists namely Vice President of Global Operations at the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), James Chen, and President of Love Your Neighbor Community (LYNC), Wade Kusack, spoke in a breakout track session entitled “Developing IRF: Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy Programs”.

“This session showcased the experiences of three countries in strengthening religious freedom and tolerance through the CCRL approach. I spoke from Indonesia’s experiences, while other experiences were from Vietnam (James) and Kazakhstan (Wade),” Matius said.

Matius elucidated that Indonesia’s diversity consists of 273 million people covering 1,331 ethnicities and 652 languages spread over 16,056 islands. Indonesia is one of the countries with the largest Muslim population as well as the third largest democracy in the world.

The IRF Summit 2023 brought together around 100 speakers with different religions and professions from various parts of the world.

In the course of its history, Indonesia’s diversity is unified by various covenants such as the 1928 Youth Pledge, Pancasila, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), and the 1945 Constitution. The unity of Indonesia illustrates the concept of covenantal pluralism which forms the basis of the CCRL approach. This means diversity or pluralism based on covenants.

“In a pluralistic society like Indonesia, there are two factors that protect heterogeneity and freedom of religion. First, the bottom-up factor; that is, a culture that supports a reciprocal commitment to mutually involve, respect, and protect people of different religions and beliefs. Second, the top-down factor; that is, equality of rights and responsibilities protected by the Constitution,” Matius said.

According to him, these two factors are the characteristics of the concept of covenantal pluralism outlined by Christopher Stewart, Chris Seiple, and Dennis Hoover in an article entitled ‘Toward a Global Covenant of Peaceable Neighborhood: Introducing the Philosophy of Covenantal Pluralism, The Review of Faith & International Affairs’ (2020) and ‘A Case for Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy, The Review of Faith & International Affairs’ (2021).

“Why is there a need to discuss covenantal pluralism when talking about CCRL? Because the key word in the concept of covenantal pluralism is covenant or agreement. This means that an agreement requires mutual trust between those who have agreed,” Matius stated.

Matius explained that mutual trust will not grow without relationships. This is where the CCRL approach becomes vital because in principle it conforms to the “if you don’t know then you won’t care” proverb, which is why there is a need to start building relationships to strengthen covenantal pluralism.

CCRL is essentially a framework to help us develop competence and skills in order to build relationships and work together with people who are of different religions and beliefs from us. There are three competencies developed through CCRL namely personal, comparative, and collaborative.

“Just knowing each other is not enough. We must take a step forward in working together cooperatively because it is in working together that mutual trust is built,” Matius added.

Matius Ho interacted with several foreign partners of Leimena Institute at the IRF Summit 2023.

Foreign Partners

The IRF Summit 2023 was also attended by the foreign partners of Leimena Institute, who had been speakers in the CCRL international webinar series, namely US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, Founder & President of Hardwired Global, Tina Ramirez, Vice President of G20 Interfaith Association, Katherine Marshall, Former US Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein, Professor of Law at Brigham Young University, Brett G. Scharff, and also including Katrina Lantos Swett, James Chen, and Wade Kusack.

Also in attendance was the Chairperson of the United Arab Emirates’ Fatwa Council and the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, who was a speaker at an international webinar on the role of Abrahamic religions for world peace, held by the Ministry of Religion of the Republic of Indonesia in collaboration with Leimena Institute.

According to Matius, the presence of Leimena Institute at the IRF Summit is important to share Indonesia’s experiences in managing diversity. The CCRL program in Indonesia is the best practice in strengthening basic values to unify a pluralistic nation.

“The experiences of a large nation like Indonesia are very important to an increasingly polarized global society, as stated in the UNESCO report entitled ‘Reimagining Our Futures Together’. Conversely, the CCRL program in Indonesia has received an enthusiastic response from teachers and educators, and so far, there have been at least 4,000 CCRL alumni,” he stated.

This is the second time the IRF Summit was conducted after it was held for the first time last year on June 28-29, 2022 in Washington D.C. At the IRF Summit 2022, Leimena Institute was represented by Matius Ho and Senior Fellow, Prof. Alwi Shihab, and also in attendance was the Minister of Law and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia, Prof. Dr. Yasonna H. Laoly, as a keynote speaker.

The issue of international religious freedom touches every culture, nation, religion and political system. Quoted from the IRF Summit website, nearly 80 percent of the world’s population currently live in countries where there are high levels of government or social restrictions on religion. Restrictions have steadily increased over the years, and this reality has implications in every area of life.

The IRF Summit is held to promote international civil society cooperation in support of religious freedom around the world. [IL/Chr/tr]