World Student Christian Federation - Asia-Pacific Region (WSCF-AP)
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Regional Programme

Student Empowerment for Transformation
(SET) 2006

“Interfaith and Education”

SET Programme participants with Thai students at the Bangkok Student Center
SET Programme participants with Thai students at the
Bangkok Student Center

November 12-22, 2006
Bangkok, Thailand

The Student Empowerment for Transformation (SET) programme in 2006 was held on 12-22 November in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme for SET 2006 was “Interfaith and Education” with the objectives to:

  1. To analyse the value system of the current education in the pluralistic Asia-Pacific context
  2. To understand the causes of Interfaith-related problems in the context of Asia-Pacific.
  3. To be aware that Interfaith is part of our everyday life; it is not simply a religious matter.
  4. To share the ecumenical spirituality with different religious groups and learn the art of Interfaith dialogue to engage students in the cultivation of peace.
  5. To self-critique and assess the life of our Christian faith so as to enable ourselves and our movements to contribute to a new community of affirming justice, peace and the life of all creation.

Sixteen participants from the National Movements of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Taiwan, Timor Leste as well as an intern from the Ecumenical Youth and Gender desk of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), participated in this 10-day empowering programme. SET2006 was kindly hosted by Thailand SCM with the support from the Student Christian Center where it was held.

The inputs in the SET programme include an overview of Interfaith and Education, Bible Study, presentations on the Islam and Christian faiths, Perspectives on Women from Different Faiths, a Student Panel, Exposure to the different faith-related organisations, as well as Organisational Skills Training to help strengthen the participants’ understanding on movement-building, critical social analysis and Christian theology from the SCM persepctive. There were also 2 night sessions of Women and Men Caucuses where the participants shared their reflections on pertinent topics such as Patriarchy and Sexuality.

Overview of Interfaith and Education

The first input was facilitated by Ruki Fernando, currently the project coordinator in FORUM Asia and has a wealth of experience on Human Rights and Education issues. Ruki provided a variety of methodology ranging from interactive exercises to songs, to develop the participants’ level of understanding on Interfaith and Education. He challenged the participants to question their prejudices and distorted images of the different faiths which most often are conditioned by unbalanced media reporting and the lack of communication between people of different faiths.

Ruki stressed that education should be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and it needs to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups. And Religious Education needs to be a tool to transmit knowledge and values pertaining to all religious trends, in an inclusive way, so that individuals realise their being part of the same community and learn to create their own identity in harmony with identities different from their own. As such, religious education radically differs from catechism or theology, defined as the formal study of the nature of God and of the foundations of religious belief, and contributes to the wider framework of education as defined in international standards. Interfaith Education should:

  1. Help manifest that diversity is rooted in equality and does not become justification for discrimination, marginalization, oppression, etc.
  2. Help to identify common and different values and practices of various religions and prompt respect for others
  3. Help resolve conflicts peacefully
  4. Help move from intolerance to tolerance... and tolerance to appreciation
  5. Help forge solidarity for justice, peace, human rights and people-centered development – and alliances with and for the poor, marginalized and oppressed

Interfaith Education could include activities that will:

  1. Build community – transcending all forms of divisions, marginalizations, discriminations
  2. Help work with images and stereotypes we and others may have with regarding the “other”
  3. Help analyze and understand the socio-economic-cultural-political structures that bring about inequality, discrimination and injustice
  4. Encourage people to engage in actions that will bring about social change and all human rights for all

Interfaith Education could include activities that will:

  1. Classroom – religious education should include different religions/faiths/spiritualities – not just mine
  2. Informal – seminars, conferences, trainings on different religious teachings
  3. Inviting “other” religious to lead services in “my” place of workshop
  4. Visit and join “other” religious services
  5. Celebrate “other” religious festivals
  6. Inter religious celebration of significant days – e.g. Human Rights Day, Women’s Day, Day Against Torture, etc.
  7. Support others to practice their own religion

Lastly, Ruki offered two practical ways for the participants in their interfaith interactions: (1) Defend “other religions” when they are persecuted—even if your own religious community supports that persecution; (2) Join hands with “other” religions to work for justice, peace, human rights and people-centered development

Bible Study on Interfaith

The Bible Study was facilitated by Roger Gaikwad, WSCF AP chairperson. The texts used were from John 4:19-24, 14:6, Matthew 5:17, 8:11-12.

Roger broke the participants into small groups with they need to answer one particular question: “How do you interpret this statement to the people with other religion?” in relation with the statements: you are taking the bus to somewhere and the passenger next to you is a Buddhist with reference to the text John 14:6, your roommate is a Muslim and you discuss about “rules” with him/her with reference to the text Matthew 5:17, you visit a beautiful Hindu Temple and you are going to discuss about the temple with a Hindu with reference to the text John 4:19-24, as SCMers how do you interpret this statement with reference to the text Matthew 8:11-12. The participants were challenged on their perceptions and reflections on their daily relationship with people of different faiths and their true understanding of the different faiths even though many of us are living together and relating to each other in daily life.

Presentations on 2 Faiths: Islam and Christianity

Surakit, director of the Student Christian Center and a senior friend of Thailand SCM, gave a brief introduction to Christianity from the Thai perspective, and Dr. Abdul Hye gave an overall view of Islam, globally as well as nationally.

SET women participants
SET women participants - L-R: Nina Nayoan, Indonesia; Wan
Yu, Hong Kong; Jean Claire, Philippines; Abigail, Malaysia

Input: Perspectives on
Women from Different Faiths

Hope Antone, Executive Secretary of Faith, Mission and Unity of the Christian Conference of Asia, gave a thought-provoking presentation on Religion and Women where women oppression and discrimination are explored in the major religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Hope began the input with a quick look at the development of the major religions mentioned above, a critique of oppressive teachings regarding women in selected religions, liberating messages for women in these major religions, if any, and searching the implications for interfaith education and for SCMS in Asia-Pacific.

Despite the multitude mis-interpretative and oppressive teachings regarding women, there are still many liberating messages for women in these major religions, and these are:

  1. Judaism and Christianity share stories of liberation from bondage and oppression; stories of God who takes side with the oppressed and vulnerable; affirmation that women and men and created in God’s own image.
  2. Christian tradition attests to the earliest sharing of the good news of resurrection by women; Jesus, though a male Jew, welcomed women as disciples and learned from women. Christian feminists are now re-reading the Bible, critiquing what is oppressive and highlighting what is liberating for women.
  3. Islam – emerging voices clamoring to read the Koran with women’s eyes; re-reading texts and teachings in their context and transforming for today.
  4. Hinduism – voices reclaiming Shakti power
  5. Buddhism – challenge of Bhikkuni (female monk)
  6. Confucianism – re-reading the texts and transforming for today.

Hope challenged the participants to search for the implications for interfaith education and for SCMS in Asia-Pacific and that includes:

  1. Being in plural Asia, we cannot help but do things interreligiously.
  2. Interfaith education fosters better understanding of each other and deeper understanding of one’s own faith.
  3. Interfaith education fosters mutual learning from each other.
  4. Interfaith education fosters cooperation and joint advocacy to solve our common problems – e.g. gender injustice.
Henry Barikder
Henry Barikder, SCM Bangladesh
presenting the interfaith situation
in his country.

Student Panel

Four countries, namely Bangladesh, Japan, Korea and Timor Leste, made up of the Student Panel presentation in this programme. Henry from Bangladesh SCM discussed the issue of interaction between Islam and Christianity in Bangladesh which is a Muslim country. Islam has always been misconceived as having fundamental elements in the Bangladeshi society, thus, there is a lot of misunderstanding among the people. Mari from Japan shared on the Japanese people’s ambiguous perception of religion which seems to be a blend of life philosophy, mundane demonstration of sacred rituals in Japanese daily life and each person’s choice of faith. Hence, religion has become ambiguous and there seemed to be no significant difference of each different religion in the Japanese society. Su-Hye and Hee-Wung from Korea shared on the charismatic evangelical groups in Korea where one condition for the students of the schools that they set up, was complusory church attendance. There is also an initiative of a Peace Programme jointly organised by the 5 major religions in Korea to encourage interfaith cooperation. Francisco from Timor Leste shared on the current ethnic conflicts between the Eastern and Western parts of Dili, the capital in Timor Leste. The so-called ethnic conflicts are the result of political motivations and manuevouring which do not fully represent the wishes of the people in Dili and have already caused mass destruction to the lives of the people in Dili with a total of 150,000 people being displaced.

The Student Panel provided an opportunity as well as a platform for deeper understanding on the different challenges experienced by different countries in relation to issues of religious and ethnicity interactions and conflicts.

Exposure

The exposure brought the participants to visit the Saengtham College which is a Catholic Educational Institution where the participants learned on the social programmes offered in this institution. One of the social programmes was a support project to the political migrants from Myanmar. The political migrants are offered free academic education and the certification for future job hunting. Another social programme was the ecumenical training of youth who are considering entering the priesthood. These youth are required to work in villages after the training and to have ecumenical exchanges with other faith-based institutions as part of the training curriculum.

SET participants discussing with village leaders
SET participants discussing with village leaders
during the exposure programme

After the visit to Saengtham College, the participants went to the village bordering between Myanmar and Western Thailand where they met the Karen Christians who have no legitimate national identity due to the political division of the two countries and which do not want to claim any responsibility to these Karen people living in the border. The participants learned from the villagers the struggles they experience as people without any national identity and social rights.

Having spent a night with the villagers, the participants moved on to visit a Moslem mosque and the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University which is an academic institution for Buddhist studies. In these two places, the participants were able to dialogue with the religious clergy of both Islam and Buddhism to better understand Islamic and Buddhist faiths and their practices.

Organisational Skills Training

The SET Programme serves as an initiation to the SCM students in exploring new and different perspectives regarding pertinent issues that affect our society, and the aim that students will continue to develop on their knowledge after the programme. Thus, it is important to translate the learning from the theoretical to the practical. The activities in this session, Organisational Skills Training, aim to provide practical skills to the participants of SET to serve this purpose. This session looks at the 3 critical areas of Movement Life (Movement Building, Social Analysis, Theology and Spirituality).

Movement Building

Necta facilitated this activity with the objective: To deepen our understanding of who we are as SCMers, our mission and vision in today’s world; what is the essence of our being SCMs; what is it that defines our identity? Who are we, why are we here?

Necta probed the participants to relate the vision of WSCF to the objectives and vision of the SCM, and which element they could find in this vision. Moreover, the meaning and definition of ‘Movement’ and the values and principles that are important in a movement were also raised. All these were followed up by a group exercise where the participants were to reflect on the Life-Cycle of Movement with the categories of Infancy, Childhood, Adulthood, Maturity or Old Age, and Death.

Critical Social Analysis

Yock Leng facilitated this activity and provided a set of questions that will enable the process of Social Analysis. The questions include:

  1. What is the Social Reality at hand, what is the actual Social Reality, and not of face-value, that is taking place?
  2. When is the Social Reality taking place, in which era, under which backdrop?
  3. Where is the Social Reality taking place (country, region, particular place), what does the place tell you?
  4. Why is the Social Reality taking place, what are the internal and external influences?
  5. How is this Social Reality making an impact on the different sectors of people in the society?
  6. Who says what and why was that said? Who does what and why was that done?
  7. The social, political and cultural background of the people involved in the issue.

The participants were then divided into 4 smaller groups to work on 2 sets of case-study in which they have to critique on the issue at hand, and to make an analysis.

Theology and Spirituality

Tik, Bang-joo and Yock Leng facilitated this activity to enable the participants to reflect on the theologies that have impacted on the SCM vision and mission, and how would these theologies be practised in the SCM. The theologies that have guided the SCM are liberating, contextualised, feminist perspective, wholistic and inclusive. The participants were then divided into three smaller groups where each group discussed on one Bible Study with a particular theme, namely: women issues, interfaith awareness and Christian spirituality.