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Contact: Mary Ann Meyers, Ph.D., Senior Fellow Purpose

Purposet a critical juncture in the postwar order that has prevailed in Europe since 1945, this symposium begins with the premise that violence committed in God’s name is always an act of desecration. Hope of redress must start, we believe, in re-imagining the intended relationship amongst the Abrahamic faiths. Participants come together to consider how a re-reading of the hallowed texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam might mitigate the militancy whereby group identity can lead to deadly conflict. Particular questions to be pondered include:

  • Can a reexamination of biblical stories about sibling rivalry that appear to be at the heart of the problem of ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ enmity point to a solution?

  • Is it possible to apply scriptural reasoning (in which members of different religious traditions discuss their sacred literatures in ways that engender trust) to social issues on a large scale?

  • Can shared acknowledgements of and connections to God as creator, sustainer, and judge of the universe, discovered through such a process, be used to resist religious persecution and foster tolerance, justice, and peace?

  • How do such deeply theoretical issues as changing views of supersessionism and differing approaches to hermeneutics impact our search for answers?

  • Are there practical imperatives related to theological education and public policy stemming from a commitment to using theology to combat religiously-motivated violence?

From a psychological perspective, the key matters to probe are:

  • Can empathy inspire altruism? If so, how can it best be fostered?

  • Or is “fellow feeling,” as Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a limited emotion? If so, can reason succeed in overriding selfish instinct?

Specifically, as we face collapsed states in parts of the Middle East and the rise of violent extremist non-state actors that have led to vast migrations of people fleeing war and seeking sanctuary:

  • How can we facilitate the extension of care beyond the boundaries of family, tribe, ethnicity, and nation?

  • What research questions do we need most urgently to pursue in understanding cultural adaptation for prosociality and cooperation amongst groups?

The scholars and scientists gathered at King’s College London to ponder these questions meet in one of the two founding colleges (the other is University College London) of the University of London. King’s was established in 1829 by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington (then Prime Minister), and the King’s Building on the Strand Campus, where the symposium takes place, was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum and King’s neighbor fronting the Thames River in the City of Westminster, Somerset House.