21 November 2018:
- Our 2019 RDC New Zealand Interfaith Calendars are now available on our webstore! These make great gifts and help support the work on the Centre. Check out the new ‘Store’ link above to order our Interfaith Calendars and Books on-line.
Term 1 – 2019 Religious Diversity classes begin in early February 2019. Details on the courses will be available soon. Registration and payment for all RDC classes can be made directly on our website using your credit card, debit card, or PayPal account. More information on the Religious Diversity Classes for 2018 can be found on our ‘Courses’ ➔ ‘Classes’ link above, or click here for more information and to register and pay.
15 August 2018:
Jean Holm, NZ Pioneer of Religious Diversity, passes away:
A New Zealander, hailed in Britain as a pioneer in her field, died in Auckland on 13 August 2018 at the age of 95. Jean Holm, a graduate of Victoria University, left Wellington in 1947 at the age of 24. Jean was already a proven intellectual, having achieved a BA together with Diplomas in Journalism and in Theology, she was at the same time active as a determined leader and organiser of young people. She already shone as a practical engaged intellectual, not satisfied with standard answers and always probing further.
Jean’s subsequent career in Teacher Training Colleges in Britain covered a period of significant change in her field of Religious Education. As a compulsory subject in British schools the entire focus in the 1950s was on Christianity. But by the 1970s, teachers could no longer be presumed to be Christian, expected to teach children from the Christian perspective as in the past. At the same time, teaching methods, and children’s diverse ways of learning, were being questioned. British educators in religion became embroiled in vigorous debate with calls for the older biblically-based syllabus to be radically revised to include other religious traditions, and to use the new approaches and methods from the humanities and social sciences fields.
Jean was one of the pioneers of this new direction. She wrote one of the first text books for teachers. Teaching Religions in School (Oxford University Press, 1975) presents a practical and straightforward guide to teaching religions within the framework of the national guidelines.
Two years later her Religious Studies manuscript, The Study of Religions was published (Seabury/Crossroad, 1977). She perceptively wrote that “to study another religion means to enter a completely different world”. She was astutely aware that “the absoluteness of Christian claims makes the co-existence of other faiths a more acute problem for Christianity than it does for many religions” (Holm 1977: 101). The book was widely and positively reviewed, receiving praise from Professor Joseph Kitagawa, University of Chicago (The Living Church, 1978:176).
Jean went on over the next twenty years to write and edit over 30 books. With her colleague, John Bowker, she edited what became the definitive textbook series, Themes in Religious Studies, for teachers. The series includes the titles (each a separate edited volume): Worship, Sacred Places, Picturing God, Women in Religion (one of the first such collections ever published), Sacred Writings, Rites of Passage, Making Moral Decisions, Human Nature and Destiny, Attitudes to Nature, and Myth and History. The contributors are a veritable Who’s Who of leading Religious Studies scholars from Britain and beyond. With this series and her other publications, Jean played a significant and distinctive role in the development of Religious Studies in British schools; in raising religious literacy in the English (and Portuguese) speaking world; and in the transformation of Religious Studies education in Britain.
Jean taught a generation of students over her 17 years at Homerton College in Cambridge, England. She developed a reputation for rigour and for successfully conveying her passion for other ways of understanding and living. Jean is well remembered at the College. Her portrait by Richard Cook hangs there in her honour. As Homerton College celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, Religious Studies is flourishing and Jean’s work continues with new cohorts of Religious Studies graduates, researchers, and teachers.
As a member of national organisations in Britain, the British Association for the Study of Religions and the National Working Party on Religious Education, Jean visited schools and colleges throughout the country. She was equally at home in a primary school classroom as in a lecture theatre in the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity.
Returning to New Zealand, Jean undertook leadership roles in the Council of Christians and Jews for whom she edited the journal Massah, and later in the Council of Muslims and Christians. She remained committed to the further development of Religious Studies in New Zealand schools, a project well underway that will be undertaken by others building on, and inspired by Jean’s work. The books she wrote for teachers in Britain in the late 1970s, as they approached the new subject involving teaching about world religions for the first time, point a possible way ahead for Aotearoa New Zealand schools now as we come to terms with our multicultural multireligious society, set, as it is, within a largely secular milieu.
Jean’s legacy is her important contribution to teaching about religions to students in New Zealand and around the English-speaking world. She brought the work of Religious Studies experts directly to the classroom via her publications. In a quiet and civilised way (albeit with a slightly wicked sense of humour!) she lived what she taught and wrote about. Her personal curiosity, engagement, and respect for religiously and culturally diverse others was grounded in the recognition that this was not an easy task, but always ongoing and supremely important.
The RDC is grateful for Jean’s support over these past years. Her bequest to the RDC Trust has provided a foundation on which to build a solid endowment for the future work of the Religious Diversity Centre.
A book about Jean’s life, work and impact, entitled Jean Holm: A Serendipitous Life by Barbara Mountier (with a chapter by RDC Trust Chair Jocelyn Armstrong), is available in the RDC Store.
14 May 2018: Ramadan Advisory:
RAMADAN: A Month for Spiritual Reflection
RAMADAN is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of daily fasting from sunrise to sunset to commemorate the first revelation of the Qur’ān to the Prophet Muhammad. This annual observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The appearance of the Ramadan crescent moon will be a much anticipated event as moon-sighters begin to gather at sunset on Wednesday 16th May. Depending on when the first glimpse of the crescent moon appears, Ramadan will begin on either Thursday 17th or Friday 18th May.
Ramadan is a month of spiritual renewal and individual transformation, which adherents strive to maintain throughout the year; an annual refresher in self-restraint and discipline, strengthening relationships through fostering one’s personal relationship with the Divine. During Ramadan, Muslims reset their priorities and reflect on the Qur’ānic question: “Where, then, are you going?”. It is a time to review one’s direction in life in a state of self-discipline, inward calm and clarity, and heightened mindfulness of God—as well as in selfless dedication to others.
Fasting, a central feature of Ramadan, is the religious obligation of all healthy adult Muslims, and is similar to the fasting traditions of many other faiths. It seeks to substitute consumption for deeper self-discipline and gratitude to God for the abundance of His blessings; for providing long life and good health, and for helping us to provide for those in need. It fosters empathy and compassion for those requiring food, clothing and shelter, and helps us foster generosity and solidarity with the most vulnerable and deprived.
Fasting involves abstaining from eating, drinking, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset, which in New Zealand this year lasts about 12 hours from approximately 5:30am to about 5:30pm (days will shorten as the month progresses). Night prayers, reading and reflecting on the Holy Qur’ān, and an increase in the practice of one’s faith are features of the holy month of Ramadan. Physical restraint complements a mental and spiritual reset—a ‘detox’ of mind, body and soul. Ultimately, fasting is the fasting of the heart from all inward ills: from arrogance and envy to slander and selfishness. Divine reward is reserved for each individual’s Divinely-witnessed sacrifice. The ultimate aim is an intimate relationship with the Divine.
Employers may consider working arrangements for their Muslim employees, such as an early start to work and early finish, or other easily implemented practices such as working through the lunch break in order to be able to return home in time for the evening’s breaking of the daily fast, known as iftār.
Colleagues may trial abstinence for individual benefit, give generously in solidarity to particular causes that aim to provide for those in need, or consider fasting for the health and spiritual benefits it provides.
Workplaces may hold a shared break-the-fast event (iftār). Fast-breaking time is the culmination of the spiritual day. The few minutes before breaking the fast are for reflection and supplication to God. Water, dates, nuts and fruits are commonly used to break the fast.
Ramadan ends with the annual festival of Eid, which includes prayers and a sermon followed by celebrations. As with the start of Ramadan, the day of Eid depends on the sighting of the new crescent, which will be sought at sunset on 14th June and, if sighted, Eid will occur on Friday 15th June. If the crescent moon is sighted on the evening of 15th June, then Eid will be celebrated on Saturday 16th June. Eid lasts for three days and celebrations will continue over the weekend. Ramadan is a season of commitment, compassion, sharing and celebration.
23 April 2018: The Wellington Interfaith Council is pleased to announce the upcoming 2018 National Interfaith Forum (NIFF) to be held in Wellington from 28th through 30th July 2018. Further details will be announced in early May 2018. For more information, contact <email@example.com> or check out their Facebook page at <www.facebook.com/Wellington-Interfaith>.
11 April 2018: RDC appoints new Board Members to the RDC Trust. At our recent AGM in March, new members Selva Ramasami (Hindu, Wellington) and Sensei Amala Wrightson (Buddhist, Auckland) were welcomed as new members of the Religious Diversity Centre Trust. Both have been exceptionally busy members of their respective communities and we look forward to their involvement in the activities and programmes of the RDC.
March 2018: A Historic Event in Vienna :
Jocelyn Armstrong, RDC Trust Chairperson, was in Vienna on 26 February 2018 at the launch of the first “Interreligious Platform for Dialogue and Cooperation in the Arab World.”
A formal body will be formed to enable Muslim and Christian leaders to meet with policy makers, to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all communities in the Arab World, to combat ideologies that exploit anxiety and instigate hatred, and sectarianism, and to jointly address the toughest challenges their communities face. The agreement signed by 23 high level religious leaders from the Arab region, Muslim and Christian, Grand Muftis and Grand Imams, Archbishops and Patriarchs, and supported by KAICIID, was hailed as a historic event. Jocelyn and her husband, the Rev Dr George Armstrong – a member of KAICIID Advisory Forum – were impressed by the sense of commitment and hope expressed by the leaders as they spoke of the past two decades of violence and conflict and of the role their religious communities could play to reduce tension and strengthen social cohesion in the region.
KAICIID Secretary General spoke of the years of preparation for this momentous event and stated: “Religion, especially in the Arab world, is a powerful motivating force, and a source of shared identity for millions of people. For too long, we have allowed religion to be hijacked and used as justification for causing pain and suffering. With the launch of this platform, the leaders of religious communities say ‘enough’ to this manipulation and misuse. There has been enough talk, and not enough action. Through this platform, we will set a visible, tangible example of interreligious cooperation. People need to see that religious communities, working together, are much stronger than any extremists, and that cooperation brings concrete benefits to everyone.”
KAICIID is the only intergovernmental organisation governed by religious representatives and the only intergovernmental organisation dedicated to facilitating dialogue between different cultures and faiths. The large February gathering was welcomed by the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia whose governments together with the Vatican are the foundation of the King Abdullah Centre for Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Dialogue. This pioneering effort in the Arab World stands in line with the KAICIID ‘peace and reconciliation through interreligious dialogue’ programmes in Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Myanmar, and the ‘Social Inclusion of People Seeking Refuge programme’ in Europe. A strong component of KAICIID’s programmes is working in partnership with a wide range of international partners that include religious institutions, intergovernmental organisations such as the European Commission and the United Nations, and civil society.
As the February meetings reviewed Kaiciid’s strategy for the next three years, the presentations and discussions focused on three areas – education at all levels – from the international Scout movement to a network for Muslims and Christian seminaries and institutes in the Arab world, social media as a space for dialogue – with training programmes underway, and partnerships with policy makers. “These three – education, social media and partnerships with policy makers – at this international level parallel our own RDC objectives at our national level. We are assured of mutual support and inspiration!” was Jocelyn’s comment on her return home.
For further information see: www.kaiciid.org.
page last updated 21 November 2018.