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Scotland to Host International Festival on Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace

“From Monday 14 February - Sunday 6 March 2005 the 2nd Annual Edinburgh Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace will bring together artists, scholars, grassroots spiritual activists, and speakers from the Sufi, Druze, Baha’i, Ismaili, Zoroastrian and other lesser known spiritual traditions, in addition to representatives of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”

By Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz and Mr. Neill Walker

Perhaps you too are thinking: why, oh why, an event on "Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace" (MESP) in Scotland of all places? There may not be a better answer than that this is where the people who wish to hold it already are; nevertheless it looks to be an impressive event coming later this spring.

Running from February 14th through March 6, the Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace 2005 will bring together participants from all walks of life and every major (and many minor) religions active in the Middle East. It is the second such event, following on a successful festival in 2004. This year's conference will focus on exploring the "missing stories" of the prophets and mystics who speak for peace from within their tradition, with events such as "Spirituality, Health and Healing in the Sufi Tradition," "Spiritual Perpsectives on the Headscarf Debate in a Changing Europe," "Deep Listening as Spiritual Practice," and many others. A keynote lecture on Spiritual Approaches to Middle East Peace will be presented by Abuna Elias Chacour, a Catholic Melkite priest and inter-religious educator and peacemaker from Israel.

This publication does not often explicitly promote events before the fact — particularly as it generally rely on reader submissions and press releases for its material. Nevertheless, we felt it worthwhile to point out the tremendous program they've put together, full of music, dance, scholarship, meditation, seminars and workshops. Each of the dozens of events could be inspiration for hundreds of local interfaith groups as they plan their own 2005 activities. To view the schedule, please visit http://www.eial.org/mesp/Festival.htm.

We would also like to share a portion of the organizers' Statement on Diversity, which outlines an amazing vision of inclusivity and organizing principles for a conference:

One of the purposes of Festival and Conference has been to show that a great range of opinion exists not only between traditions but also within each. The idea that any one group or person can claim to speak for the totality of any religion or spiritual tradition seems greatly outdated in a multi-cultural society, and many scholars of religious studies or comparative spirituality today prefer to speak, for instance, of multiple Christianities, Judaisms and Islams. The media's tendency to want to stereotype any particular tradition or religion or to quote a single "Christian," "Jewish," or "Islamic" opinion on any issue has often hampered more than helped religious and interreligious understanding.

As organizers we are seeking to engage a progressively wider and more diverse range of representatives who have been working with spiritual tools in the fields of non-violent conflict resolution and world peace. No speaker represents the totality of any tradition. Likewise, no religious group or organization, or the Festival organization or sponsors, should be identified with the opinions of any speaker, whose opinions remain his/her own. One of the primary principles of the Festival is that all mystical and prophetic voices for non-violence and peace should be allowed a hearing, without censorship or prior vetting by any religious group or organization.

Many complex political and ethical issues face religious leaders and organizations today. Speakers may hold various personal points of view on these subjects; however, we have asked that they focus their talks and presentations on spirituality and spiritual approaches for peace, as there are many other forums in which to discuss other, better known political and ethical issues. The conference and festival themselves take no fixed position on any political, ethical or cultural question. We intend rather to create a forum in which we can listen to each other more deeply and learn with a more open mind and heart.

Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz, Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning,

Mr. Neill Walker,

Edinburgh International Centre for World Spiritualities


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