Interfaith Dialogue: A Bridge of Friendship and Respect in a Globalized World

By Serena Montefusco, UNESCO Chair Project and Communication Management.

Last May 30, at the Faculty of Economics of the Sapienza University of Rome, Prof. Don Simone Caleffi, Professor at LUMSA University and editor of the Religion editorial staff of Osservatore Romano of the Communication Dicastery, gave a Lectio Magistralis as part of the II module of the Enterprise Communication Management Course taught by Prof. Glauco Galati. For the students in the course, it was a unique opportunity to explore the topic of interreligious dialogue, specifically between Christians and Muslims, and aspects of digital communication. The aspect that we most want to analyze below concerns the evolution of interreligious dialogue among various religious traditions.

As Prof. Don Caleffi suggests, interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Islam has evolved significantly throughout history, with highlights such as the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil in 1219, and the important Document on Human Brotherhood for World Peace and Common Coexistence, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi. This document condemns violence and terrorism, promoting dialogue and cooperation between the two religions. Other documents that cannot be overlooked when speaking of Interreligious Dialogue are the Pope Francis’ Encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, signed in Assisi. “The absence of sincere dialogue in our public culture makes it increasingly difficult to generate a shared horizon toward which we can all move forward together. The shared horizon indicates the hope-filled direction to be able to set up the ‘common house of creation’ in a favorable way and for the good of all people, starting from a positive vision of the person, from an anthropology rooted in faith in God the Creator (cf. Laudato si’, no. 13).” Prof. Don. Caleffi goes on to emphasize that divisions and conflicts are contrary to the message of religions and, in particular, to God’s will. He continues by specifying that “a particularly strong signal from Brothers All is surely his reference to his meeting with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi in 2019 and the Document on Human Brotherhood for World Peace and Common Coexistence. With this reference, Pope Francis emphasizes once again that religions should not serve to divide and strengthen ideologies, but should all be at the service of the one human family, and he clearly rejects all fundamentalist attempts to instrumentalize religion for their own ends.”

In his 2020 Encyclical, Brothers All, Pope Francis highlights the many social problems of contemporary times, which could be characterized by the absence of social purpose and selfish indifference to the common good. However, the Holy Father also offers a message of hope and suggests that the world should come together through renewed dialogue and friendship. The last chapter of the encyclical examines the role of religions in promoting fraternity instead of polarization. The Encyclical was the inspiration for the international conference entitled “Responses to Fratelli Tutti from Different Religious Traditions” that the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights organized May 22-25, 2025 between Rome and Assisi, with the motive of bringing speakers together from six traditions-Christian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism-into dialogue, offering commentary on chapters 5-8. These chapters make a more practical proposition about how political, social and religious groups can encourage a greater sense of fraternity and solidarity in our globalized reality. However, despite the challenges, the importance of persevering interreligious dialogue as a means of promoting peace and mutual understanding is paramount.

Bringing together experts from different religions creates a rare space for dialogue characterized by an atmosphere of friendship and respect. These meetings allow us to see the other as a brother or sister in our common humanity. In an increasingly globalized world, this is of paramount importance and can help eliminate suspicions that sometimes cause distrust and even violence. In order to maintain an open dialogue based on brotherhood and respect, the UNESCO Chair is preparing for the upcoming meeting “An Interreligious and Multicultural Perspective on The Nature of Medicine and the Role of Physicians” to be held at the University Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid from December 17 to 19, 2024.

The UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights, established at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and The European University of Rome, through the project “Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion,” aims to promote the art of convergence and cooperation in global ethics among bioethics experts from the world’s religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and the secular perspective. The international conferences are a first step toward creating a permanent academic forum to promote bioethics dialogue and reflection in light of human rights and duties addressed from diverse religious and cultural perspectives in the ever-changing medical, legal and technological environment. Nine international conferences and workshops have been held in Jerusalem (2009), Rome (2011), Hong Kong (2013), Mexico City (2014), Houston (2016), Rome (2018), Casablanca (2019), Bangkok (2022), and Rome (2023).  According to UNESCO, it is the most multicultural and interfaith academic bioethics meeting in the world, offering important benefits to experts and institutions in the field of bioethics.

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10th International Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion Workshop – Madrid

An Interreligious and Multicultural Perspective on

The Nature of Medicine and the Role of Physicians

DECEMEBR 17-19, 2024


During the three days of our UNESCO Chair workshop, we will analyze and discuss “The Nature of Medicine and the Role of Physicians”. The study and conversations will focus on how different traditions understand the discipline of medicine and perceive the practitioners of the discipline. Previous workshops have successfully taken place in Rome, Hong Kong, Mexico, Houston, Casablanca, and Bangkok with the participation of more than 80 prestigious interdisciplinary scholars from around the world.

With the rapid advancement of medical science and technology, the discipline of medicine has been radically changed in recent years and the role of physicians have also been transformed accordingly. And so, it is important to discuss and to understand the redefinition of the medical field through the lens of different cultural and religious traditions.

We plan to gather bioethics experts from Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Daoist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and the secular backgrounds to discuss different papers on “The Nature of Medicine and the Role of Physicians” submitted for this occasion. Like previous workshops, the papers submitted for this workshop will be collected and published as a book.

The general theme was suggested by the experts participating in our previous workshop (Bangkok 2022). To find convergence and cooperation in the field of these crucial issues related to the nature of the medical profession and duty of medical practitioners will be the core subject matter of the papers and workshop discussions and lectures.

Hosted by the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights, established in two Roman universities, the Università Europea di Roma and Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, the conferences are a first step in creating a permanent academic forum to promote dialogue and bioethical reflection in the light of human rights and duties addressed from different religious and cultural perspectives in the worlds actively advancing medical, legal and technological environment.

By gathering experts from these religions, a rare space for dialogue has been created where an atmosphere of friendship and respect reigns. Such dialogue and encounters allow us to see the other as our brothers and sisters in our common humanity. This is most urgent in our globalized reality and can eliminate suspicions that are sometimes the causes of distrust and even violence.

Our experiences enable us to share values and attitudes that facilitate dialogue and the accomplishment of UNESCO Chair goal of “Fostering the Art of Convergence and Cooperation in Global Ethics”. The Chair seeks to create a forum for diverse bioethics thought leaders. Collaborating in a spirit of respect and friendship we hope to deliver a common framework to guide the application of bioethical principles in the light of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. In this manner we can inform and enlighten ethical, legal and public opinions, decisions, and actions relative to medicine, life sciences and human rights and responsibilities.


As means of dissemination, publicity and involvement of multiple and diverse scientific, medical and university communities and the public we suggest organizing during the week an event open to the public on topics related to bioethics issues in the light of human rights in a multicultural and interreligious environment.

In this event, experts in the workshop and other suggested by the hosting university will provide academic lectures or presentations for educational purposes and dissemination of knowledge on bioethics and human rights.  We will encourage participation of the outside community including public authorities, doctors and other healthcare personnel, patients, teachers, university scholars and students, and anyone interested in these relevant topics. The workshop and conference are primarily academic and apolitical, even though we encourage participation of all.

The language for this event can be decided locally by the hosting university, providing simultaneous translation into English (for foreigner participants) if needed.

9th International Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion Workshop

by Allister Lee, licentiate student in bioethics.

In his 2020 encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis points out the many social issues of the contemporary age which could be characterised by the absence of communal and social purpose and selfish indifference towards the common good. However, the Holy Father also offers a hopeful message and suggests that the world should encounter itself through renewed dialogue and friendship. The last chapter of the encyclical examined the role of religions in fostering fraternity instead of polarization. As a response to the Pope’s call to dialogue, the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights, established at Faculty of Bioethics of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and Faculty of Law of Università Europea di Roma, organised a two-day workshop to study the document in light of other different traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Greek Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism.

The workshop began with the keynote speaker, Prof. Edmund Kwok and Dr. Christine Lai, who focused on the encyclical’s discussion of contemporary global politics concerning integral human development and addressed the Holy Father’s vision of a “better kind of politics” through a universal fraternity that is rooted in the common good, love, mercy, and hope. This was followed by Fr. Sameer Advani, LC, who contextualised Fratelli Tutti and the Catholic Church’s commitment to interreligious dialogue as a product of the Second Vatican Council, and pointed out that such dialogue is “primarily anthropological, and only secondarily theo-logical, in nature.” He highlights that because religion is an essential part of human existence and experience, the fundamental questions that interreligious dialogue seeks to answer are consequently also deeply human, such as the nature and purpose of man, and morality. In his presentation, Fr. Adavani, LC, argues that even though the Catholic faith conceives truth as singular and absolute, it is within the human condition that our knowledge and understanding of the truth is limited; henceforth, it is only by the breaking down of one’s preconceived notions of truth through dialogue with the “other” can one attain a deeper, and often hidden truth.

The Holy Father’s concept of what could be called a universal fraternity was examined by some scholars in this workshop and brought forward the tension between particularism and universalism. In his presentation, Dr. David Heyd from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem points out that this philosophical tension is reflected socio-politically in the divide between cosmopolitanism and statism, and religiously in the way that Judaism differs from Christianity where it approaches issues from the particular to the universal, while the latter does so in a reversed manner. The idea of cosmopolitanism was also mentioned by Dr. Ellen Zhang from the University of Macau about the “ethics of hospitality” and Buddhism. The speaker presented the Buddhist idea of the interconnectedness of the world by recognizing the universality of suffering and vulnerability, which in turn creates a demand for the virtues of loving-kindness and compassion. However, as both Dr. Heyd and Dr. Zhang questioned in their presentations, “Are feelings of love and compassion sufficient enough to develop rational moral propositions in favour of global solidarity and social friendship?” Undoubtedly, these affective notions can be slightly precarious for long-lasting social cohesion and unity, but they can often be a powerful impetus for open dialogue between people to (re)discover fundamental truths that forge social friendships and fosters a sense of universal fraternity.

Dialogue – as Dr. Chris Durante from St Peter’s University in New York reminded the participants through the words of the Greek Orthodox leaders, “takes place in all our encounters, personal, social, or political, and must always be extended to those who adhere to religions different from ours” where “truth is not afraid of dialogue.” As such, Dr. Durante in his presentation stressed the importance of relationality with others in the world and avoiding bigoted forms of tribalism and exclusivism. On the other hand, Luzita Ball from the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science (IFEES) presented the Islamic tradition which approaches the topic of interreligious dialogue in a more legalistic manner in comparison to its Orthodox counterparts, while remaining committed to the ideals of unity and solidarity for the downtrodden. In this contemporary world, even though the East and West have been ever brought closer to each through technological means, international conflicts have created a vast space for dialogue and mutual understanding. However, in his presentation, Dr. John Lunstroth from the University of Houston brought to attention the historical relationship between the two hemispheres that were characterized by admiration and a call to “rectify each other’s errors and supplement mutual deficiencies” by learning from each other. And concerning the dialogue between East and West, Dr. Ruiping Fan from the City University of Hong Kong added that to conduct authentic social dialogue and foster fraternity, there is an imperative to first acknowledge the differences of “people’s particular cultural rituals and practices”.

On a final note, the “fruitful exchange” that occurred throughout this workshop inevitably involved contentions of an intellectual nature at times. However, they were always denoted by the underlying friendship that was built through shared moments such as the day trip to Assisi on the last day of the workshop, and a deep desire to seek the truth that unites rather than divides. And as such, I firmly believe that the Pope’s encyclical is a reaffirmation and encouragement to the continuous efforts of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights to foster constructive interreligious dialogue which would bring the universal fraternity closer to each other. 

8th International Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion Workshop

by Allister Lee, licentiate student in bioethics.

From September 20th to 23rd, the much anticipated 8th International Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion Workshop took place in Bangkok, Thailand. It was the first workshop since the hiatus caused by the pandemic, consequently, it was held both in person and virtually via Zoom. The workshop was organized by the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights in collaboration with the Chulalongkorn University.

The topic of this workshop was the importance of protecting the environment, biosphere, and biodiversity. The theme was chosen in light of the United Nations’ recognition that access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right. The aim of the workshop was to better understand how different traditions conceptualize the relationship between humanity and nature, and consequently the ethical approach to tackling the current climate issue. This year’s participants included scholars from traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Secularism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Due to a change in methodology in this workshop, each academic had 15 minutes to present their paper, followed by a response by a scholar from a different tradition. Each exchange concluded with a 45-minute question and answer session from the audience.

The workshop opened with a series of speeches by Somsong Ngamwang, director of the Bureau of International Cooperation, Alberto Garcia, Dean of the Faculty of Bioethics and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights (Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome), Suradech Chotiudompant, Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Chulalongkorn University, and Joseph Tham, the coordinator of this workshop, all highlighting the need for public discourse about climate action from a religious perspective and also expressing gratitude to organizations that facilitated the workshop.

The first presentation was given by Luzita Ball, a trustee of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science, representing the Islamic faith. In her presentation, Ms. Ball explained that according to the Qu’ran and the Hadiths, nature is a beautiful thing that is created by Allah and humanity has taken up the responsibility to be nature’s stewards (Khilaafah). To illustrate her argument, Ms. Ball points out the diversity both between and within species are signs (ayahs) of Allah’s beauty, intelligence, power, compassion, and love. With regard to Islam’s approach to managing the environment, the speaker provides two key arguments. First, she points out that is imperative for humanity to recognize the best outcome for both nature and men lies in true balance. As a result, when deliberating climate issues, one must take humanity and nature into equal consideration, so that the benefits of climate actions taken could be maximized. Secondly, Ms. Ball adds that there are existing systems in place in Islamic law, such as well-defined areas where the killing of wild animals and the harvesting of most vegetation is forbidden (Harim) or conservation zones (Hima) are used to protect the environment from over-exploitation and damage. To conclude her presentation, Ms. Ball highlighted the importance of environmental justice at all levels of society.

The response to Prof. Ball’s presentation was given by Prof. David Heyd, Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, from a secular Jewish perspective. He begins by describing Judaism as the “Sister Religion” of Islam on the basis of their similarities in content and teachings. However, Prof. Heyd highlights some key differences such as the proactivity of humanity taking responsibility for maintaining the earth within the Islamic tradition, whereas it was imposed on men in the Judaic tradition. Furthermore, he argued that the Judaic approach to nature is more anthropocentric to that of Islam because it focuses more on how God created the world so that men can benefit from it as a result.

The second session commenced with a presentation by Prof. John B. Appleby, lecturer in medical ethics at Lancaster Medical School on “Environmental Beneficence”. The idea of “Environmental Beneficence”, as Prof. Appleby describes, is the patient-physician decision-making framework that aims to give priority to sustainability while also preserving the quality of care provided to patients. He argues that this is necessary as the current state of healthcare negates the long-term effects of climate change on health and wellbeing. Prof. Appleby concludes his presentation by advocating for change in the classroom, clinics, and with the public, so that sustainability would be part of the everyday conversation when patients receive healthcare.

The response to Prof. Appleby’s paper was given by Prof. Roland Chia, Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College. He questions the lack of philosophical premises and metaphysical assumptions that underlies Prof. Appleby’s arguments, stating that there would be no ethics without some understanding of the world and the relationship between man and nature. Prof. Chia further provides the idea of “Environmental Beneficence” with a Christian metaphysics that recognizes the importance of considering the prosperity of future generations when making decisions about current issues.

In the afternoon of the first day, two keynote speakers, Henk Ten Have and Denis Chang, respectively gave presentations titled UNESCO on Environment and Integral Ecology, Natural Order & Relational Self: Towards a “Postsecular” Synthesis in an “Ecological Age”. Prof. ten Have framed workshop’s discussion by reinstating UNESCO’s position on protecting the environment and by emphasising the indispensable value of local wisdom and knowledge in creating a sustainable environment for future generations. Meanwhile, Prof. Chang’s presentation provided an overview of past and current philosophical approaches to understanding the role and responsibility of humans in relation to the environment. The speaker also highlighted one of the contemporary figures in climate action – Pope Francis and his encyclical Laudato Si’.

The afternoon roundtable featured Prof. Chris Durante, Prof. Vardit Ravitsky, Prof. David Barr, and Professor Sumalee Mahanarongchai. The traditions highlighted in this discussion include Orthodoxy, Secularism, Christianity (specifically Protestantism), and Thai Buddhism. Orthodoxy, as represented by Prof. Durante from Saint Peter’s University, considers humanity’s current failure to care for the environment as a moral one and categorises it as a sin. This categorisation is based on the panentheism of Orthodoxy, the belief that “all is in the Divine” and “the Divine is in all”. Prof. Durante concluded that the key to ending such sins against nature is through the transfiguration of self and community.

On the other hand, Prof. Ravitsky argued that despite human fallibility, societies have made great strides towards protecting the environment and there should be elements of rational optimism in the future of mankind. Meanwhile, Prof. Barr acknowledges that because of the fractured nature of Protestantism, its stance on the environment is equally splintered and susceptible to external influences such as political ideologies. Prof. Mahanarongchai’s response to Prof. Barr explores religion as a political tool that possesses its own hierarchies of power and how it can that affect policymaking by influencing politicians.

On the second day of the workshop, the participants turned their focus toward the Eastern traditions. The morning began with the Daoist tradition represented by Dr. Edmund and Christine Lai which called for a return to the Dao, harmony between heaven, earth, and human, by returning to authenticity through simplicity. In response to their presentation, Dr. Aasim Padela, Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at The Medical College of Wisconsin, offered the monotheistic Islamic narration of creation, which also creates a hierarchy amongst creatures in contrary to Daoist beliefs.

Afterwards, the second round table of the morning focused on Confucianism as presented by Jonathan Chan, Former Professor of Centre for Global Studies, Shantou University. Prof. Chan puts forward the thought-provoking question that if the value of non-human living things is to be considered lower than humans, exactly how much lower are they? Is there a quantifiable way to make such assessment?

In the afternoon, a public discussion was held at Chulalongkorn University. The panel included Prof. Durante, Ms. Ball, Fr Anil Sakaya, and Prof. Ravitsky, moderated by Fr Tham. The panel discussed the emerging role of bioethics in the field of environmental science. The public discussion was attended by Buddhist monks representing a university in Bangkok and several external academics. The topics of discussion included whether intelligence in animals increases the value humans arbitrarily assigned to them to whether it is ethical to exterminate a whole species of mosquitoes to protect humanity from malaria.

The final day of the workshop began with the presentation by Prof. Ellen Zhang titled A Construction of Environmental Ethics from a Buddhist Perspective, in which she drew connections between the Mahāyāna and Theravāda branches of Buddhism. One of the key idea Prof Zhang presented was that because all things in this world are interconnected through a complex network, if one thing is destroyed, others will be affected as well. A response was made by Prof. Ruping Fan, who provided a Confucian argument that caring for the environment is a form of love, but of a lesser importance compared to the main tenets of Confucianist thought such as filial piety. The discussion continues as Fr Anil, a buddhist monk, gave a presentation focusing on the role of Thai monks in environment protection, for example, monks who collect plastic bottles to be made into robes. Furthermore, the presenter points out that while Buddhist teachings do not have specific content on the human imperative or responsibility to the environment, it is the duty of the devotees to exercise their consciences while using natural resources, with consideration to the constant state of change.

Lilian Santos, a bioethicist from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome responded questioning whether Buddhism takes a stance on any other bioethical issues, such as artificial intelligence.

The second session of the morning was a panel discussing the Judaic approach to ethical environmental action. Prof. Jonathan Crane from Emory University discusses his proposal for non-anthropocentrism, the understanding that humans are to co-exist alongside all things nonhuman, and be equal to everything else in this world, “humans are but one bit in the vast unfolding cosmos”.

Prof. Paul Macneill from the University of Sydney responded to Prof. Crane’s paper questioning what are the practical terms of the duty that are described by Prof. Crane and who has responsibility to fulfill that duty within the non-anthropocentric framework. Alternatively, Prof. Macneill suggests that the Hindu tradition has always been anthropocentric, focusing on the suffering and enlightenment, and argues that a new approach is needed for religious environmental ethics.

The last roundtable of this workshop included Prof. John Lunstroth, Fr. Sameer Advani, Prof. R. R. Kishore, and Prof. Soraj Hongladarom, discussing environmental protection from the Hindu perspective. Prof. Lunstroth puts the term “religion” under scrutiny, arguing that Hinduism is actually a cosmological philosophy or a moral guide for daily life rather than a religion with clear and fixed doctrines. However, due to colonial expansion, attempts were made to mold Hinduism into a religion of nature in order to put it into a sort of category. Prof. Lunstroth goes on to argue that if considering Hinduism in its pre-colonial form, it appears to worship trees and animals despite the teachings of Ataiva, the oneness of all things.

In response to Prof. Lunstroth’s argument, Fr Advani questions not whether colonialism influenced the perception of religion in non-Western cultures, but rather “how profound, how fundamental, how transforming was that change”. This discussion was followed by Prof. Kishore outlining how Hinduism perceives the nature of the natural world through excerpts of key Hindu texts such as the Atharva Veda. The final presentation was given by Prof. Hongladarom, who has been critical to the success of this workshop. In his presentation, he compared and contrasted the Hindu tradition and the Thai Buddhist tradition, he pointed out that neither of these Eastern traditions believe that humans are in anyway superior to other living or non-living beings but rather only a part of the whole.

In conclusion, this workshop explored a wide range of ideas, from theological to political aspects of religion, and how they perceive humanity’s reasons to protect the environment and prevent further damage. As a participant of this workshop, I went away learning that protecting the environment is not a subject of dispute, but the debate of finding the most ethical and efficient way to go about doing so is one that will carry on in the foreseeable future.