On 7-9 April 2017, we welcomed 46 international postgraduate students from 32 universities across the UK for a residential weekend retreat on ‘Understanding the Importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief’.

Guest speakers included: 

  • Baroness Berridge (Co-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom)
  • Amrit Singh (Open Society Justice Initiative)
  • Dr Nazila Ghanea (University of Oxford, International Human Rights Law)
  • Kat Eghdamian (researcher and facilitator on religion, forced migration and minority rights issues, University College London).

The retreat was the first in a series of three to be held at Cumberland Lodge during this academic year, to support emerging international leaders and empower them to become advocates of human rights in British universities and countries around the world.

The programme is highly competitive. All of the participants are either Commonwealth or Chevening Fellows and all have been identified as potential future leaders and opinion formers. 

'Tolerant and inclusive'

Together, they represented 26 nationalities and all of them are from countries eligible for the UK’s Official Development Assistance.

Dr Owen Gower, Programme Director at Cumberland Lodge, said: “Delegates explored the shocking statistic that 79 per cent of the world’s population faces restrictions or social hostility on the basis of their religion or beliefs.  We had some really interesting discussions about the complexity of protecting freedom of religion or belief in cases where it is seen to conflict with free speech or equality.  

“Our first retreat was a real success and many of the participants remarked on how we had brought together people from so many backgrounds together in such a tolerant and inclusive way.”

Cumberland Lodge is running the Emerging International Leaders programme for two years, with support from the FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy.

The aim is to equip high-potential postgraduate students with the skills and insight necessary to drive debate, influence policy and build a powerful global network to support freedom of religion or belief.

Over the course of the initial year-long programme, participants will study freedom of religion or belief in a contemporary global context, covering aspects such as legislation, the public sphere, and the impact of religious literacy and inter-faith dialogue, and practical responses to violations.

'Urgency and importance'

Dr Rachel Smillie, our Education Officer, said: “The FCO’s support for this programme demonstrates its urgency and importance. At this first retreat, our international delegates heard from experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief and human rights from a range of backgrounds, including parliamentarians, lawyers and academics. They also had the chance to learn from each other and to share their own experiences.” 

There will be two further weekend retreats at Cumberland Lodge in 2016/17, on 2-4 June and 21-23 July 2017. Each will involve lectures, workshops and peer-to-peer learning, and multi-disciplinary discussions with academics, advocates, policy-makers and activists.

In all three retreats the emphasis will be on promoting constructive dialogue, for example through small-group discussions after each talk, followed by question and answer sessions with the speakers. The students will also work together on a series of case studies from around the world. 

Find out more

Find out more about the Emerging International Leaders programme here. The Briefing report for the first retreat is also available to read on our Learning Resources pages, here.

To see more photos from the April retreat, please visit our Facebook page here.