British and international faith leaders gathered at Cumberland Lodge yesterday, to discuss and recommend solutions to the challenges faced by communities due to the rise of populism, extremism, antisemitism and islamophobia in the UK and around the world.

The one-day symposium convened by Cumberland Lodge and the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), enable representatives from religious groups and community organisations to engage with contemporary issues such as:

  • Social media and online extremism
  • Inequality and living standards
  • Identity and integration
  • Faith and the public sphere.

Tweets relating to the event can be found #CLCCJdemocracy.

'Faith communities need to make their voices heard'

In her keynote address, Dr Charlotte Knobloch, former President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and Holocaust survivor, addressed the current rise of populism and extremism across Europe and the world and said: ‘In these times of social upheaval and political strife, many tend to blame religions for any and all of our problems. I do not share this view. It is precisely against this backdrop of growing threats to Western democracy that faith communities need to make their voices heard. In my opinion, our beliefs have a unique power to unite us and allow us to engage in a meaningful dialogue. We need to speak openly now more than ever – with each other, but also to society at large.’

An English transcript of Charlotte's compelling keynote address to participants, which was delivered in German, can be downloaded here.

Other guest speakers at the symposium were:

  • Sughra Ahmed, Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University

  • Rosemary Nuamah Williams, Social and Public Affairs Advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury

  • Kishan Manocha, Senior Advisor on Freedom of Religion or Belief, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

  • Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi to Masorti Judaism

  • Rev Bruce Thompson, Chair of the Lincolnshire Methodist District.

'Build a response'

Speaking after the symposium, our Principal, Canon Dr Edmund Newell, said: ‘This was an important gathering. A take-home message for me was that now is the time to scale-up the good work done in many places, to build more inclusive communities, across faiths and cultures’. 

Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, Director of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), said: ‘As populism and extremism are on the rise, and especially as hate crimes increase and attack faith identities in this country, it is imperative that people of faith are part of a conversation to tackle the challenges of our own times. This symposium has been an opportunity for representatives of many faith communities to come together to explore what is going on in our world and to start to build a response.’

Moral dilemmas

This symposium was held one year after the publication of Moral Dilemmas in Challenging Times, the study guide we published last year with the CCJ that encourages groups to delve into divisive issues such as nationalism, populism and extremism from a faith perspective.

The guide consists of six short chapters to accompany the 2017 edition of Amy Buller’s groundbreaking 1943 book, Darkness over Germany. The book explores how young people were drawn into National Socialism in the 1930s, and draws light on many of the most pressing social issues we face in current times. It can be accessed here. 

The CCJ is the leading national forum for Christmas-Jewish engagement in the UK and the oldest national, interfaith organisation in the UK, founded almost 77 years ago.

The image accompanying this article is part of a graphic recording of the event by graphic facilitator, Pen Mendonca, and the full image can be found on our Read, Watch, Listen webpages here.