Shortly before Easter, 50 international students from 30 UK universities met at Cumberland Lodge for the first of three residential retreats in our Emerging International Leaders programme on freedom of religion or belief.

The students are all Chevening and Commonwealth Scholars, selected for their leadership potential and academic excellence. Together, they represent 28 different nationalities.

Understanding freedom of religion or belief

The first retreat in the 2018-19 programme addressed 'Understanding Freedom of Religion or Belief', from human rights, international legislation and interfaith perspectives. It took place on 12-14 April 2019.

Participants took part in workshops, case-study based group work and discussion sessions with guest speakers and panellists, to explore the contemporary relevance and importance of freedom of religion or belief in the world today.

They were welcomed with a talk on 'Why Freedom of Religion or Belief Matters' by Gehan Gunatilleke (Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford).

On the Saturday, Dr Kishan Manocha (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Warsaw) led a session on 'International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief', and on the Sunday, two guest panellists led a session on 'Reflections on Freedom and Faith':

Equipping future leaders

The Emerging International Leaders programme at Cumberland Lodge is in its third year. For its first two years, it was supported with funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and independent, interdisciplinary research commissioned from Kat Eghdamian, a religion, migration and minority rights researcher and facilitator. Today, the programme is supported by our charitable funds. This exciting new programme has already created a network of 100 high-potential, emerging leaders and influencers from all over the world with the skills and insight necessary to drive debate, influence policy and build networks in support of freedom of religion or belief. We addresses questions such as:

  • Why is freedom of religion or belief important?
  • How does freedom of religion or belief intersect with other freedoms?
  • What are the successes/failings of existing national and international policies on freedom of religion or belief?
  • How can existing human rights frameworks be supplemented, supported and implemented?

Participants attend three residential study retreats at Cumberland Lodge, and hear from a diverse panel of speakers, including academics, journalists, legal experts and faith leaders. We also actively encourage them to share news, ideas and opportunities for collaboration with our growing network of alumni.

'Representation, appreciation and recognition'

One of last year's participants said: ‘This programme surpassed my expectations and enormously empowered me in understanding freedom of religion or belief and learning how to critically approach and tackle these issues'.

Another said: ‘I plan to influence better representation, appreciation and recognition of religious communities in my home country, and to work with religious leaders to reshape their influence in modern society, by working on new and different ways to approach crucial issues they have failed to address in the recent past'.

The second retreat in this year's programme will take place in June 2019, on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Conflict, and the final retreat will be in mid-July, on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Action.

You can find out more about these retreats by following us on Twitter at #CLFoRB.