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Greater religious diversity needed by the United Nations

Date: 06/01/2014

Research suggests that Christianity still dominates the UN and that a more diverse system is needed to increase non-Christian representation in world-peace-making.

The research funded through the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, was undertaken by Professor Jeremy Carrette with colleagues from the University of Kent. It reveals that more than 70 per cent of religious Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) at the UN are Christian and there is historical privilege in allowing the Vatican has a special observer status, as both a State and a religion.

The report, titled - ‘Religious NGOs and the United Nations’ - calls for greater awareness, transparency and equality for the way religious NGOs operate within the UN and more emphasis on religious tolerance. It also calls for greater understanding of how religions enhance and constrain human rights.

The report provides evidence that funding limits restrict other religious traditions from establishing NGO work at the UN and sheds light on the different means of access. Islam, for example, is represented more significantly through the collective of States (The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) rather than civil society NGOs, which are dominated by Catholic groups. Asian religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, are under-represented and funding is a major issue in preventing their equal access.

Professor Carrette, Principal Investigator for the ‘Religious Non-Governmental Organizations and the United Nations in New York and Geneva’ project said: In the season of peace and goodwill, it would seem there needs to be more of a ‘global goodwill’ to make the UN system work for all religions equally and for religions to follow and share equally UN goals for peace and justice.

The report highlights that while all religions are represented in some way in the peace-making system of the UN, there are structural and historical differences that need to be addressed. It also shows that religions form an important part of international global politics and that in a global world we need to establish a new pluralistic contract for equal access for all religions to the UN system. This must also entail religious groups working towards the ideals of the UN, in terms of human rights, fairness and justice for all men and women.

The report also questions claims by the Christian right that New Age cults run the UN; evidence would suggest these are greatly misjudged and erroneous claims.

In fact, the report shows, the number of inter-faith and New Age NGOs is very small and religious NGOs in total form only 7.29 pre cent of the total of consultative status NGOs at the UN. However, despite their relatively small size some religious NGOs can have a far greater influence. Among the most active religious NGO groups are Catholics, Quakers and the Baha'i faith, which have some of the highest number of meetings with UN diplomats.

The full report: ‘Religious NGOs and the United Nations’, is available by emailing:RNGOproject@kent.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. www.ahrc.ac.uk
  • The Religion and Society Programme will ran for six years from January 2007. Funded by the AHRC and ESRC, it is the first UK research programme to foster collaborative endeavours across the arts and humanities and social sciences communities in order to understand the role of religion in shaping our lives, communities and society. This programme aimed to increase understanding amongst the wider public of these relationships, contribute to policy and practice, and engage end users through collaboration.
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