Bridging the Divide Between the Public Sector and Religion: My Experience at Religions for Peace

Author: Saad Kamil

The Ansari Instite for Global Engagement with Religion is pleased to partner with Religions for Peace to offer a student internship program. Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to apply to intern with Religions for Peace for a semester or summer internship and receive financial support from the Ansari Institute. The following is a reflection from Saad Kamil, the Fall 2023 Religions for Peace intern supported by our Institute.

As a collective society, we endeavor to weave together the fragments of peaceful coexistence within our communities. Unfortunately, movements driven by religious fervor have, at times, tainted the very concept of peace that these religions aim to propagate. This tarnishing has led to a reluctance to embrace religious affirmations of peace, given the negative connotations associated with expressions of faith in the public sphere, particularly within professional contexts.

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As a Muslim newly arrived in a foreign country, the apprehension of being perceived as "too vocal" about the potential role of religion in addressing perplexing challenges is a constant concern. Moreover, as a student in the Masters of Global Affairs program at the University of Notre Dame, the diverse array of experiences related to atrocities committed in the name of religion globally only compounds the complexity of this issue. Despite this challenging reality, witnessing the potential for a collaborative assembly of like-minded, impartial, and educated individuals striving to promote peace through the very institution that appears to be tarnished was both unexpected and inspiring. Religions for Peace serves as a beacon of hope, and it was an honor to contribute to the transformation of the improbable into a reality by engaging religion for the common good.

During my tenure at Religions for Peace, I served as a Development Intern under the guidance of Geetika Chandwani. From the outset, there was a deliberate effort to foster an environment where my work could translate theoretical knowledge into practical applications. This approach greatly enhanced the value of my experience with the team, for which I am deeply grateful.

Religions for Peace: A Purpose-Driven Organization

At the core of Religions for Peace is a mission to gather diverse religious perspectives to address global challenges. The organization takes pride in incorporating the essence of religious diversity and harmony into its projects, employee interactions, and the leadership's approach to implementing on-the-ground initiatives. With a global reach, Religions for Peace effectively connects individuals worldwide to causes of paramount importance, particularly those related to peace. This inclusive environment facilitated a profound understanding of what it means to be part of such an organization, rendering my experience exceptionally rewarding.

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Forging External Partnerships: A Heightened Engagement with Religion

The incorporation of religion into diverse sectors, making them more meaningful, presents a formidable challenge. This challenge became evident as I delved into the myriad projects undertaken by the organization, spanning more than seven areas, including Education, Environment, and Governance. The realization of religion's significance in shaping thoughts dedicated to peace instilled a sense of purpose, emphasizing the importance of integrating the message of interfaith harmony into the discourse on public sector work. Notably, Religions for Peace's commendable work in the realm of Peace, including its collaborations with multilateral organizations like the World Health Organization, aligns seamlessly with my personal interest in the health sector.

The Intersection of Religion and Public Sector Work

Having extensive experience in the public sector in Pakistan, I am acutely aware of the tendency to overlook the role of religion in discussions surrounding public sector engagement and reform. Neglecting religious beliefs when formulating policies would be a considerable oversight for public sector officials. While advocating for interventions designed for the people on the ground and championing a bottom-up approach, we must not forget that community bonds are often deeply rooted in religious understanding. Religions for Peace recognizes this sentiment and utilizes Interreligious Councils (IRCs) worldwide to connect various religions, ensuring that all voices are heard. This model of community engagement, particularly through the involvement of well-established religious leaders in IRCs, proved to be one of the most effective approaches I have encountered in my public sector work. Playing a small role in enhancing the environment for these councils over the past six months was genuinely inspirational.

Lessons for the Future

The lessons learned during my time at Religions for Peace will undoubtedly shape my future endeavors. Firstly, the emphasis on community engagement with individuals from diverse backgrounds to achieve a common goal will be a guiding principle in my work. Secondly, the incorporation of Religion's for Peace's strategies for conflict management, stakeholder management, and the design of public sector interventions has fortified my decision-making capabilities, which I intend to employ in the future. Lastly, the pivotal advocacy role that religion plays in peacemaking and public sector interventions is essential for building bridges and fostering understanding among diverse communities. The experience with Religions for Peace underscored the significance of recognizing and respecting religious and cultural sensitivities when working towards common objectives. This lesson will be instrumental in shaping my approach to future projects, emphasizing inclusivity and cultural competency. Ultimately, working at Religions for Peace has strengthened my belief in the role of religion in my professional pursuits, a conviction I hadn't previously deemed possible.

I extend my gratitude to Geetika Chandwani, the entire team at Religions for Peace, and the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion for affording me this exceptional opportunity. I eagerly look forward to continuing my engagement with the institute and exploring the intricate connection between religion and policymaking during the remainder of my time at Notre Dame and beyond.