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Socio-economic and political impact of religion: G20 prepares to discuss religion at upcoming summit in Bali

Cathedrals and religious monuments across Europe tell a historic tale of the continent’s deep Christian roots, but in recent years the role of religion has visibly diminished, writes Lusaka-based journalist Lennox Kalifungwa.

For many Europeans, faith no longer defines who they are as individuals and no longer has a meaningful collective role in society. However, for the rest of the world, that’s not quite the case. 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religious group, and for many of them, faith is central to their identity.

The consideration and inclusion of religion on the global stage is crucial for societal change and for engaging different parts of the world. Religion influences culture, which in turn influences things like political thought and economic policy.

In contemporary times, many Europeans can trace their ancestry to different parts of the world where religion remains central to the fabric of society. For people who view religion as alien — and perhaps redundant — it’s easy to overlook the role religion plays in the daily lives of billions of people around the world.

This year’s Group of Twenty (G20) meeting of the world’s most economically powerful nations brings Europe’s largest economies to the same table with several booming economies, most of which are strongly religious societies.

For example, India, home to the world’s largest Hindu population, recently overtook the UK to become the world’s fifth largest economy. A secular democracy, navigating tensions around national identity due to increasing levels of Hindu nationalism.

Additionally, this year’s G20 (which takes place in mid-November) is hosted by the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia. In addition to Islam, the G20 countries represent a wide variety of religious affiliations, from Christianity and Buddhism to Taoism and Shintoism.

In short, religion plays a major role in the G20 – socially, economically and politically.

Perhaps surprisingly, until this year, religion has never been at the forefront of the G20. And that makes this year’s G20 historic. Because for the first time ever, Religion 20 (R20) – a summit of some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders – is officially part of the G20.

Organized by the two largest Islamic non-governmental organizations in the world, the Saudi Arabia-based World Muslim League and the Indonesian Nahdlatul Ulama, R20 is determined to be an example of interfaith dialogue and collaboration. Also, the fact that Indonesia hosts both the G20 and the R20 is of great significance: Southeast Asia is one of the most religiously diverse regions in the world.

R20 will demonstrate that faith has influence and relevance for solving global issues amid current geopolitical turmoil. The summit will also create space for leading religious figures to think outside the box on how faith can be harnessed to establish shared morality in the global political arena.

This year’s list of R20 participants will include Pope Francis, Muslim World League Secretary General Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and prominent Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist leaders.

Essentially, R20 offers a future vision of the role of religion in solving the world’s most pressing challenges. The summit creates space for religious leaders from the world’s major religions to address issues ranging from conflict resolution to poverty reduction – with a religious framework of compassion and morality.

R20 exerts a moral influence on billions of people around the world as religious leaders preach a message of coexistence and tolerance. However, it is questionable whether different religions will agree on the definitions and results of these terms without encountering fundamental contradictions.

At the R20, summit co-chair Al-Issa announced that the Muslim World League was creating a humanitarian fund to support war victims with a strong focus on Ukraine. The largest Muslim organization in the world that helps Ukrainians who are largely Christians, generates interest and provides an opportunity for dialogue.

According to Al-Issa, we need moral leadership in the face of our biggest global crises, which he says all have “moral and spiritual” foundations — and solutions.

R20 counts for Europe. While irreligiosity may be on the rise among European nations, the rest of the world is becoming increasingly religious. It would be unwise to ignore this change and abdicate an opportunity to benefit from a constructive discourse on religion and its various implications for society.

As the R20 unfolds in Bali, its ramifications will have a global effect – perhaps influencing how people view the world from Brussels and beyond.

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