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Displaced Persons and Hospitality to the Stranger

The issue of migrants, refugees, and displaced persons more broadly provides a challenge to religious communities. The leading religious traditions uphold the value of hospitality and welcoming the stranger. Faith-based NGOs are among the most prominent advocates for migrants and refugees around the world.

In practice, however, religious communities are often divided on how to balance the rights of displaced persons against the interests of destination communities and states. Some religious people favor more open borders and ambitious resettlement regimes. Others, while rarely categorically opposed to migrants or refugees, are more likely to emphasize the potentially disruptive effects of immigration to local communities. These dynamics are evident in local, state, and regional, and national responses to displaced populations throughout the world. 

For religious communities to have a greater positive an impact on how policy responds to the needs and rights needs of displaced persons, faith leaders on different sides of these issues should be ready to engage in productive dialogue with one another. Faith-based leaders interested in exploring common ground may be able to find ways forward, through a fresh look at their traditions in light of our contemporary challenges.

Over the course of the 2023-2024 academic year, this working group of practitioners and scholars will seek to model and promote a culture of encounter and productive interreligious dialogue around refugees and displaced persons. This working group is part of the Culture of Encounter Project and convened by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.

The working group will: 

  1. Meet virtually over the course of the 2023-2024 academic year to critique drafts of a staff-produced white paper and web-based resources that frame the key issues—their historical evolution, contemporary significance, and differences and similarities in scriptural and critical resources within and across traditions; 
  2. Help to plan two webinars (in which some working group members and outside experts will participate) that highlight diverse religious voices on the issues; and 
  3. Participate in an in-person workshop designed to bring different religious voices into dialogue with one another and policy leaders. 

If the year’s events and outputs are successful in highlighting and supporting new paths for interfaith collaboration on global issues, the project will continue for a second year. 

The Culture of Encounter Project is generously supported by the GHR Foundation. Based at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, the project is a collaboration with three Vatican dicasteries—for Interreligious Dialogue, Culture and Education, and Integral Human Development.

Although the overwhelming majority of the world's population participates in religious communities, faith-based organizations and interfaith networks have had only a very modest impact on the global agenda. 

The structure of the international system continues to favor states, nationalism drowns out religious and other voices from global civil society, and divides within and across religious communities also hobble interfaith impact. How might interfaith networks collaborate more effectively around two transnational challenges that resonate across religious traditions—the care and protection of children and displaced persons? The project will bring together religious leaders and practitioners across traditions to explore this question through online dialogues, convenings in Washington, DC, and white papers framing the issues for a global audience.

This project is part of the Culture of Encounter Project at Georgetown University, which builds on a central idea of Pope Francis’ set out most fully in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti—that to advance the common good we have to find new ways to work together, acknowledging our deep differences while pursuing shared projects. While the word “dialogue” implies the possibility of rational agreement, “encounter” incorporates the idea of inevitable tension—its Latin root, contra, means “against” or “opposite.” In a world divided along political, ideological, religious, racial, and other lines, we need to find new ways to bridge divides and identify and pursue common interests. Building a culture of encounter means engaging in difficult dialogue and joint action with those who are different—and sometimes even disagreeable. 

The importance of encounter for interfaith collaboration is clear. The world’s religious traditions are different from one another and have often been at odds historically. Faith communities are typically internally divided along political lines as well. In order to seek common ground on specific issues and have a significant impact on policy—to go beyond facile affirmations of shared values of peace and justice—engagement within and across religious communities requires an open and productive encounter among different perspectives.

Leaders of faith communities often find it difficult to address their differences in a constructive manner—both internally and externally. They may tend to uphold the importance of the internal unity and ethical absolutes, perpetuating entrenched conflicts that reinforce rather than help to move beyond the polarization we see in the political sphere. The rights of children and displaced persons provide two examples of this dynamic.



May 21, 2024

Welcoming the Refugee: Religious Norms for Humanitarian Aid in Troubled Times video

Duration: 1 hour 27 minutes

December 19, 2023

Refugees and Forced Displacement video

Duration: 1 hour 27 minutes