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Education: Reconstructing Norms and Empowering Dialogue
Jan 1, 2018

“…all cultures are partial and benefit from the insights of others [resulting in a genuine global universalism that] can be arrived at only by means of an uncoerced and equal intercultural [or inter-civilizational] dialogue.” Bhikkhu Parekh

Whatever is ill and unjust does not feign amid a world social construction. The awareness and moral action of youth are malleable forces within societies, and these form through educational processes.  Dialogue can additionally enrich the character of youth, encouraging them to participate effectively within society to affect the moral nature of humanity.  Such constructive effort teaches youth the importance of a deliberative approach to dialog, helping them learn better to manage conflicts and differences.  Although the ability to control the inner self and moral makeup of individuals is impossible, constructing a social norm of moral ethos is not. Emile Durkheim has related that hegemony lays the foundation for social norms.  His tenets reveal that ruling ideologies derive a majority social consensus that reflects the popular sentiments of society. 

These sentiments, however good or bad, however ignorant or educated, are maintained within the parameters of whatever is popular belief.  If individuals submit to a holistic approach that analyzes an entire system of beliefs rather than its single components, then a common ground for dialogue transpires.   A holistic understanding of good maintained by a recognizable constitution of global ethos can perfect a new hegemony. A formative education, inclusive of dialogue, can reduce stereotypes that prevent humanity from establishing commonalities among nations, cultures, or religions.  This construct empowers individuals to rise above typical hegemonic devices and manufacture a transformative awareness toward global tolerance.

Knowledge, a culmination of educational processes, establishes the means to confront the significant and real issues of divisiveness while encouraging dialogue as a venue toward a more peaceful and safer world (Carroll 2007: ii).  Within a renewed civil society, a “golden generation” of morally educated individuals, founded within a diverse and tolerant world, can affect the fundamental change needed to rejuvenate thinking and action.  As we inhabit a world of shrinking space, a lesson in responsibility teaches us that respect for cultures and religions is imperative.  Enlightening the ingrained mindset of adults is often difficult, as change does not come easily. Increasing the analytical skills and the thinking ability of youth enables a better examination of issues according to an inclusive and tolerant worldview.  Education, in this capacity, embraces youth wherever the opportunity is available. 

Social values and character building programs in schools in the U.S. and other nations are ineffective if they are not inclusive or diverse enough to reflect the global perspectives of diverse populations, religions, and cultures.  Mediation processes, peace negotiations, and character programs alone are not enough. There must be a plan to expose youth to the foundations of various faiths and their cultural practices and origins.  This kind of education has much social value since today’s diverse populations inhabit educational systems calling for a need for these skills.  This educational practice does not mandate the teaching of religion, although culture and religion mesh, but it does suggest religious understanding.  Being tolerant does not mean accepting what someone does or does not believe, as long as their beliefs do not affect any other individual.  This type of tolerance perpetuates ignorance.  Schools have a deeper responsibility toward teaching tolerance and dialogue to students, to move them toward a new era of relationships. Active learning works by asking questions and receiving answers, and this leads to progress. It is also a religious, political, and economic tool to be used in analytical discussions and real life applications.  Gaining such knowledge and skills make education a creative and malleable force geared for ethical thinking. 

A new history, written after 9/11, reveals that religion can create a socio-political statement, whether the message reflects minority malevolent intent or the misconstrued message of the majority.  Tremendous efforts to seek truth, understanding, and awareness for greater dialogue among the religions of the world, especially between Christianity and Islam, have arisen because of this.  Scholars work to obtain a global ethos that maintains a universal understanding of right and wrong, including a comprehensive agenda to direct humanitarian efforts toward common goals. David Smock, Vice President of the U.S. Institute of Peace and director of the Religion and Peacemaking Program, states his imperative for religious understanding and its political and diplomatic influence.  He explains:

No major religion has been exempt from complicity in violent conflict. Yet we need to beware of an almost universal propensity to oversimplify the role that religion plays in international affairs. Religion is not usually the sole or even primary cause of conflict. With so much emphasis on religion as a source of conflict, the role of religion as a force in peacemaking is usually overlooked. Religious leaders and institutions can mediate in conflict situations, serve as communication links between opposing sides, and organize interfaith dialogue (Rumi Forum, 2009).
This type of informative academic material enriches the knowledge of civil society and can help people learn to distinguish what constitutes mainstream beliefs from extremists of varied religious backgrounds and faiths. Such was the misconception prior and just after 9/11. 
The educational vision held by Fethullah Gülen takes an inclusive and holistic approach to interfaith understanding that enables youth to understand and engage with other cultures and faiths; such an approach benefits all of civil society.  Jill Carroll quotes Mr. Gülen saying that his idea involves not only schools, but families, communities, and media.  All major components of society must align the effort of educating youth in all beneficial knowledge. All social institutions must cultivate or “educate” people’s innate capacities for higher [human awareness]… (Carroll 2007:74). 

Educating youth and adults to understand the value of interfaith dialogue and tolerance is one route to greater global coexistence. 
This education also affects all levels and functions of civil society. It is a collective yet individualized method of gaining human connection. A new era of world vision encompasses a diverse global society, and therefore, the worldview must acknowledge that the world’s systems inevitably fail, and individuals must respond.

This initiative rests at the threshold of a world without racism, without subjugation, and without divisiveness.  Power, religion, and modernity accomplish more through understanding.  A great gift to this world would be a higher existence on earth.  A diverse yet inclusive world grants temperance as a foundation for building a better tomorrow. 

Social education is a fundamental means for reconstructing existing hegemonic social norms. It also incorporates interfaith dialogue as a fundamental part of the social foundation.  No society reaches its fullest potential without education, and Jill Carrol explains that “[Fethullah] Gülen sees education as the means by which people become the true beings God created them to be; thus, to become educated in life’s most important task” (Carroll 2007: 72). From her book, A Dialogue of Civilizations: Gülen’s Islamic Ideals and Humanistic Discourse, she also quotes Mr. Gülen saying: 

The main duty and purpose of human life is to seek understanding. The effort of doing so, known as education, is a perfecting process through which we earn, in the spiritual, intellectual, and physical dimensions of our beings, the rank appointed for us as the perfect pattern of creation… perfecting our thinking, perceptions, and belief (Carroll 2007: 72).

There is much power in this educational theory, enough to sustain a global vision and move humans toward greater understanding. It merges religious and cultural commonalities despite differences.

Educational processes that support dialogue transcend normative social, religious, and cultural understandings and allow spiritual awareness to influence outcomes. Theologian Hans Küng stated during the opening presentation at the Exhibit on the World's Religions at Santa Clara University that
The world's religions are very, very different and have very different bases. It would be illusionary to think that you can just unify the religions. But, I hope for peace among the religions, and that is a very realistic hope. … There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions (Küng 2005).

His hope, too, is for a real community of nations – and that begins with peaceful coexistence and tolerance among faiths. This message stresses the need for a greater understanding and compassion among religions and encouragement for the world to recognize the valuable role of dialogue in the social educational system. To become ideally human is to incorporate the use of all that is human and use it to perfect the self through education of mind and spirit, whereby the soul recognizes the capacity to determine right action. 

This educational empowerment assists global social change and is the beginning of a promising initiative to educate responsible global citizens.  No better investment or place to start exists than with the youth of this world.  Progress begins with a valuable investment in the youth of the world in hopes that they in turn manifest a new attitude that embraces dialogue, the tenets of a global ethos, good citizenship, and the will to strive for righteousness on behalf of humankind.

Recognizing that the great religions of the world have spiritual messages and visions that affirm ethical traditions is to realize that from these divergent paths, voices, languages, cultures, and heritages, we can find moral commonalities.  The confirmation of an impassioned love for life and the divineness of mysteries unite humankind within an elevated existence. The acknowledgement and agreement of the existence of something beyond man’s earthly comprehension is encompassing. We can hope that educational programs will provide knowledge of diverse beliefs, faiths, and spiritual traditions and will one day nurture mutual understanding, respect, and cooperation among people.


Carroll, Jill B.  2007.   A Dialogue of Civilizations:  Gülen’s Islamic Ideals and Humanistic Discourse. Somerset, NJ: The Light Publishing Company.

Küng, Hans.  2005.  “The World's Religions: Common Ethical Values”, presented at the opening of The Exhibit on the World's Religions at Santa Clara University accessed on 5/16/2009 from

Smock, David.  2009.  Religion in World Affairs:  Its Role in Conflict and Peace.  Rumi Forum, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., presented June 18, 2009.

Beneficial education according to Fethullah Gülen encompasses a holistic learning process that enlightens thinking and analytical capacities of the student.  It supports cross-cultural perspective as seen through Islam and other philosophical pedagogies.