Washington, DC – (March 17, 2014)

Central Asia

As apprehensions in Central Asia rise about the possibility of religiously-motivated instability resulting from the U.S.’ impending departure from Afghanistan, IGE and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have launched a series of conferences on religion, security and citizenship in Central Asia. The most recent conference was held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, from 24-26 February and is the third conference in the series (the first was held in May 2013 in Astana, Kazakhstan, and the second conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in December 2013).The Bishkek conference focused on three critical themes: religion’s role in the construction of identity, religious education, and religion and family issues, including women and youth.

Participants hailed from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Afghanistan, India and the United States. The first day and a half of the conference focused on region-wide concerns, with 45 participants engaging in a lively discussion on the three foci of the series, as well as hearing perspectives from a panel of international experts. IGE president Chris Seiple delivered the keynote address which can be viewed online here. The conference ended with a discussion of practical next steps and policy recommendations.

The second half of the second day featured a special follow-on session devoted entirely to Kyrgyzstan, where 41 participants, including representatives of the Commission on Religious Affairs and the Office of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, debated key topics such as the meaning of secularism and the role of the government in regulating religious institutions. During the session, the Kyrgyzstani government invited the International Religious Freedom NGO Roundtable to provide feedback on planned religious policies.

On 26 February, IGE and Carnegie led a roundtable that included Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Russians in Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan that was the site of ethnic violence in 2010 which left over 400 dead. Participants raised many of the same concerns that were discussed in Bishkek, such as the meaning of secularism, the role of the government in regulating religious groups, and the future of religious education.

South Asia

Following the Kyrgyzstan conference, IGE, PIPS, and IEMG held a conference in Kathmandu, Nepal from 28 February-2 March which focused on two main themes: 1. The Arab Spring: National, Regional, and Global Effects and Implications; and, 2. Religion & Security. This conference was the fourth in a series of conferences focusing on religion and security, particularly on the role that education, both religious and secular, play in helping or hindering extremism. The kick-off conference took place in Beijing, China (2011), and was followed by conferences in Yangon, Myanmar (October 2013) and Almaty, Kazakhstan (December 2013). In each of these conferences, IGE and its partners have made an intentional effort to gradually build up a global network of scholars from South, Central, and Southeast Asia that are able to provide international comparative perspectives on key issues related to religion, security, and citizenship.

This conference featured a total of 23 scholars and practitioners (including seven women) from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, the Philippines, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Switzerland, China, and the U.S. Of these participants, 14 of them have also attended IGE’s previous “religion, security, and citizenship” conferences in Beijing, Yangon, and Almaty.

Building Networks

The scholarship and relationships resulting from these recently concluded conferences in Kyrgyzstan and Nepal further add to a growing network that has formed out of IGE’s previous Religion, Security, & Citizenship conferences in the region. This intra- and inter-regional network is made up of like-minded people who have agreed on developing a common curriculum and certificate program on peace, mutual respect, and mutual reliance that can be taught by alumni in their home countries and institutions. A concluding Religion, Security, & Citizenship conference scheduled for December 2014 will be held in Singapore which will further explore this goal and practical next steps.

The Institute for Global Engagement – The Institute for Global Engagement works at the critical intersection of religion and global affairs, building sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide. Through local partnerships, IGE works transparently to convene, connect, and build consensus among government, religious leaders, and scholars to ensure that all people, of any religion or no religion, have full freedom of conscience and can participate as equal citizens in public life. To learn more about IGE or our various overseas programs, please contact James Chen at jchen@globalengage.org.