In 2016 the ACU launched a new initiative on the topic of ‘universities, faith and respect’ – an ambitious exercise to identify ways in which universities (including some with a strong faith mission) can develop practical means of promoting respect, understanding, and objectivity among staff, students, and their local communities.

The initiative draws on the collective experience of the ACU’s uniquely diverse membership, which includes faith-based universities from five major world religions. Our aim is to showcase the work our member universities are already doing to promote understanding among those of different faith backgrounds, and encouraging to commit to efforts in this area. Findings will contribute both to the work of participating institutions, and to wider international debates on the role of universities in creating open-minded graduates and moderate societies. Initial funding has been obtained from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

2016: Accra, Ghana

The initiative arose from a session on universities, faith, and tolerance at the ACU Conference of University Leaders in 2016. The session, led by vice-chancellors from Islamic, Buddhist, and Christian universities, explored how institutions can help contribute to common understanding, emphasising the need for openness and dialogue. Many of those taking part in the session expressed an interest in further joint activity.

2017: Liverpool, United Kingdom

As a follow-up to the session in Ghana, the ACU organised a small seminar on 'The role of faith-based universities in promoting respect', in January 2017. The three-day seminar saw 21 vice-chancellors, senior academics, and university administrators come together at Liverpool Hope University, UK, to highlight the importance of working in unison to promote interfaith respect.

Seminar delegates discussing how to promote interfaith respect at their own universities

Delegates came from ACU member institutions in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, and the UK – with the majority from universities with a faith mission or a strong faith context. The event was a chance to share experiences of best practice in promoting respect among staff, students, and communities, with roundtable discussions on the following themes:

Discussions highlighted cross-cutting values, including an appreciation of differences and similarities, the common goal of transforming individuals into better citizens through education, the importance of working together to promote the benefits of interfaith collaboration, and the need for senior staff to lead by example. This gave rise to a Statement of shared values which we are now asking individuals at Commonwealth universities to endorse.

The main take-away from the seminar was that faith-based universities should work together to promote interfaith respect. A report on the seminar was commissioned and will be available shortly.

Next steps

The ACU’s campaign 'How are universities nurturing respect and understanding?' aims to share findings from the above consultations, and to broaden out the discussion.

The ACU is also planning on facilitating a pilot exchange programme on the theme of promoting interfaith respect.

Take part in our campaign

How are universities nurturing respect and understanding?