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Invitation to an International Conference

Dialogue between Civilizations: West-East


People's Friendship University of Russia

Moscow, Russia

November 10-13, 1999



As we move into the next millennium a new set of values emerges which show great promise, but also threaten to impede effective progress.


These concern the dignity of persons and peoples, their creative freedom, and most concretely the cultures they develop thereby. These reflect the deepest exercise of personal and social life. If they can be harnessed and promoted they promise a great revival of peoples everywhere.


Historical experience shows that the sense of personal identity and social self-understanding have not only positive but negative meanings as well, giving rises to the alternative of violence or tolerance. Unfortunately, in contemporary society discord and conflict multiply more quickly than they are solved. The notion of a crime against humanity achieves special prominence in the second half of the XXth century and a clash of civilizations is said to be a prospect for the future.


We face then a twin challenge. On the one hand, there are increases in the sense of personal self-awareness, of cultural uniqueness and hence of diversity. On the other hand, there is expanded interchange between peoples and civilizations. In this situation of new challenges for contemporary society, an old question about peace takes on new meaning: What are forms or ways of coexistence between peoples belonging to different cultures and traditions, especially East and West?


Tolerance as a philosophical imperative has two related meanings for interaction between human beings. On the one hand, a negative tolerance allows people to live their own lives and to share in the common welfare. But this may not be enough because it is passive and associated with social atomism, individual independence and isolation. History often shows how passive tolerance can slide into conflict and chaos.


On the other hand, a positive and active tolerance raises a number of tasks. First, the supposition that civilizational paradigms are simply incommensurable and by implication conflictive must be critically reevaluated. Second, it is necessary to look not only for a passive or negative tolerance, but for active bonds of shared and mutual concerns, building upon the need to face concrete common challenges. Third, philosophical and religious bases for positive mutuality must be sought. Fourth, whole new and especially aesthetic dimensions of human consciousness appear needed in order to handle the combination of newly heightened sense of diversity with the expanding, even global, interchange. This is rendered concrete not only by commerce and communication, but by massive and urgent displacements of people.


All this calls for renewed attention to tolerance as a virtue that is not only negative and passive, but positive and active. There are resources for this in both Western and Eastern cultures which have not been adequately explored. It is important to look into the resources of Islamic and Christian civilizations for the bases for the cooperation required for the millennium now dawning.











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