Network Co-Leads Expert Seminar on Advancing Inter-Religious Dialogue and Freedom of Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia

Southeast and South Asia is one of the most religiously diverse regions in the world. Within these diversity exists dynamics pressures on minorities to conform to the cultural and social norms of the majority and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief.  Religious nationalism and fragile geopolitical environments also becoming influence that gives rise to escalating communal tension and violence.

A consortium of international civil society and academic organizations consisting of Finn Church Aid, Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation, World Faith Development Dialogue, Islamic Relief Worldwide and World Conference of Religions for Peace organized a two-day Expert Seminar on Advancing Inter-Religious Dialogue and Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEA-AIR). The Seminar funded, by the European Union, was  held on the 17-18th July 2019 and is hosted by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) at Mahidol University.

Given the highly diverse demographics and escalating tensions in this region, this expert seminar aimed to  analyse the status of Freedom of Religion and Belief in Southeast and South Asian regions, and explore regional drivers of escalating conflict fault-lines, notably running through Myanmar and Bangladesh and elsewhere in the broader region, including Thailand and Indonesia. It also served to provide firm foundations and evidence-based resources for the SEA-AIR project initiatives, notably the Interfaith Fellowship Program for local changemakers to overcome discrimination and oppression within religions in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and broader Southeast and South Asia.

The Expert Seminar is part of 2.5 year consortium project Southeast Asia: Advancing Inter-Religious Dialogue and Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEA-AIR Project). The seminar will build on and validate research and analysis conducted prior to the meeting and provide an opportunity to bring together research and analysis conducted across the region. Particular attention in country to regional analysis will be paid to topics such as majority-minority relations, spreading of hate speech, religious nationalism and the role of women, and their link to freedom of religion and belief.

The overall project aims to contribute to an improved consensus and a conducive environment for the protection of freedom of religion and belief and for peaceful coexistence of groups and individuals with different religious affiliation in Southeast Asia. Specifically, the project aims to enhance local capacities to prevent and combat discrimination on grounds of religion or belief through interfaith understanding and mainstreaming at country and regional level in Myanmar, Bangladesh and other South and Southeast Asian countries.

Participants in the SEA-AIR project includes, but not limited to, religious and traditional actors, women, youth and minority change makers, NGOs and civil society groups, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, South and Southeast Asian States, and UN missions/agencies.

For more information, please contact Philip Gassert, Project Manager, at  

24 July 2019