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How can we promote religious tolerance better, is a clash of civilisations inevitable, how do religious truth and scientific truth co-exist?

The theme of this year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas is truth and a number of events will explore this from the point of view of religious truth.

The Festival will also see a celebration of the legacy of the Reformation which is 500 years old this year.

There will be big debates on some of the central issues facing religions today: the nature of truth, religious diversity and the role of politics in driving religious division.

These include:

Manufacturing a clash of civilisations: In a polarised world, populist leaders with narratives of grievance promote global schisms based on religious and cultural differences. How can this be prevented? Andrew Preston, Julian Hargreaves, Sara Silvestri and Esra Ozyurek will discuss the situation in the US, Turkey and the UK, how it might be feeding a rising intolerance of different cultures and religions and how it can be challenged. [21st October]

Religious truth in an age of diversity? Edward Kessler, founding director of the Woolf Institute, a research centre which studies relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims, Canon Chris Chivers and Atif Imtiaz from Cambridge Muslim College will discuss identity, religious diversity and the nature of truth. The event will question how people can live together peacefully while at the same time honouring commitments to their respective faiths.  It will also tackle the issue of growing intolerance.

Dr Kessler says this begins with self interrogation: “Intolerance thrives on a lack of humility.  For it is only when we are full of spiritual pride, only when we are quite sure that we know all the answers, that we have the presumption to impose our truth, our beliefs on others.  If I’m convinced that I possess the truth while you’re sunk in error, I may try to persuade you, but if you refuse to be persuaded, I may compel or even conquer you, imposing my view by force in the name of religious truth or political ideology. This thinking leads to the mindset of, ‘I’m right; you’re wrong; go to hell.’” [16th October]

Other events in the Festival explore religion and truth, including:

Hinduism and the elusiveness of truth: the quest for integrity  - Julius Luppiter on the  multifaceted and polycentric nature of truth in Hinduism which combines both personal and impersonal, secure knowledge and the experimental. [20th October]

The trouble with truth and reading the Bible - an interactive discussion of the challenges that scholars and Christians face when looking for truth or fact in Biblical texts. [21st October]

Buddhist truth, scientific truth: how can we make sense of the world? -  Dr Murray Corke, veterinary scientist and Zen Buddhist, and Dr Rachael Harris, Theravadin Buddhist and Buddhist Chaplain to the University consider both kinds of truth and and how far they are compatible or contradictory. [25th October]

The Festival will also celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a number of events:

God alone is true: Luther and the quest for certainty - In the year of the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther's “95 theses”, Professor Richard Rex takes a provocative look at the intellectual emergence of one of the most original and influential minds of the sixteenth century. [18th October]

95 theses for today - Jonathan Tame and Calum Samuelson of the Jubilee Centre will discuss their effort to crowdsource 95 new theses for faith-based social transformation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. [17th October]

Whose truth? The inquisition at work in 16th century Italy - Dr Abigail Brundin on a recent project that considered the religious beliefs of ordinary people in 16th-century Italy during the period of the Reformation which used records from the trials of the Inquisition as a major source of information. Her talk considers the difficulties of analysing this kind of source, particularly given the common use of torture to extract confession. She asks what sort of historical ‘truths’ can we gain from such complex material. [21st October]

The creative legacy of the Reformation - Professor David Ford on the varied fruits of the Reformation, especially the idea of the university in the 21st century. [27th October]

Other events linked to religion include:

Policing Islam: what a murder in Scotland might tell us about the boundaries of a religion - Taking the case of  a Muslim shopkeeper from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who was stabbed to death in Glasgow by another Muslim man in 2016, this event will explore why and how attempts to define the boundaries of Islam – even in the UK – so often end up in violence.[21st October]

I’m not me: shame and the self with St Paul - TED Talk phenomenon Brené Brown’s diagnosis of an "epidemic of shame" hit a nerve with many people. For her empathy is the only antidote. Dr Jonathan Linebaugh  disagrees and will explore shame and moving beyond the self from a theological perspective. [27th October]