Challenges to pluralism in South Asia

7th January 2014
With the end to 30 years of civil conflict caused by ethnic tensions, Sri Lanka is now witnessing an escalation of religious intolerance. The rise of fundamentalism has resulted in debates over secularism and pluralism, not only in Sri Lanka but also across the South Asian region.

SAPRI hosted a colloquium on ‘Challenges to pluralism in South Asia’ The well attended event was held at the BMICH in Colombo on 7th January with an international panel of four eminent scholars comprising Prof. Rajeev Bhargava (India), Prof. Radhika Coomaraswamy (Sri Lanka), Dr. Christophe Jaffrelot (France) and Ms Asma Jahangir from Pakistan who made presentations on the issues of religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence, secularism and pluralism in South Asia. The sessions were moderated by Dr. Deepika Udagama and Prof. Savithri Goonesekere. Club de Madrid’s Dr. Clem McCartney summarized the deliberations.

This event was organized by SAPRI with the participation of Club de Madrid.

Building Religious Harmony – The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue

SAPRI has initiated a project to study the incidents of religious discord that have surfaced in Sri Lanka and to find solutions to alleviate the causes of discord and to promote religious harmony. The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue was created for this purpose.

The objective of the dialogue would be to recognize early warning signs of religious intolerance; ascertain the causes for the expressions of religious intolerance; evolve measures to address the causes and make recommendations that would promote the transformation of religious intolerance to a process of tolerance and religious harmony.  SAPRI is of the view that, these can be achieved through advocacy, at policy making level as well as at the grassroots level by creating awareness. Considering the importance of creating awareness at the grassroots, SAPRI plans to form interfaith committees in the cities of Kandy, Kurunegala, Galle, Matara and Batticaloa.

The dialogue would comprise leaders of the prominent religions in Sri Lanka, i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and experts who are dedicated towards working to maintain religious harmony.   Members comprise former leading political figures, former senior government officials, the private sector, civil society leaders, academics, women leaders and youth leaders among others.

The South Asian Policy & Research Institute (SAPRI) presents
The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue (FIFAD) ‘Recommendations for Building Religious Harmony’
attended by religious leaders of all faiths
-28 January 2014

SAPRI launched its publication of Recommendations for Promoting Religious Harmony on 28 January 2014 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute Auditorium.

Filling a major vacuum of moderate political leadership in the wake of ongoing attacks against religious minorities, SAPRI’s Chair Chandrika Kumaratunga said   it was impossible to remain silent any longer in the face and this extremist discourse that is slowly occupying free public space.

The event was a unique one, in which it brought together on one platform, religious leaders of all four major faiths, to speak on the commonalities in teachings of these four religions as well as the harmony prevailed between diverse ethnic and religious communities in Sri Lanka since two millennia.

They proposed that the recommendations made by FIFaD serve as an effective basis to build interfaith harmony and unity in diversity.

The religious leaders who present on stage were:

• The most Venerable Niyangoda Vijithasiri Anunayake Thero
• The most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anunayake Thero
• The most Venerable Pannila Ananda Nayake thero
• The most Venerable Dakunudoraliyadde Jinasiri Nayake Thero
• Vidyanithi Brahmashri S. Kuhanantha Sharma Swamy
• Moulavi M.R. Mahir
• Moulavi Mahamed Aslaam Ansareen
• His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. Oswald Gomis, Archbishop Emeritus

The Recommendations

The SAPRI recommendations call for the law to be implemented strictly against unlawful activities that impinge on religious communities, a 24-hour hotline for preventive action, creating awareness at school level and the role of the media in promoting religious tolerance. The responsibilities of the Government and the private sector, leaders of the major religions and the civil society were specially emphasized.

The recommendations would be presented to the State Authorities, to a wider group of religious leaders and civic organizations and NGP’s.

The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue Recommendations for Building Religious Harmony

book-cover– View the full text here >>


Religious leaders of all faiths addressed the gathering. On stage; Moulavi M.R. Maheer, Vidyanithi Brahmasri S.Kuhananda Sharma Swamy, Most. Ven. Pannila Ananda Nayaka Thero Mahanayake Attanagalle Rajamaha Viharaya, Most Ven. Hureekaduwe Pawarasiri Nayake Thero, Most. Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawasa Anunayake Thero Amarapura Chapter, Most Ven. Niyangoda Vijithasiri Anunayake Thero Malwatte Chapter, His Grace Dr.Oswald Gomis, Archbishop Emeritus, Moulavi Mohamed Aslaam Ansareen, Rev. Father Adrian Aron.


2The gathering included several other religious and civilian leaders.

3 4
Religious leaders engage in cordial conversation and reminiscing prior to the event SAPRI Chairperson Madam Chandrika Kumaratunga lights the traditional oil lamp to commence the event

Speeches delivered at the event

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Speech by Mr. W. J. S. Karunaratna – view video >>

Speech by Mr. Javid Yusuf – view video >>

Speech by Mr. Danesh Casie Chetty – view video >>

Speech by Most Ven. Niyangoda Vijithasiri Anunayake Thero Malwatte Chapter – view video >>

Speech by Most. Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawasa Anunayake Thero Amarapura Chapter – view video >>

Speech by Vidyanithi Brahmasri S. Kuhananda Sharma Swamy – view video >>

Speech by Moulavi M. R. Maheer – view video >>

Speech by His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis, Archbishop of Colombo (Emeritus) – view video >>

Speech by Ms. Visakha Dharmadasa – view video >>

Speech by Mr. Upul Jayasuriya – view video >>