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Religious engagement in global affairs: a new policy perspective?

Update from Wilton Park CEO Tom Cargill, 8 July 2021

Defining the values that we need to underpin global public life in the 21st century is increasingly core to our work at Wilton Park. As part of this Wilton Park has a proud tradition of engaging with the world’s religions, bringing faith into dialogue with policy makers on global issues.

As Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Head of the Diplomatic Service for the Holy See, said recently, working with the faiths is “a no brainer” given that 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religion. He was speaking at the Vatican, giving details of a series of virtual meetings Wilton Park has been facilitating for the British and Italian Embassies to the Holy See together with the Holy See.

These have been bringing together key religious leaders from all the major faith traditions worldwide along with leading climate scientists. They’ve been tasked with drawing up a call to action to be delivered to the political leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November.

The religious leaders and scientists have been speaking with one voice: tackling climate change is our moral duty and we urgently need to rethink how we live our lives and relate to one another. Their common voice highlights the important contribution that diverse religious contributions, in collaboration with one another, can offer to the world of politics and international relations.

Policy makers around the world now increasingly recognise that religion can be part of the solution and a strategic resource for diplomacy, peacebuilding, the strengthening of human rights and the advancement of citizenship and sustainable development. In fact, “Religious engagement” is emerging as one of the most promising fields of strategic and creative thinking on which governments and international organisations are working collaboratively with religious organisations to achieve common goals.

At Wilton Park we’re committed to making room to hear the experience and wisdom of faith leaders, as well as secular and non-religious counterparts, recognising their role in building a new post COVID world where those who are socially marginalised, culturally different and religiously diverse all have an equal place.

Tom Cargill, Chief Executive

Wilton Park Dialogues on Inclusive Citizenship

Rethinking the role of religion and politics within a plural and multireligious society (both nationally and globally) lies at the heart of our Inclusive Citizenship Dialogues. A final report on the series has just been published.

The Dialogues came in response to the recommendations of a Wilton Park meeting in Italy in 2018 on how policy makers and religious leaders in the Middle East could work together to combat violent extremism.

Since then, we’ve been working in partnership with the Aydan Foundation and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies to explore the concept of Inclusive Citizenship in the Arab world as a means of promoting peace in the region. The process has drawn together a unique consortium of major faith and interfaith groups from across the Arab world. The model of inclusive citizenship the report highlights carries the vision of a new framework of citizenship allowing everyone, including members of different religious groups, to live together as equal citizens, respecting each other’s rights and existence.

In our 75th year, this series of Dialogues on Inclusive Citizenship is testimony to Wilton Park’s core mission of promoting peace through dialogue.


The challenging discussion regarding the relationship between religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics remains at the forefront of discourse on human rights.

A 2016 Wilton Park conference focused on ways in which to promote greater tolerance for sexual minorities in the context of faith and the inter-face between LGBTI activists, religious leaders and LGBTI people of faith, recognising that they are not mutually exclusive.

We’re continuing our work in support of efforts to promote and protect the human rights and lives of LGBTI persons by hosting the Global Launch of the Equal Rights Coalition Strategy.

This Wilton Park working group meeting is an opportunity for the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), to launch its first Strategy and Five-Year Implementation Plan which aims to increase international action to promote and defend the rights of LGBTI people around the world. This virtual meeting is a preparatory meeting ahead of the Safe to be Me Conference, scheduled to take place in London in June 2022.


Wilton Park is supporting a number of diplomatic endeavours in the run up to COP26 in November. We will be convening leaders of Pacific nations in July to consider how the UK can best work with the Pacific region to ensure ambitious outcomes in Glasgow.

These conversations will be opened in Pacific style with a prayer by the Rev James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. He calls us to be guardians of the Blue Pacific, reminding us that Pacific spirituality asks us to honour the practice of our ancestors of living in harmony with – and not exploiting – nature.

Also this month, we are acting as Secretariat for the COP26 Catalyst for Climate Action initiative focusing on the Asia-Pacific region. The team are hosting five sessions during the Asia Pacific Regional Climate week to consult a diverse range of stakeholders on capacity building needs to support implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The sessions focus on access to finance; adaptation action; carbon markets participation; and transparency and reporting. These consultations are open to all, bringing new voices to the table – and reaching out to youth, religious groups, indigenous peoples, and all affected communities.

Defence and security

Our programme on counter-proliferation issues, a policy theme that also figured prominently in the Integrated Review, forms a major part of our work on Security.

A set of bids to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s (FCDO) Counter-Proliferation Fund, which has formed the core funding stream for several years now, proved highly successful and secured part-funding for work on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the future of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and lethal autonomous weapons systems. We will be convening a total of five dialogues between Sept 2021 and March 2021, in virtual, hybrid, and in-person format, working in partnership with the Canadian, Norwegian and Swiss foreign ministries.

COP26 in November, the Berlin Climate and Security Conference in September and the Munich Security Conference in February all offer a pathway of opportunity to discuss and progress climate security dialogue.

In partnership with Adelphi, we continue to propose supporting the international climate security community of practice with climate security risk briefings across the 3Ds of diplomacy, defence and development and scenario game-based exploration of climate security issues and approaches.


We are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a range of issues that are at the heart of the COP26, including Energy Transition and Zero Emission Vehicles.

We are supporting the Forest, Agriculture & Trade Commodities (FACT) dialogues, linking producer and consumer countries to create more sustainable trade in commodities produced in forest ecosystems. This includes offline discussion with officials, and with ministers from around the world. More on this to follow as this programme develops.

Closer to home, helping businesses build back better has been another key theme for us this month as Wilton Park hosted its first ever SussExport at Wilton Park.

For those of you who’ve been to our 16th century manor home in the Sussex Downs, you’ll know the value we place on serving high quality local and sustainable food and drink.

Supported by the Department for International Trade, West Sussex County Council and the Wiston Estate, SussExport will bring together businesses from across Sussex to showcase the range of quality exportable products, produce and expertise on offer in our region. Government Ministers, business leaders and ambassadors will gather to hear what it takes to deliver regional and local products and services into the global marketplace with its challenges and opportunities.

We look forward to welcoming you back through our doors to sample our wonderful local Sussex produce and hospitality soon! Make time for a visit to our own St Mary’s Church which lies just beside the main house and has an ancient foundation, as a church at Wiston is mentioned in the 11th century Domesday Book.

Looking ahead

Exploring values that shape our societies has always been a theme for us at Wilton Park. Post pandemic, that exploration will continue.

For the first time we will be working jointly with Sunnylands and Ditchley Park to deliver a series on ‘Revitalising Democracy’, bringing together a broad cross-section of influential global thinkers to consider democratic regression and steps to revitalize democratic values and institutions.

This is in the wake of the 2020 Freedom in the World report which indicated more than half of the world’s established democracies deteriorated over the past 14 years.

The Wilton Park session will focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined global democracy by fostering distrust in democratic institutions, with Sunnylands focussing on Journalism and Democracy and Ditchley Park on Climate Change and Democracy. More on this to come!

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