International Seminar on 'Contemporary Issues in Civilisational Dialogue'

Oct 26, 2002 ◄ Back to list

International and local scholars at the seminar on 'Contemporary Issues in Civilisational Dialogue' from October 26 to 27, 2002 at Wisma Kebudayaan SGM concluded that people must learn to recognise and accept the diversity of human civilisations in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world.

"Diversity of human cultures and civilisations should be celebrated. Unity does not mean uniformity," was the opinion of Dr Stephen Leong, the Assistant Director-General of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies. Dr Leong was one of the three eminent social thinkers invited to chair the sessions. The other two were Dr Chandra Muzaffar, President of International Movement for a Just World and Professor Dato' Dr Syed Hussein Alatas, senior research fellow with the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

The seminar was a collaborative effort between SGM and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. More than 350 participants including academicians, researchers and students from local universities attended the presentations of papers on the first day, and 150 joined the panel discussion on the second day.

In his opening speech, Prof Dr Hassan Said, Director of Higher Education Department at the Ministry of Education remarked, "Dialogue among cultures should be purposeful, and on the basis of mutual respect. In this manner, dialogue becomes a humanitarian act, which affects the movement of history, a crucial factor to maintain peace, security and a fundamental cultural force that foster stability and prosperity."

Four speakers presented their papers on the first day of the seminar. They were Dr Jorgen Nielsen, a professor at the Department of Theology from the University of Birmingham, UK; Dr G Venkataraman, professor at the Department of History from the University of Madras, Dr Cheng Chung-ying, professor of philosophy from the University of Hawaii and Prof Date Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, Director of the Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Each of the paper discussed the theme of 'civilisational dialogue' from the different perspective of four major civilisations, namely Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western.

On the second day of the seminar, the speakers, chairpersons and participants engaged in further discussion on the theme of the seminar. The ensuing session was a meaningful exchange of ideas and concepts, which ranged from the contribution of Confucian thought to global ethics right to the strong influence of the patriarchal views imposed on the Third World countries by the 'West'.

Participants also discussed on the functions of dialogue. Professor Syed Hussein Alatas remarked that, "Dialogue should be carried out in the spirit of wanting to do greater good for humanity." He also added that people should engage in a 'humanitarian' competition to do good instead of 'clashing' with each other, and that dialogue should serve this purpose.

On the whole, the seminar has enriched the participants' understanding and conceptions of different cultures and civilisations. More importantly, the participants are able to concur that dialogue is more necessary than ever in our present age, that understanding among different cultures and civilisation can be achieved, thus rejecting the notion that the 'clash of civilisations' is an inevitable consequence of globalisation.