Brazil: Transcending divisions through a shared identity

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — A recent public hearing held at the National Congress in Brasília, Brazil, examined the role of religion in promoting a shared identity among the diverse populations of the country through recognition of humanity’s spiritual nature.

In her opening remarks, Federal Deputy Erika Kokay of the lower house of Congress emphasized this idea, stating: “Denying our spiritual nature is like tearing out a fundamental aspect of human existence.”

The hearing, which was jointly organized by Brazil’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs and government officials, included the participation of an interfaith group comprising academics, faith communities, and civil society organizations.

Discussions explored how efforts to overcome deeply rooted prejudices could be strengthened by embracing spiritual principles that enable people to envision themselves as members of one human family.

Group photo including some of the participants at the public hearing held at the National Congress in Brasília, Brazil. Slideshow
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Group photo including some of the participants at the public hearing held at the National Congress in Brasília, Brazil.

Luiza Cavalcanti, a member of the Office of External Affairs, stated that at the heart of divisions in society is a crisis of identity. “We are living in a turning point in human history… a period of crisis and transition, both turbulent and promising,” she said.

Mrs. Cavalcanti explained that some groups feel a sense of unity based on narrow identities that often become the basis of opposition against those perceived as “other.”

She added that these attitudes eventually become reinforced at the level of culture. “Mistakenly, we assume that our challenge today is to learn to tolerate the culture of ‘others’, and that this is enough.”

The kind of transformation required, stated Mrs. Cavalcanti, calls for “cooperative patterns of human interaction… and the establishment of a broad learning process in our society that enables more and more people and communities to distinguish between those elements of culture that lead to progress and those that lead to oppression and disintegration.”

The establishment of such a learning process, she said, would require guiding principles from religion, such as “unwavering protection of human dignity, the interconnectedness that characterizes all life on the planet,” and justice and consultation as the basis for collective action and decision-making.

The hearing was part of broader efforts of the Office of External Affairs to explore the issue of social justice and transformation of culture with a cross-section of Brazilian society, largely through discussion forums it regularly hosts.

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