The Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs in co-operation with the Indonesian Ministry for Foreign Affairs has hosted a symposium on "State, Law and Religion in Pluralistic Societies - Austrian and Indonesian Perspectives" in Vienna between 27 and 29 May 2009. The symposium was jointly prepared with the Faculty of Law of the University and Vienna, reflecting the interests and concerns both countries share in actively promoting diversity and looking for best practices to manage diversity, in particular with regard to religious pluralism. This symposium is a major event in strengthening dialogue between Austria and Indonesia and is a concrete result of the bilateral diplomatic staff exchange in the field of Dialogue of Cultures and Religions in 2008. The symposium, therefore, should foster dialogue between the two countries on all levels: public administrations, universities and research, civil society and religious communities.
Fourteen experts and journalists from Indonesia and nineteen from Austria exchanged experiences and good practices in the field of religious diversity management - on the legal, political, social and community level. Among the participants were high ranking religious leaders, such as Mr Ahmad Hashim Muzadi, General Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulema, the biggest Muslim association in Indonesia, and Prof. Syafiq A. Mughni, Chairperson of the Muhammadiyah (Board in East Jave) representing the second biggest Muslim group, as well as Prof. Franz Magnis-Suseno, who as a Catholic priest and former rector of the Jesuit community "Hermanum College" in Jakarta, has been a vigorously active in inter-religious dialogue in Indonesia for the last forty years. Rev. Natan Setiabudi represented the Indonesian Churches Association. Prof. Siti Musdah Mulia and Dr. Fatimah Husein presented the manifold interfaith dialogue activities wit a strong perspective on women and gender issues and marginalized groups. Prof. I Dewa Gede Palguna, lecturer at the Faculty of Law and former head of the Department for International Law at Udayana University in Bali, presented his insights on the dynamics of Indonesia’s Constitution. Among the Austrian participants were Prof. Richard Potz, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna, Prof. Irmgard Marboe Department of European, International and Comparative Law, Prof. Ednan Aslan from the Department of Islamic Religious Pedagogy, Prof. Susanne Heine from the Faculty of Protestant Theology, Prof. Ingeborg Gabriel from the Faculty of Roman-Catholic Theology and Dean Rev. Martin Rupprecht, Chairman of the Centre for Christian-Islamic Encounter of the Archdiocese of Vienna.
The programme included expert sessions on the role of religious communities in promoting tolerance in society and cultural life, on religious freedom, secularity and the neutrality of the state, on minority rights, autonomies and legal pluralism. Main issues discussed included how the state applies the rule of law in a democratic and pluralistic society, how it enables freedom of religion and how it supports harmony among citizens of different religions. Political and social conditions of religious and cultural tolerance were highlighted as well as the responsibilities of citizens with different religious backgrounds in contributing to peaceful co-existence. The challenges and role of women in this context and in interfaith dialogue were also given particular attention. University lectures of experts were held on "Globalization and Islamic Modernity", public lectures were given on human rights, minority rights and gender perspectives in inter-religious dialogue at the Diplomatic Academy Vienna. The International Press Institute (IPI) invited Austrian and Indonesian journalists for a background discussion.
The Republic of Indonesia has put emphasis on "empowering the moderate", thereby ensuring the effectiveness of dialogue, and on participation of religious and cultural leaders.
Austria, due to her history and geopolitical situation, has a long-standing tradition in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue activities, in particular with the Muslim world and Islam in Europe. The legal recognition of Islam as early as 1912 has contributed to the fact that dialogue has featured prominently on Austria’s foreign policy agenda for decades. Current debates with regard to the presence and participation of Muslims in Austria and Europe and to Islamic thinking in this context have made it self-evident that sharing experiences and learning from each other is crucial to face the challenges of globalisation.