Global Ethics

In China, Nishan Forum examines global values in a changing world

In Brief: 
  • An international, scholarly forum on world civilizations, held in China in May 2014, explored the need for a global system of ethics.
  • The meeting compared and discussed various spiritual and moral systems of belief and thought, including the Bahá’í Faith.
  • An outcome document stressed the importance of “the full implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms” proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international legal agreements.

JINAN, China — Humanity’s increasing interdependence, coupled with closer relationships among people of all nations, offers new possibilities for a global conversation about common values and ethics.

That was among the main themes of the Third Nishan Forum on World Civilizations, a major international conference held at Shandong University 20-23 May 2014.

Bringing together some 130 scholars, diplomats, and civil society representatives from China and abroad, the Forum sought to develop new ideas about cooperation and dialogue among diverse world civilizations under the theme: “Common Human Ethics amid Different Beliefs.”

“The meeting was unprecedented in many ways in that it allowed an exchange of views between scholars who study diverse ethical and cultural systems and representatives of different faiths and belief systems,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations, who was a participant and guest speaker at the event.

The Forum produced an outcome document, titled “The Agreement On Fostering the Duty Consciousness For the Human Welfare Through Civilization Dialogues,” which the participants had the opportunity to endorse.

In its draft form, that agreement stressed the importance of “the full implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms” proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international legal agreements.

The draft agreement also said: “We believe that, in order to maintain the respect for human rights as well as for the diversity of cultures, we must foster a duty consciousness for the common welfare for human beings as a whole, rather than narrowly insist our own individual benefits [and] nationalist interests.”

The Forum’s program explored a wide range of topics related to religion, ethics, and globalization.

Ms. Dugal participated at numerous sessions during the Forum, including the giving of closing remarks, in which she summarized some of the main themes of the event.

“Thousands of years of intellectual and social history — and the moral and ethical development that has been achieved over that timespan — have brought us to the point where we can gather here today to explore, to imagine, and to articulate the elements of an ethic that will promote human flourishing,” said Ms. Dugal.

A “global conversation”

“The possibility of a truly global conversation has for the first time appeared on our horizon. Not only can we see our physical unity represented in stirring photographs of our planet, but we have developed the technologies which make conversations about the contours of our shared future together possible.

“We are, for the first time, part of a global conversation — learning together what it means to be human,” she said.

Many voices, she noted, remain to be heard. And there are destructive forces in the world that are tearing apart old structures and attitudes, such as the environmental crisis, corruption, extremes of wealth and poverty, and the exploitation of women and children.

“At the same time, we witness the sweeping forces of integration, drawing diverse groups together, forging a sense of world citizenship, and opening new opportunities for cooperation and collaboration,” said Ms. Dugal.

“It is clearer than ever that our reality as human beings is one that is deeply rooted in relationships — in our relationship with fellow human beings, within the family, the community, the nation, the global community, with the natural environment, and, for many of us, with a notion of God, or of Heaven, or transcendence,” she said.

Other Bahá’í participants included Hoda Mahmoudi, holder of the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland, and David Palmer, associate professor of sociology at the University of Hong Kong.