The growing debate about the place of religion in the public sphere in Europe has prompted a quick response from some foundations, with grants to combat issues such as the rise of right-wing extremism or to explore the place of Islam in secular societies.
This response, however, has frequently been ad hoc and uncoordinated. Because of this, NEF has begun a project to help policymakers, civil society organizations, including foundations, the public and the media better understand the changing relationship between religion and democracy in contemporary Euro-Mediterranean societies.
The programme is being implemented under the auspices of NEF and led by the Van Leer Group Foundation, in close cooperation with the EFC (European Foundation Centre) and the Ford Foundation. At this stage, the project also includes the active participation and support of the King Baudouin Foundation, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, and Compagnia di San Paolo.
A roundtable discussion involving specialist journalists in London in January identified the most important issues and these will be integrated into the terms of reference for the project, which has two parallel strands: research and youth debates.
The research will involve the preparation of position papers by five senior academics who will address related challenges and opportunities and will make recommendations on appropriate lines of action by both policymakers and other stakeholders, such as CSOs.
The youth debates, which will be conducted partly through internet-based forums and partly through meetings in different European venues, will discuss the issues identified at the roundtable discussion. The results of both will be presented to a high-level symposium in Jerusalem in September 2007, hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. These results, in turn, will be discussed at a policy seminar scheduled to take place in Brussels in December 2007. This will involve policymakers drawn from governments and from faith and secular organizations.