Mobilizing the World's Spiritual Communities as Agents for Change
Since 1994, when he was named secretary general of Religions for Peace, an international coalition of religious communities dedicated to promoting peace, William Vendley, Ph.D., GSAS ’84, has worked in areas such as Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Sri Lanka to rally and equip religious communities to intervene peacefully where there is armed conflict.
Following the Bosnian Civil War, for instance, he facilitated the establishment of the Interreligious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which resulted in a commitment of the country’s diverse religious communities to rebuild a single, multiethnic Bosnia.
Likewise, in 2003, three weeks after the United States’ military occupation of Iraq, Vendley brought senior Iraqi religious leaders together in Amman, Jordan, where they worked together to develop an interreligious council.
He also helped establish the Interreligious Council of Sierra Leone and served as a consultant in the peace talks in Lome, Togo, that ended violent conflict between the Sierra Leone government and local rebels.
Vendley credits his education in theology at Fordham University for training him “to become a global citizen,” a key requirement for leading Religions for Peace.
“Theology deals as much with the contemporary challenges that confront the human family as it does with the origins of a religious tradition,” said Vendley, who earned his doctoral degree in systematic theology at Fordham.
“I wouldn’t be able to do work that places me in a relationship with both the world’s major religious communities and the world’s governments and international agencies, had I not received a solid education in what being a world citizen means.”
As the secretary general of Religions for Peace, Vendley has achieved a number of milestones, including the establishment of the Hope for African Children Initiative, a pan-African effort to target the needs of African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The initiative, which is also backed by CARE, Save the Children and Plan International, has generated more than $50 million to equip African communities to fight AIDS, while engaging grassroots congregations to provide assistance services.
He also participated in Saudi Arabia King Abdullah’s historic interreligious meeting in Madrid, Spain, in 2008, and has been requested by the Muslim World League to serve on its follow-up committee. And recently, at the request of the White House, he began serving on President Obama’s Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation Task Force.
“Today, to be genuinely faithful, we need to creatively engage the historical origins of traditions with contemporary frontline challenges,” he said. “Religions have always dealt with two questions: how do we make sense of the manifest suffering, disorder and tragedy of human experience? And how do we find a genuine remedy for them? Religions for Peace aligns the world’s religious communities with their remarkable assets around common problems as agents for change.”
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