As we continue through the 21st century, and observe the state of our world, the role of religion becomes increasingly unclear. One might wonder: Is religion a source of peace or disunity?
According to a statement from the Baha’i Universal House of Justice, entitled To the World’s Religious Leaders, religion can take on both roles.
The statement explains: “Tragically, organized religion, whose very reason for being entails service to the cause of brotherhood and peace, behaves all too frequently as one of the most formidable obstacles in the path.”
Inspired by this issue, the Santa Monica Baha’i Community and the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council are co-hosting a free public event on Thursday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. entitled “Can Religion Bring Peace?” The event will feature a panel of distinguished speakers who serve as local representatives of major world religions. These speakers include the following individuals:
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels (Judaism) was the founding rabbi of Temple Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, one of the two temples that have come together to become Beth Shir Sholom. He has chaired the Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition and the Interfaith Holocaust Service and also serves on the boards of the Western Region of the Jewish Federation Council and the Westside Interfaith Council.
Renee De Palma (Buddhism) has practiced in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition for 26 years. She is a board member of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and attended the 2009 Parliament in Melbourne, Australia as a Buddhist representative. She is also an award winning documentary filmmaker.
Dr. Janet Bregar (Christianity) is Pastor of the Village Lutheran Church and Interfaith Center. She is also an adjunct faculty member at California State University, Fullerton in comparative religious studies. Additionally, Bregar serves as Ambassador for the Parliament of the World’s Religions and on the Board of the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council.
Omar Haroon (Islam) is former Vice Chair of the Islamic Center of Southern California. He was also one of the founders of the Pakistani Students Association at UCLA. Currently, Haroon is on the board overseeing the four New Horizon Islamic Schools in Southern California and a Board member of the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council.
Dr. Lawrence Hanser (Baha’i Faith) is an elected member and officer of the local governing body of the Baha’i community, the Santa Monica Baha’i Assembly. He works as a senior Behavioral Scientist at RAND in Santa Monica, specifically as an industrial/organizational psychologist. Prior to joining RAND in 1989, he was Chief of the Selection and Classification Technical Area at the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences in Alexandria, Virginia.
Sheila Banani (Baha’i), a 45-year resident of Santa Monica, will be the moderator/chair for the event. Banani is also an elected member of the Santa Monica Baha’i Assembly and a former chair of the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council. According to Banani, “The goal of this event is to serve the Santa Monica community by featuring local religious representatives and providing a starting point for civil discourse on the subject of unity.”
“Can Religion Bring Peace?” will take place at the Santa Monica Baha’i Center located at 3102 Colorado Avenue.