——In the face of social tensions caused by extremism, exclusivism and polarisation around the world, building social cohesion has become a major challenge for many governments. How can we bring together disparate communities in society? What is the role of the individual in promoting diversity? Why is inter-faith dialogue so important?
This resource page shares thoughts and research in a compilation of articles by RSIS researchers, and other related discussions.
Teresa Tan, Tik Tok’s Director of Public Policy, Singapore and Southeast Asia, and Nash Ng, Tik Tok’s APAC Issue Policy (Integrity and Authenticity), wrote that digital platforms are increasingly central to connecting communities in civic and social spaces. They have great potential as a force that cultivates healthy, positive, and affirming communication. Innovative multi-stakeholder cooperation is highly effective in creating and rolling out fresh digital platform features and moderation policies that may overcome misinformation and disinformation, promote digital literacy skills, and build trust via online and offline relationships.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post-Conference Commentary – How Online Platforms Can Be a Boon, Not Bane, for Cohesive Societies”
Jolene Jerard and Vishalini Suresh, Adjunct Senior Fellow and Senior Analyst respectively at RSIS, wrote that the Southeast Asian Social Cohesion Radar research study conducted by RSIS was an important milestone in building knowledge to better understand the dynamics and nature of social cohesion in the region. Future research will need to explore drivers such as economics, class, education, gender and other demographic variables to enhance data-driven research on this important subject.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post Conference Commentary – The Southeast Asian Social Cohesion Radar: Enhancing Data-Driven Research”
Arizza Ann Nocum is the Co-Founder and President of KRIS, a non-profit organisation that utilises education as a pathway to peace in the Philippines, wrote that cohesion across ASEAN is not removed from cohesion within specific countries, and youth are key actors in developing this. Future youth leadership programmes like ICCS’ Young Leaders Programme (YLP) should continue reaching marginalized youth from conflict areas, especially those yet to understand the value of social cohesion.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post-Conference Commentary – ‘Same Same but Different’… and Better for It: A More Cohesive ASEAN Built on Youth Leadership”
Yasmine Wong, Senior Analyst with the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at RSIS, wrote that identity politics has made salient the link between identities and social cohesion. Real solutions can emerge when a multi-pronged approach is taken to provide diverse communities with equal access, due recognition, and the opportunity to participate in creating a shared vision of inclusiveness and justice.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post-Conference Commentary – Identities and Inclusiveness: Rethinking Social Cohesion”
Thao Nghiem, PhD Researcher in History and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, wrote that younger generation in Asian societies no longer simply accept that being modern and distant from religion means a better form of governance and the way forward. It is necessary to rethink the role of religion in public life and to harness technology for more conversations and experience-sharing among different communities and faiths to celebrate diversity and forge social cohesion for the common good.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post-Conference Commentary – Young Religious Leaders in Modern Asia: Beyond Secularism, Online and Offline”
Krish Raval OBE, founder and director of Faith in Leadership, wrote that practical examples of multi-faith cooperation demonstrate how functional integration can build bridges across historical fault lines. Leaders matter, and effective programmes and training are needed for leadership in cultivating respect, trust, and a willingness to peacefully accept differences in diverse societies seeking greater social cohesion and resilience.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post-Conference Commentary – Training Faith Leaders, Young and Old, for Cohesion”
Dr Suwanna Satha-Anand, Professor Emerita in Philosophy at Chulalongkorn University, wrote that multicultural societies need more precise translation of complex concepts and words to facilitate deeper understanding among diverse populations and strengthen social cohesion. Words and their meanings matter, and they provide important insights to welcoming the”other” into our fold.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “ICCS 2022 Post-Conference Commentary – Befriending the Other Through Translation in Multicultural Contexts”
Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, wrote that diversity, modernity, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, have complicated social relationships across many societies globally. Mutual trust, stronger bonds, and the harnessing of technology are needed to keep diverse communities together. Strengthening social cohesion requires deliberate effort and conviction from everyone.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Reflections on ICCS 2022 – Achieving Connectedness and Cohesion”
Paul Hedges, Associate Professor in Interreligious Studies for the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) at RSIS, wrote that delegates and speakers almost universally welcomed ICCS 2019. While pulling together an international event of this scale is never easy for the organisers, there were still ways that ICCS 2022 could be improved from its predecessor.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Inside ICCS: Building on Success from 2019 to 2022”
Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, Mufti of Singapore, wrote that religion is important in bringing societies together around shared values and in promoting cooperation and community engagement. Crises provide opportunities for faith communities to improve bonds of social cohesion and to strengthen resilience for the common good.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – What Next for Interreligious Cooperation? New Possibilities in Strengthening Social Cohesion”
Dr Elizabeth Harris, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham, wrote that space can be exclusive or inclusive. It can embrace difference and alternative histories – those of subaltern groups, women, men, and minority religious groups – or it can exclude these.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Space, Gender, and Social Cohesion”
Nazhath Faheema, Founder of hash.peace and the Interfaith Relations Director for Hope Initiative Alliance, wrote that effective dialogue for social cohesion relies upon involving women and youth in meaningful ways. It is necessary for the community and civil society groups to urgently develop new strategies to widen community involvement.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Youth and Women Groups in Effective and Inclusive Dialogue on Social Cohesion”
Albertus Bagus Laksana, S. J., President of Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, wrote that natural disasters tend to give rise to a stronger sense of solidarity and togetherness. People would come together in the face of a real, sudden and undeserved suffering of others, partly because natural disasters do not last long. But in a pandemic, things are more uncertain over a prolonged period of time, and theology can play an imperative role in bringing people together to overcome the crisis.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – The Role of Theology among Christian Indonesians during COVID-19 Pandemic – A Perspective from Indonesia”
Veena R. Howard, Associate Professor of Asian Religious Traditions in the Department of Philosophy at California State University, wrote that in his writings, Mohandas K. Gandhi discussed the principle of Sarvodaya, in which he explained that sustained peace and cohesion can only be built by nonviolent means. Three key aspects at the foundation of Sarvodaya are: human dignity; religious freedom and interreligious harmony; and respect for dissenting opinions, dialogue, and negotiations.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Gandhi, Peace, and Cohesion”
Han Fook Kwang, Senior Fellow at RSIS and Editor-At-Large at The Straits Times, wrote that public trust in media is declining worldwide. Yet, there has never been a more critical need for trusted media amidst the proliferation of fake news and disinformation. What can be done to regain trust so that media can play its role in strengthening social cohesion instead of promoting further division?
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – The Media: Force of Cohesion or Division?”
Master Chung, a Taoist priest of the Quan Zhen Long-men (Dragon Gate) Tradition and Secretary-General of the Quan Zhen Cultural Society (Singapore), wrote that Taoists in Singapore have adapted their practice and outreach to stay relevant to the younger population. This is also to contribute to the resilience of the multi-racial society where social harmony and cohesion are key components for the nation’s progress and success.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 — The Taoist Way Towards Togetherness”
Dr Chaiwat Satha-Anand, Professor of Political Science at Thammasat University, Bangkok, and Founder and Director of the Thai Peace Information Centre, wrote that in an era of social tension and conflict, building bridges to foster cohesion has become critical. As the classic song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” reminds us, we should not ignore the troubled waters under the bridges that we are building.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Bridging Troubled Waters: Forging Cohesion in Divided Societies”
John, Lord Alderdice, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords in London and a former Convenor of the Liberal Democrat caucus in the House, wrote that various crises have exposed fault-lines in the existing global order. It has spotlighted the existing differences in ideologies across the world. It is necessary to engage complexity and conflict differently by paying attention to what the circumstances and contexts illuminate about humanity’s dark side.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Humanity’s Dark Side: Coping With a Failing World Order”
Mohammad Alami Musa, Head of Studies in Interreligious Relations in Plural Societies Programme at RSIS, wrote that secularism and multi-culturalism in modern societies are not the simple answer to mitigate the divisiveness of a plurality of beliefs and practices. Singapore’s experience shows that nuancing and contextualising secularism and multi-culturalism in a constructive way works better in achieving a cohesive society.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Social Cohesion: Adapting Secularism and Multiculturalism”
Jack Meng-Tat Chia, Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies at the National University of Singapore and an associate of the Religion and Globalization Cluster at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), wrote that in recent years, a number of Asian countries have increasingly turned to Buddhism as a balm to relieve tense relations and foster cultural understanding. Buddhist diplomacy has the potential to encourage regional cohesion and interfaith harmony in the region.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Buddhist Diplomacy: Potential for Regional Cohesion”
Dr Al Nuaimi, first Chairman of the International Steering Board of Hedayah, The International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism based in Abu Dhabi, wrote that throughout history, humanity has been punctuated by conflicts based on race, religion and faith, the cause of countless wars between and within nations. It is important to understand the value of social cohesion and to cultivate it through a culture of peaceful coexistence, to avoid confrontations and maintain international peace and security.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Coexisting with Diversity and Differences”
Yudit Greenberg, the George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Endowed Chair of Religion and Founding Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, wrote that in a world of instant communication and social media, the ease with which hate, and bias spread compels us to rethink our approach in education and community learning. It is important for the state, educators, and religious actors to actively involve themselves in anticipating the different means in which this hatred is expressed, educating people, and developing preventive measures to protect faith communities in every country.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Repairing the World: Faith Against Online Hate”
Yaacob Ibrahim, Adviser, Office of the President, Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), wrote that the Internet has enabled misinformation to spread wildly, divide people easily, and incite violence and chaos quickly. Regulatory approaches and effective actions by individuals and civil society are needed to curb misinformation and contain the harm to social cohesion.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Online Misinformation and Cohesive Societies”
Anna Halafoff, Associate Professor in Sociology and member of the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University, wrote that growing clashes within cultures, and the ongoing threat of terrorism, have drawn attention to the importance of educating youth about different worldviews – religious, spiritual and non-religious – as a strategy to prevent violent extremism and to create socially inclusive and peaceful societies.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Worldviews Education: Strengthening Social Inclusion”
Tan See Seng, Research Advisor at RSIS, wrote that with big powers seemingly throwing off restraint and privileging power over principle against their strategic rivalries, and interactions between and among the great religions of the world deteriorating significantly, the need for multilateralism around HADR has never been greater.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – HADR in Multilateral Asia: Whither Faith-Based Actors?”
Venerable Chang Ji, Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association’s representative to the United Nations, wrote that humanity is facing an impending environmental crisis of our own making, and resources within religious communities may point to ways we can respond.
Read more in RSIS Commentary: “Towards ICCS 2022 – Religious Communities and Climate Change: Four Ways to Coherence”
Katherine Marshall, Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, wrote that societies across the world are tested by the COVID-19 pandemic in countless ways. Deep cracks in social cohesion have become visible in many countries, and many fall along religious lines. Post-COVID-19 policy needs to address robustly what inclusion means both for government policy and for each society.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Towards ICCS 2022 – COVID-19’s Testing of Religious Roles”
Amalina Anuar, Senior Analyst with the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at RSIS, wrote that thanks in part to geopolitics, the digital economy is leading towards less, not greater, integration, connectivity and connection. Defusing tensions by redesigning technology to work for cohesion will be pivotal to reversing this trend.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Towards ICCS 2022 – Digital Destinies: Geopolitics, Division and Cohesion”
Barry Desker, Distinguished Fellow at RSIS, wrote that the Catholic Church has been at the leading edge of interreligious dialogue since the 1960s, and it is important to reflect on what it has contributed to cohesion and welfare both in Singapore and globally.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Towards ICCS 2022 – Inter-Religious Dialogue: Catholic Social Teachings and Cohesion”
Jolene Jerard, Adjunct Senior Fellow at RSIS, wrote that social cohesion is a work in progress. Societies can choose to achieve greater levels of social cohesion by forging greater inclusivity. Two things can break this: Exclusivist ideas and the imposition of perceived group superiority.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Towards ICCS 2022 – Cohesion as a Choice: Regardless of Faith and Identity”
Norman Vasu, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of Policy Studies at RSIS, wrote that the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) hosted by Singapore in June 2019 brought together a diversity of faiths and perspectives on religion’s role in contributing to social harmony and cohesion. With ICCS 2022 on the horizon, he shared how this conference can maintain its relevance and strengthen trust across a very diverse global community.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Towards ICCS 2022 – Cohesive Societies, Shared Humanity: Looking Back, Moving Forward”
Stephanie Neubronner, Research Fellow with the National Security Studies Programme (NSSP) at RSIS, wrote that while discussing ways to build social cohesion is important, how do we move beyond such conversations and motivate everyday individuals to take action?
Read more in RSIS Commentary “After the ICCS – Building Social Cohesion: Committing to a Participatory Approach”
Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman at RSIS, shared that ‘Many Communities, One Shared Future’ was the theme of the recently concluded International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS). A key takeaway is that diversity is not a hindrance to social cohesion; it is how people manage the difference. It is also important that everyone plays a part and not wait for the government or institutions to do something.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “International Conference on Cohesive Societies – Appreciating Diversity: What Has The ICCS Achieved?”
Shashi Jayakumar, Head, Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) and Executive Coordinator, Future Issues and Technology at RSIS, wrote why is it that it feels like we are living in an increasingly tribalist age – one where it seems different peoples, separated by colour, religious creed, or political ideology, can no longer live together harmoniously? What can be done about it and where does Singapore stand?
Read more in RSIS Commentary “International Conference on Cohesive Societies – Tolerance and its Enemies: Three Observations”
Paul Hedges, Associate Professor with the Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme, RSIS, noted how the International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) in Singapore brought together academics, thought leaders, policy makers, youth leaders, and practitioners and pointed towards ways we can build cohesive societies.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “The International Conference on Cohesive Societies – How to Build Cohesive Societies”
Adrian Tan, Head of Policy Coordination and Specialist Research and Coordinator of the Malaysia Programme, RSIS, and Abigail Leong, Visiting Associate at RSIS, wrote that there are growing instances of religions being exploited for political ends, resulting in conflict and violence worldwide. As a country where people of different religious beliefs share the same living space, what more can be done to encourage inter-faith dialogue in Singapore?
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Forging Cohesive Societies – Living With Religious Diversity”
Jeanne Conceicao, Visiting Fellow at RSIS, wrote that The past few months have witnessed more tragedy and violence as extremists continued to target places of worship around the world. Several governments have taken constructive steps to strengthen societal bonds and social cohesion. But in a world of growing diversity and tension, what more can governments do to bridge the divisions within societies?
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Forging Cohesive Societies – Harmonious Co-Existence: What Can Governments Do?”
Paul Hedges, Associate Professor with the Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme, RSIS and Jude Lai Fernando, Assistant Professor in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, wrote that the recent Sri Lankan attacks risk stigmatising the Muslim community in Sri Lanka while reshaping the fragile inter-communal relations in new ways.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Sri Lankan Attacks and Inter-Communal Relations”
Han Fook Kwang, Senior Fellow at RSIS, wrote that Singapore’s commitment to multiracialism and inter-faith harmony is not just about keeping the peace but about its identity as a nation. It has achieved much over the last 50 years but serious challenges remain. The speed in which fake news and hate speech are spread online can easily create enmity among the races and religious groups. Much depends on whether Singaporeans are merely tolerant of each other or have developed deep trust and understanding.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Forging Cohesive Societies – Singapore’s Multiracialism: A Matter of Identity”
Paul Hedges and Nursheila Muez, Associate Professor and Research Analyst respectively with the Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme, RSIS, noted that Singapore hosted ASEAN’s inaugural interfaith exchange programme in December. It was a platform for sharing best practices among the region’s neighbours, especially inter-religious dialogue. While an important tool for cultivating inter-religious harmony, there is a need to ensure that the practice of dialogue itself is inclusive.
Read more in RSIS Commentary “Plural Traditions in Plural Societies: Inclusivity in Inter-Religious Dialogue“
- COVID-19 and Religious Organisations: Constitutional Environment and Organisational Choices, 1 June 2021
- Inclusivism and Exclusivism among Muslims Today between Theological and Social Dimensions, 30 November 2020
- Defeating the Scourge of Terrorism: How Soft Law Instruments in Singapore Can Develop Societal Trust and Promote Cooperative Norms, 1 October 2020
- Countering Exclusivism, Promoting Inclusivism: The Way Forward for Singapore, 4 August 2020
- Freedom of Religion or Belief in International Relations: Basic Principles, Nagging Debates, 1 July 2020
- Conceptualising Social Cohesion in Relation to Religious Diversity: Sketching a Pathway in a Globalised World, 11 May 2020
- Secularism in Singapore: Asatizah’s Perspectives on its Reconcilability with Islam, 6 April 2020
- “Heart Unity”: Gandhi’s Dynamic Approach to Religion, Education, and Personal Transformation for Interfaith Relations, 24 March 2020
- Multifaith Movements and Critical Religious Pluralism: Precarity, Performativity and Peacebuilding, 14 January 2020
- Interstitial Theology and Interreligious Reconciliation in Post-War Maluku: The Work of Elifas Maspaitella and Jacklevyn Manuputty, 30 December 2019
- Unpacking laïcité amidst rising Islamophobia in France: Favouring Equality or Discrimination?, 25 September 2019
- Interreligious Dialogue in a World of Conflict and Violence: A Critical Exploration of Confucianism, 2 May 2019
- Living in a Religiously Plural Society: A Muslim Perspective on Being Inclusive Today, 1 March 2019
- Interreligious Marriage: Perspectives from the Singaporean Context in Relation to Interreligious Dialogue, 1 February 2019
Han Fook Kwang, senior fellow at RSIS, wrote that if “social cohesion” is the key to a country’s future success, we need to define what the term means.
Read more in the article “Cohesive Society? Good! But to do What?” in The Straits Times
Han Fook Kwang, senior fellow at RSIS, shared that diversity is strength, have no fear of challenging orthodox thinking.
Read more in the article “Let’s Talk Openly about Religion – Yours and Mine” in The Straits Times
Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, wrote that despite the challenges of diversity, it should not be viewed as a hindrance. What matters is how we view diversity in society and make the most of our differences, bearing in mind we share one common future.
Read more in the article “The Challenge is How We Make the Most of Diversity” in The Straits Times
Mohammad Alami Musa, Head of Studies with the Inter-religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme at RSIS, wrote that it is time to address the elephant in the room – that religion is being used to justify terror attacks.
Read more in the article “Terror Attacks and the Confusing Role of Religion” in The Straits Times
Last updated on 28/02/2023