Berkeley is also one of the few universities in the U.S. that offers instruction in the Indonesian language.
The Center for Southeast Asia Studies (CSEAS) at UC Berkeley recently hosted a program entitled Interfaith Dialogue in a Plural Society: The View from Indonesia.
"This program is considered to be a milestone of the Comprehensive Partnership Agreement between Indonesia and the United States of America, in which the two governments agreed on the imperative to deepen bilateral engagement, one of those being to enhance the interfaith dialogue," said Bahrul Hayat, Ph.D, secretary general to the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia.
Hayat led a delegation, including Prof. Dr. Musa Asyarie, rector of Yogyakarta-based Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Prof. DR. Jamhari Makruf, vice rector of the Jakarta-based Syarif Hidaytulah State Islamic University, Joas Adiprasetya Th.D., Jakarta Theological Seminary, and Prof. DR. Eddy Kristiyanto, from Jakartas Driyakara School of Philosophy, to CSEAS.
The group also attended a workshop called Interfaith Dialogue in a Plural Society: The View from Canada and Indonesia at the Center for Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures (CCSMSC), Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.
Both Prof. Jeffrey Hadler, chair of CSEAS, and Prof. Derry MacLean, chair of CCSMSC, welcomed the workshops.
They said, as one of the most diverse nations in the world, Indonesia, continues its emergence as an economic and political power in Southeast Asia and is home to more than 300 ethnic groups. It is also home to the worlds largest Muslim population, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and various denominations of Christianity.
For Indonesia, Hayat said religion and culture are the core components of civilization. Hence, promoting interfaith dialogue among nations is an important global agenda.
"Indonesia, therefore, shares the view that the purported clash of civilizations can be, and must be, avoided. Instead a dialogue among civilizations must be promoted," he noted.
The interfaith dialogue has always occupied a high place on Indonesias agenda. Bearing in mind the governments policy to empower moderates, Indonesia always tries to ensure the effectiveness of interfaith dialogues with the participation of religious and cultural leaders, said officials.
Hence, Indonesia has initiated various interfaith projects and programs on a national, bilateral, regional and global level.
Within the national level, the establishment of provincial districts and sub-district inter-religious consultative forums are some results of the empowerment policy. Until now, the Indonesian administration, under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has conducted such forums in all 33 provinces throughout the country, which have been carried out in about 420 regencies, out of the total 490 within those provinces.
Indonesia has also initiated a series of bilateral interfaith dialogues with 22 foreign governments. The most recent was with Serbia.
At the regional level, the first regional interfaith dialogue was held in Yogyakarta in December 2004 and was participated in by 14 countries. This was followed by regional interfaith dialogues in Cebu, the Philippines (2006), Waitangi, New Zealand (2007), Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2008), Perth, Australia (2010), and Semarang, Indonesia (2012).
On a global level, the government of Indonesia initiated inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogues between Asia and Europe as part of ASEAM by holding the first ASEM Interfaith Dialogue in Bali in July 2005. ASEAM interfaith dialogues were later held in Cyprus in 2006, Nanjing in 2007, and the Hague in June 2008. The last dialogue was held in October 2011 in Manila.
According to Hayat, religious diversity is an issue both between religious groups and within them. Religious revitalization is a source of some of the most intensely contested issues within religious groups, with differences concerning beliefs and practices.
"Prejudice, misperception, misunderstanding, and lack of trust are some of the notions which could be discouraged by dialogue. Interfaith dialogues are a method to foster mutual understanding in order to promote cooperation," the secretary general said.
Previous interfaith dialogues have been primarily participated in by religious leaders. However, in Berkeley and Vancouver, scholars and academicians are also active participants.
"These new combinations of participants will definitely bring a wider perspective on interfaith dialogues," Hayat said.