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Dr. Nelu Burcea, IRLA deputy secretary general, delivers the keynote address at the 3rd International ComSymbol Academic Conference. Photo:ComSymbol 2016

Conference Focuses on Defending Religious Freedom in the Age of Facebook

Dr. Nelu Burcea, deputy secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association, has challenged religious freedom advocates to adapt their methods to the realities of the new digital media age. Speaking to scholars and religious leaders representing many faith communities, Burcea spoke about the urgent need to engage with online social platforms, and to find new ways to assess and combat threats to religious freedom.

Burcea was the keynote speaker at a two-day academic conference held earlier this month in southern France at Paul Valéry University of Montpellier 3. The event—the 3rd International Conference, ComSymbol—drew academics and participants from 11 countries. The discussions focused on both the challenges and opportunities presented to human rights advocates by the rapid rise of social media.

Facebook, Twitter, hashtags, memes—these all are part of a new public square, providing fresh avenues for freedom of conscience and religious expression, said Burcea. As such, he added, any approach to religious freedom advocacy today will fall short if it ignores this new, vibrant social landscape. The social media revolution, he said, demands that human rights activists adopt a new mindset and new tools.

The conference was coordinated by Dr. Stefan Bratosin, professor at Paul Valéry University of Montpellier and Dr. Mihaela-Alexandra Tudor, associate professor at the same university. They opened the event by highlighting the vast and rapid changes that digital media have brought to the ways people express their religious belief, exchange information, consult together, persuade and inspire, and mobilize for action. These changes, they said, mean that religious freedom advocates must learn new ways to promote and protect freedom of conscience and religion within the digital realm.

Other speakers included scholars from a range of religious traditions and representing academic institutions from around the world. They spoke on a wide variety of subjects, such as Muslim discourse and social networking, religious identity and Christian memes, and the relationship between digital media and religious radicalization. The major presentations of the conference will be compiled and published, and will be available via the event website.

Stefan Bratosin / Mihaela Alexandra Tudor/IRLA Staff

BETTINA KRAUSE | Communication Director
International Religious Liberty Association
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