Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Recalling Memories through Pictures (using multimedia tools)

The processes of contact, feelings, perception and memory are closely interlinked. They are mediated through our senses and for most people the sense that usually predominates is sight. So in trying to put together the early life of my mother, the late Fuengsin Trafford, it's been helpful to carry out interviews based on sets of photographs. I haven't done much planning really, but rather have made things up as I've gone along, working intuitively; it's only now I can see more of the methodology that I've actually followed! I'll report here on that methodology and also on some of the technical tools that I've used to assist me.

My mother left hundreds of photos, which I've tried to arrange in sets according to distinct periods: early childhood, University days, her first years of teaching and so on. I created an index for each set and have pencilled in an incrementing number on the back of each photo, so that they are uniquely identified and there's some order to them, though (as I later would frequently find out) it's not chronological! I then scanned in the photos at a fairly high resolution (on an HP Scanjet 5370C, quite old now) and saved the files using the index as part of the file name. Having done this for a fair proportion of the collection, I've put copies in many places - on laptop hard drives, an external backup disk and memory sticks.

However, merely creating an archive without any descriptions is not much use! For some while I had intended to ask relatives and friends of my mother to enlighten me as to the context and details concerning the photos. I was finally able to set off for my mini fieldwork earlier this month (December), with a copy of the photos on my netbook, an Eee PC. When I met the 'interviewees' in Thailand I recorded the conversations using a digital voice recorder, saving copies of the recordings as files on the netbook.

It was the first time I had properly used such a recording device and my experience of conducting interviews was minimal (though I once did an interview with a Big Issue seller as part of a one day digital video course). So earlier this year I explored the world of digital audio recorders (a process that's familiar for me as I've purchased quite a lot of electronic devices :-) I settled on an Olympus WS-110, which is a compact device, somewhat smaller and lighter than e.g. a Nokia 8210 mobile phone. I chose it based on reviews of its audio quality - good microphone and high quality sampling (see e.g. reviews on Amazon); file format wasn't a concern for me. These devices are evolving rapidly and already Olympus lists this as an archived product, which means you should be able to find it new at a very good price on ebay (which is where I purchased it). Operating the device was very simple.

Then the netbook would serve as a digital lightbox and a basic means of navigation - for a given photo set all the photos would be the same folder and I'd run a slideshow using the wonderful Irfanview! The major handicap with the netbook is the relatively small screen - in many cases I needed to zoom in (my audio recording has a lot of tapping sounds!) When I was in conversation, I'd start with a preamble about what I was intending to do and asked for permission (it's worth confirming this afterwards as well). Although sometimes you know that everyone is happy, it's a good habit to get into in case I go on to do academic fieldwork, which is something I am deliberating. My main role felt like being a catalyst, with some general encouragement and a few questions sprinkled here and there, to elicit a few more details. There's no doubt a large swathe of literature on conducting such interviews, but I didn't read any.

On my return to the UK it was time to transcribe what had been said. To facilitate this, I wanted to associate the audio with the respective pictures (a tradeoff of using a separate recording device rather than doing the recording directly on the netbook). The intended result would be a video consisting of the photos that I had shown with each photo accompanied by the respective audio commentary, i.e. the comments from friends and relatives.

The solution I adopted was to use a video editing tool, Windows Movie Maker (WMM for short), which comes part of the Windows operating system. I guess it is similar in functionality, if not in elegance, with Apple's iMovie. My familiarity with WMM is very limited, so it's probably best if I summarise. The basic idea is to create one WMM file for each interview (WMM only provides a single audio track) so that in any given interview when playing back you know what was said about a particular picture. Here's a screenshot:

Windows Movie Maker screenshot showing a composition of photos synchronised with an audio track

There are basically three areas: top left is the collection of files that I used to create the composition - this is where you import the photos and the audio and in this case I could import audio straightaway without conversion as it was in WMA format. Top right is the playback for the composition as a whole. However, the work is carried out below in the storyboard/timeline, which consists of parallel tracks. All I used was the Video and Audio tracks, dragging and dropping photos from the collection area, moving them about until there was approximate synchronisation.

However, in writing a biography I need words as well as pictures! The next step in the process is thus transcription. The method I'm using here is to create a large table with the first column containing the photos, one photo per row. Each of the other columns are to record the transcription from a particular interview. With reference to the WMM files I'm transcribing what was said about a particular photo in the corresponding cell of the table. Again I'm not being particularly sophisticated about the implementation - it's one mammoth table in a MS Word document. As long as it works, it is okay. For a formal research project I expect this would be better implemented in a database.

Handwriting bonus!

There have been some nice extras in undertaking this exercise. My mother has penned in Thai many documents, including a diary over several years. It's one thing to learn how to read the printed word, but a further step to decipher Thai handwriting! With these compositions I have some samples here that have been read out (and with the aid of a dictionary I can slowly spell them out myself). To be systematic, for each letter I can build up a set of samples that I can use later on.

For a few hours of recording, there are many more in organising and interpreting, but I find it fun to do and along the way I learn a little more about Thai history generally. For anyone contemplating learning more about their own family history, I'd recommend this as a stimulating and informative exercise.

Acknowledgements

I mustn't forget to thank everyone who has kindly provided information in the December interviews, including: Pah Vasana, Khun Jamras, Pah Umpai, P' Laem, P' Darunee & her mother, Khun Chaiwat, P' Yui, P' Ead, Na Tewee, Na Tun, and Pah Jah. If I could contact all those my mother knew well, this list would be very long ...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kanchanaburi Travelogue: A day trip by train

Although I was visiting Thailand mainly to conduct family research, my exceedingly kind hosts, Khun Jamras and Pah Vasana, organised a couple of day trips and acted as excellent tour guides.

One of these outings was a day-long train tour into Kanchanaburi province, most famous abroad for its sad place in history as the scene in World War II of the "Death Railway" connecting Thailand with Burma. At that time Thailand was occupied by large numbers of Japanese soldiers - certainly hundreds of thousands - with many local conscripts and prisoners of war losing their lives in the railway's construction. It's most popularly commemorated in the film "The Bridge over the River Kwai" (it's actually Mae Nam K[h]wae, and its pronunciation rhymes with "air" instead of "eye") and in the town of Kanchanaburi two rivers Khwae Yai and Khwae Noi merge - the railway runs along side the latter.

As far as I can recall, I've only ever been there once, when I was just 4 years old. It seemed about time that I visited again - and by train, of course! The day's excursion, from Bangkok Hualampong right to the present end of the line, Nam Tok (for the Sai Yok Noi Waterfall), which according to the State Railway network map is a distance of about 120 miles from Bangkok, but I understand that during the war the line extended much further. There's a weekend special, costing a mere 100Baht, as listed in the State Railway of Thailand (look for Sai Yok Waterfal (waterfall is 'nam dok' in Thai). I think you can purchase tickets at most rail stations, but for some journeys, as with this one, you need to book quite well in advance - at least a week. This and other options for getting to Kanchanaburi are well covered in a detailed travel guide by Mark Smith.

We went for the 100 baht option ("3rd class") and with the wind blowing through the window and fans inside the carriage, there's no need for air conditioning. There are just two caveats: don't stick your head out even an inch when the train is moving, because there's a lot of bushes right next to the line; and when the sun shines, keep the window down, but pull down the metal grill(?) to keep the air flowing. Here's a view of our carriage (taken at Nakhon Pathom):

Saturday tour train

At this price, it's a bargain just to get there and back, but there's much more in the way of service. As usual, plenty of hawkers selling drinks (hot coffee early on and cold drinks later), and food to order - order in the morning, served in the afternoon; as well as various snacks. The average UK rail car cannot compete! But the real bonus was the rail conductor who strolled up and down the carriages with his megaphone announcing the sights left and right as we bowled along the line. With a ready smile he cracked lots of jokes, even for mundane situations, e.g. "No, don't get off here - only rabbits get off here!" He had a cartoon-like ubiquity, particularly at the end of the line: as people disembarked, he stuck his head out of a carriage and carried on making announcements through his megaphone! (You'll hear his voice in some of the video clips).

Hualompong is a terminus; trains emerge heading in a Northerly direction and those for the West go through two or three stations in the suburbs. We found it more convenient to get on at Bang Sue, remembering that there are two stations - one for trains destined for the South, the other for all other destinations! At least the train from Chiengmai was not going to stop here...

At shortly before 7am on Saturday 19th December we were on our way and raced along to Nakorn Pathom, about 40 miles down the line. It was a very brief stop, barely time to "Wai Phra Pathom Chedi" (pay homage to the Phra Pathom pagoda), though I have visited several times in the past, and have written a little illustrated guide to the chedi (from a visit in 1988).

Moving on from Nakorn Pathom we arrived at the most significant destination along the journey, the town of Kanchanaburi, where the train stopped to allow passengers to make their way to the now very familiar bridge:

Khwae Bridge

This is not the original construction - this and a wooden one were subject to numerous bombing raids. About halfway along there's a boilerplate that has a date of 2491 B.E. (Buddhist Era), which in Thai convention would be the equivalent of 1948C.E.

Boilerplate for Bridge over the Khwae Yai River

With so many tourists, there's a danger of becoming insensitive to the wartime tragedy that took place. I think it depends a lot on whom you travel with and whether you can speak with a local person who has some connection. My father has been there in recent years and came back with a very touching account of reconciliation told him by a Thai lady who had set up a shrine for the victims. A now frail and elderly Japanese man, who as an interpreter/interrogator had been one of the officers meting out punishment, had been having nightmares ever since and was trying very hard to seek forgiveness and healing, visiting the site every year. There came a pivotal moment when he met one of those whom he tortured, a Scottish soldier. His nightmares suddenly vanished. My father is not sure of the names, but we think they could be Takashi Nagase and Ernest Gordon respectively.

The nature of our whistle-stop tour was such that this kind of encounter was not likely, but on our way back we did at least pay a brief visit to the war cemetary:

War Cemetary at Kanchanaburi

War Memorial Plaque at Kanchanaburi

We then boarded the train again to continue our journey, the train first inching up to just short of the bridge before proceeding onwards:

From then on, the terrain became more hilly, with the train often hugging the hills following the snaking river. (The following composition includes film taken in each direction).

The train finally pulled into its destination at around midday. It's now very popular and from our lunch spot we could take in views of mountains on one side and the waterfall and streams on the other. We could also see an apparently new row of traders besides the road, near which dozens of motorcyclists had gathered and then made their urban roar on their various machines, leaving clouds of dust in their wake. That's typical of Thailand today.

Being not so long after the end of the rainy season, the waters were flowing quite freely, with plenty of people splashing about the in 'little waterfall,' but I just took a photo of the top of the waterfall, where no-one could climb up!

Waterfall at Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi

We had a stop of over 2 hours, but I was slow to note the other attractions nearby:

Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi: sites

If I were to go again I'd aim to reach the Wang Badan cave - given that it's located a mile or so away and the climate is quite warm, I think I'd need to allow at least an hour to get there and back). Fortunately, there was another cave quite nearby, just beyond a ranger's station: taking the path up the slope, as shown in the photo, revealing the intertwining forest vegetation:

Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi

Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi (from above the waterfall)

Just a few steps up to the entrance to the cave:

Cave at Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi

I imagine that for many centuries (before the arrival of trains) it was used by dhutanga bhikkhus, practising assiduously. It is now a shrine and still feels peaceful with a nice atmosphere, with plenty of sunlight coming through.

At 2pm the train returned to pick us up and it was time to make the journey home.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Parliament Session notes: Silicon Valley and the Partner City Process

[Saturday Programme reference]

Interfaith activity has been considerable in the UK for quite some while, so could it host a future Parliament? I hope so, but what would it take? At the very least more visibility to the Parliament's Council; this session ('Developing an interreligious community: how Silicon Valley used the Partner City Process') presented an opportunity to learn how in particular to foster constructive engagement in metropolitan areas. If the volume of notes is anything to go by, I certainly found this session edifying. I'll try to indicate salient points.

Imagine you feel inspired with the Parliament concept and the mission of its Council, which is inter alia to foster engagement with world and guiding institutions; to achieve a more just, peaceful and sustainable world, through learning, cooperation, dialogue, engaged action on issues of mutual concern across … cultural and natural boundaries with a particularly focus on Metropolitan areas.

So how do you sell this to the city (or metropolitan area) in question? The presenters from Silicon Valley phrased it like this: what partner city process engagement can make possible.

The general theme (which seems worth repeating constantly) is that of cooperation: to work with other guiding institutions, i.e. especially, as it turned out, secular civic institutions. The Council was evidently impressed with these initiatives as they highlight their approach as exemplary, giving impetus to further initiatives. Here in Melbourne, the Parliament launched a broad-based initiative to stay connected to engage in initiatives when we return home, inviting direct participation with the Council's work – both individuals and communities – particularly through a new social networking site, PeaceNext (more about this, I hope, later).

There are some prerequisites before the Parliament will look favourably upon a city's proposition. First, dialogue must already be in place. The Partner Cities attribution is to a large extent recognizing what should already be vibrant inter-religious movements who have put together structures to work with guiding institutions..

In this respect, the Parliament will look at the diversity of organisations and the way they are functioning within this dialogue. Wider awareness appears essential (and, I think, the UK is very aware of this factor), as captured by the term glocalisation, a term that I first heard in the late 90's (with the refrain, “think global, act local!), but I suspect it's been around for a lot longer than that; indeed, one of the first online initiatives that showed promise for developing countries was glocal.org (on archive.org) , which connected church communities around the world, addressing c ommon issues. But I digress. Here Roman Robertson stressed that globalisation is not monolithic and does not necessarily lead to homogenisation since it is realized in local settings.

One fact that sprung out at meet was [in San Jose, I think] that there's no majority ethnic group, with recent statistics showing 40% White, 30% Asian, 30% Hispanic. At present there is no UK city in this position (all have white majorities), but there are two or three, including Leicester, that on current trends will be in this position within 10 or 20 years. Civic leaders from these UK cities may do well to learn some lessons (if they're not doing so already), but given the current economic climate they probably should do this mainly via online conference facilities etc.

For religious communities, there's evident a need to tell their story as a means to help establish their identity in a foreign land; local paper profiles local stories and many congregations have histories, all helping to weave the rich tapestry of the area. Local government analyses often support these and I expect there's a lot tucked away in libraries and municipal offices. But how to capture this diversity in the public square; how to create a unified identity made up of local voices? Some illustrations were provided through visual statements in the form of art and sculpture. More academic initiatives included a “Carry the vision” conference promoting the principle of non-violent actions “one person at a time..”

Strategically, it seems sensible to observe and understand how the Parliament operates. Members of Silicon Valley attended the Barcelona Parliament and on returned organised an event modelled on the Parliament with representatives from different traditions, reducing large number into small groups, all leading back to one common purpose. Goals were clearly articulated in terms of local benefits, sense of community, increased social cohesion bringing business, civic authorities and others together. The role of the organising committee was to act as facilitators.

So what does the process make possible what wasn't before...? (The presenters referred to guidelines from Parliament; on how to do case study; the parameters for presentation, stressing the need for a representative group.) There was a very positive attitude to newcomers: rather than taking away a piece of the pie, each group brings new inspiration, resources, c.reativity etc – so the pie expands (this image was also conveyed at the Coalition meeting I attended before the Parliament).

It appears to galvanise efforts to train ourselves, on leadership, organisation and facilitation; to develop networks, and work within the civil structures to whom we show worthiness to be involved for the common good. Whilst it may already exist within many and between some interfaith groups (and this I know is the case in many UK cities) the communication outside these networks is often poor and lacking coordination. These have to be made more effective to be treated seriously.

Partnership is seen as the hook. Some examples were given, including “The Beautiful Day” - practical work to fix people's homes … Such initiatives raise visibility and a point is reached where faith groups understand the importance of interfaith. [If this can be properly realized, I sense the initiatives will become self-sustaining]. Gitish Shah recounted how this was put into effect with a Jain centre which came to realize the importance of wider participation, hosting interfaith forums at temple. (In the UK, it's much more unusual for SE Asian communities to get involved in this way, though some such gatherings do take place – e.g. a gather at a Thai temple in Kings Bromley. Furthermore, faith communities need to cooperate since if it's just one community working unilaterally, there may be a questionmark [whether it's a request for particular help or whatever] whereas coming together gives combined strength, amplified voice and eliminates competition.

Moreover, for the civic leaders, talking to a broader base gives leverage and enhances profile, particularly with global links to other metropolitan areas, who are doing similar work [thereby creating a para-network].

In conclusion, there was a threefold recommendation:

  • catch the vision
  • commit to enter the process - take back to community,region and share
  • reach out to Council of Parliament

In the UK, interfaith has featured very prominently in civil society during the past decade, with excellent coordination through the Interfaith Network for the UK, but when I asked one member of the Council perceived there to be actually too many interfaith groups! So the coordination needs to really well demonstrated.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Researching a Thai Biography

There's some interleaving in my blog posts at the moment: as well as sorting out notes from the Parliament, I'm currently gathering some information here in Thailand for a personal project: a biography of my mother, the late Fuengsin Trafford (the following photo of her is one of my favourites):

In my 10 day stopover on my way back from Melbourne to the UK, I've been showing old photographs like the one above to relatives and friends, seeking to learn more about her early life - her childhood, her university studies (and many outings) at Chulalongkorn and afterwards her time at the Thonburi Technical Institute, Bangmod (now King Mongkut University of Technology, Thonburi). I've been using a voice recorder and subsequently transferring the audio to my Eee PC: everything that has appeared online in the past couple of weeks or so has emanated from or been processed on this netbook, truly a travelling companion! (And I've been fortunate enough to have good Wifi access with reasonable broadband connections.

Today, one of my kalyanamittas, Khun Jo, took me to the National Library in Bangkok. My grandparents' home was formerly in Rajadamnoen, in the city centre, which became a target for British and American bombers in the Second World War. Many families moved across the Chao Phraya to Thonburi, though my grandparents may have moved a few years before as they were the first to arrive at what was then an orchard without any dwellings. I was looking for some background information and photographs from that time and in the short time we had we were able to find a book that specifically mentioned this movement from one side of the river to the other.

I feel there's a long way to go, not least to understand the geography - I recall two of my mother's friends taking her to a certain restaurant around a big roundabout; only today did I learn that this was in Rajadamnoen. Evidently there's much more for me to explore!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A brief retrospective on the 2009 Parliament of the World Religions

I was hoping to be able to blog during the Parliament itself, but found there was too much going on to settle down to do much in the way of reflection and typing, so I'm submitting some retrospective posts. This first one is just to give an overall impression.

I attended the Cape Town Parliament in 1999 and it left an indelible impression – both the event itself and the spaces all around with many kinds of encounter. With thousands of participants, it's a major undertaking for the organisers (the Council) – on this occasion the printed A4 programme provides descriptions of many hundreds of presentations, workshops and performances and is 390 pages long!

It's perhaps an even greater undertaking for the hosts: Melbourne had the honour for 2009 and it demonstrated a major commitment – a very professional venue (Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre); backing from civic authorities; a harmonious multi-cultural society with sensitivity to historical contexts; and excellent hospitality exemplified (I think) in the homestay programme.

Parliament Foyer

However, there wasn't much time for self-congratulation. Whereas 1999 had been an occasion for grand visions at the turn of a millennium, ten years later there was no escaping practical calls to action and entering the Exhibition Centre one would encounter every day an ecological message:

Fossil Fools

Here, though, many 'environments' were being tended, especially the inner environment, the heart. It's just the kind of issue – it was felt – where religions can offer more complete perspectives, which are rooted in whole mind or the heart-mind (a Buddhist term is citta). I also encountered quite a lot of synchronicity. Within minutes of stepping into the Convention Centre for the first time on the evening of the 3rd, I had seen two of the participants of the Coalition meeting, a group of from the Australia branch of Wat Phra Dhammkaya, who were running a couple of meditation sessions, and interfaith friends from Oxford, including Mary Braybrooke, who ran inter alia a session on attitudes to the elderly and dying (hope to write about it in another post). Here they are at their respective Parliament booths:

Mary Braybrooke in conversation at the Brahma Kumaris / WCF / IIC booth

Parliament booth for the Dhammakaya International Society of Australia

Participation takes many forms. the programmed sessions were opportunities to listen, hear; the other periods (sessions usually had 30 minute intervals) were opportunities for dialogue in small groups; I felt something akin to a wafting sensation as I wandered into art spaces, conversations etc. Conversations could be free-floating in undefined spaces, over lunch, in public gatherings off site, or a bit more structured, as at an official Parliament booth or open sessions. Whilst this 'collective effervescence' was quite energising, we were acutely aware that the real challenges remain in terms of application. In the closing plenary, His Holiness the Dalai Lama referred to Swami Vivekenanda in communicating the spirit beyond this event and over several days the Council advertised quite heavily a new social networking site, PeaceNext to facilitate this cooperation. It's a nice gesture, though is it sustainable given the plethora of more established sites ...?

I hope to share from the very small proportion of sessions I attended, but it may take me a while. So please wander over to the official Parliament site, where there's a lot of coverage, including audio-visual recordings, especially from the plenaries, though sessions were not generally recorded (this is partly reflecting the sensitivity of some of the topics under discussion).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sky Train has arrived in Wongwien Yai!

Today I had the joy of travelling on Bangkok's skytrain all the way from Mo Chit to Wongwien Yai, very near to where my cousins live. Here's a couple of photos taken nearby the station:

Wongwienyai BTS

Wongwienyai BTS

It's great news as previously to get across the river one had to choose between walking/ferry/motorbike/tuk-tuk, each of which had some inconvenience or extra cost. For several years the basic concrete structure had been in place, but there were doubts about whether this extension would be complete. Now it's operating, it's a real boon for residents in Thonburi and the maximum fare is still only 40 bahts. :-)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Working for inter-religious cooperation: observations from a coalition meeting,

[update appended 4 Jan 2010]

On Tuesday 1st December I joined the second meeting of a coalition working on an initiative UN Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace held at the Holy Cross Retreat Centre in Templestowe, Melbourne.

Holy Cross retreat centre, Templestowe

I was there as a representative of the International Interfaith Centre. The IIC is not yet a member of the network, so I was invited along just as an observer.

The rationale for the decade (in simplistic terms) is the growing acceptance that religion has a significant impact on the major global issues today, particularly relating to the eradication of poverty and the environment. Whilst Europe may assert a secular view of life, the majority of the rest of the world gives a far higher priority to religion. The upshot of this is that the United Nations has hitherto tended to incorporate aspects of religion only under socio-economic umbrellas, regarding it, for instances, as a subset of culture, and as a result it seems that religious organisations generally have been kept at the periphery of its activities.

Yet many of these organisations are already very active in contributing to UN goals, so it seems sensible to support and add value what is already being done with the official approval of the UN, which can provide structures to help link the various organisations under its wide umbrella and guide the foci.

This is, as I understand it, the motivation for the coalition, and the meeting at the beginning of the month was to work through its goal, objectives, etc. so as to provide a convincing case of the need for such a decade. About 35-40 participants discussed the framework at length over a couple of days, with some absorbing sessions held in a delightful meeting room with large windows overlooking the grounds of the centre (the environment was very conducive).

Coalition meeting; Discussing strategies for the UN Decade

The process seems well considered; the steering groups comprises some very experienced members, several of whom have worked for many years at the UN (and shared some glimpses into its internal workings, particular the characteristics of various committees). The steering group is very conscious of the need for broad representation and I felt it serves the interests of its member coalition very well - certainly everyone at the meeting expressed much appreciation for the work being put in, which (like most interfaith-related initiatives) has involved considerable personal commitment, much of it offered on a voluntary basis, with resources largely offered as gifts in kind.

Even as an observer, such gatherings prompt anyone who attends to reflect on what their organisation has to contribute. The more I thought about it, the more I felt the IIC was eminently suited to this kind of initiative. It has a history of cooperation, operating from the local, where for instance it has produced a Directory of Oxford Faith groups (I recall giving my personal copy to a very enthusiastic member of Oxford City Council), through interfaith education, including online studies (formerly with lectures) in coordination with Oxford University academics, through to the co-ordination of the International Interfaith Organisations network

Plenty of opportunity for input across a broad set of issues, though there were evidently some differences of opinion which I think will need addressing further, though they mainly concern what I'd regard as the finer detail. A particular issue is how to treat 'faith' vis-a-vis 'religion,' which is an old cookie! There is a term frequently used in the literature of 'Faith-based organisations,' but its definition is apparently of some concern and some would insist that the definitions come from the religious communities themselves, not sociologists. How important is to to resolve the linguistic semantics? Some would wish to be meticulous about the terms in the title, whilst others are less so and are content to assume that the descriptions will make clear the full scope and import. At some stage the steering committee will probably need to settle on some policy to be applied consistently.

I'd also like to see more visible input from academic institutions. Academic voices can be quite vocal and influential in high level political deliberations, so this experience should be tapped into.

At the end of the day, it is the member states who wlll have to make the decision on whether or not to proceed. The general strategy was expressed of putting it to these states how such a decade would help them to achieve their goals; as such religious communities return to a core responsibility of being of service. And seeing the very positive engagement among the various representatives at this meeting, was to me a good sign that such service would indeed be rendered.

Group photo from Second Coalition meeting

Interfaith cooperation is already making important contributions; a UN Decade would amplify such contributions and so I hope it happens.

Update: UN Resolution

With some help from Stein Villumstad, I've since managed to navigate my way through the documentation of UN Resolutions for the 64th Session. The decade is mentioned in Press release GA/10900 concerning Resolution no. A/RES/64/81 discussing Draft A/64/L.15/Rev.1 + Add.1 (7 December 2009), where it says:

"Also adopted today were resolutions on the 2001-2010: ... the International Decade on a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010; and a related text on the promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace. ... By a draft text on the Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace (A/64/L.15/Rev.1), ... the Secretary-General would ... at its sixty-sixth session, to solicit States views on the possibility of proclaiming a United Nations decade for interreligious and intercultural dialogue and cooperation for peace."

No doubt updates will be made available on the initiative's Web site.