Image: Theme 'Religion and Belief' by Pancho

What is religion and belief?

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed towards ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.
Albert Einstein

Belief is a state of the mind when we consider something true even though we are not 100% sure or able to prove it. Everybody has beliefs about life and the world they experience. Mutually supportive beliefs may form belief systems, which may be religious, philosophical or ideological.
Religions are belief systems that relate humanity to spirituality. The following definition from Wikipedia provides a good overview of the many dimensions of religion:
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. […] Many religions have organised behaviours, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural), and/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. However, there are examples of religions for which some or many of these aspects of structure, belief, or practices are absent.1

Beliefs in the spiritual dimension of life have existed since time immemorial. Many human societies have left us historical evidence of their systems of belief, whether it was worship of the sun, of gods and goddesses, knowledge of good and evil or of the sacred. Stonehenge, the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, Uluru at Alice Springs, the Bahá'í Gardens of Haifa, Fujiyama, the sacred mountain of Japan, Kaaba in Saudi Arabia or the Golden Temple in Amritsar all bear testament to the human experience of spirituality, which may be an objective reality or a result of the human yearning for an explanation of the meaning of life and our role in the world.
In the simplest sense, religion describes "the relationship of human beings to what they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual or divine".2 It is usually accompanied by a set of organised practices which foster a community of people who share that faith. As discussed above, belief is a broader term and it also includes "commitments which deny a dimension of existence beyond this world".3

Religions and other belief systems in our environment have an influence on our identity, regardless of whether we consider ourselves religious or spiritual or not. At the same time, other parts of our identity, our history, our approach to other religions and groups considered "different" will influence how we interpret that religion or belief system.

Question: What religions are practised in your country?

Religions and related social and cultural structures have played an important part in human history. As mental structures, they influence the way we perceive the world around us and the values we accept or reject. As social structures, they provide a supporting network and a sense of belonging. In many cases, religions have become the basis of power structures and have become intertwined with it. History, remote and recent, is full of examples of "theocratic" states, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or other. The separation between state and religion is still recent and only partly applied: there are official state religions in Europe and de facto state religions. In most cases this does not pose a particular problem as long as it is tempered by values of tolerance.

I regard irreligious people as pioneers.
Anandabai Joshee, the first Hindu woman and first Indian woman to receive a medical degree

Statistics on religion or belief adherents can never be very accurate, considering the dynamic nature of this pattern as well as the fact that many people among us live in contexts where freedom of religion and belief is not enjoyed. The statistics below are, therefore, intended to exemplify the diversity of the global picture. The figures indicate the estimated number of adherents of the largest religions4:

African Traditional and Diasporic: 100 million
Baha'i: 7 million
Buddhism: 376 million
Cao Dai: 4 million
Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
Christianity: 2.1 billion
Hinduism: 900 million
Islam: 1.5 billion
Jainism: 4.2 million
Judaism: 14 million
Neo-Paganism: 1 million
Primal-indigenous (tribal religionists, ethnic religionists, or animists): 300 million
Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
Shinto: 4 million
Sikhism: 23 milllion
Spiritism: 15 million
Tenrikyo: 2 million
Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million

The number of secular, non-religious, agnostic and atheists is estimated at 1.1 billion.

Question: Which religions are missing in this list?

Every dictator uses religion as a prop to keep himself in power.
Benazir Bhutto

Different religions and beliefs have long existed in the European region as well. In some historical periods, Europe has provided refuge to persecuted religious groups and allowed a diversity of religions and beliefs to flourish. At other times, however, European countries have fallen prey to fanaticism and been engrossed in "religious wars", such as the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 that led to the slaughter of one-third of the continent's population.
The misuse, or abuse, of religious arguments has led to the justification of painful conflicts and wars, persecutions and intolerance. Regardless of how we understand these historical legacies, a wide range of religions and beliefs exist in Europe and they have and continue to have an impact on our societies. In this way, religion and belief are important factors to consider in relation to young people and youth work because, directly or indirectly, they have an impact on young people's identity and sense of belonging.

Freedom of religion or belief in human rights instruments

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18

Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.

This was later confirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as in several regional binding human rights documents, such as the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (Article 8) or the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 9).
The UN Human Rights Committee emphasises that this freedom is "far-reaching and profound", that it "encompasses freedom of thought on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief, whether manifested individually or in community with others", that the freedom for conscience should be equal to that for religion and belief and that protection is for "theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief".5 Accordingly, any serious belief or conviction – whether a person is Sikh, against hunting, pacifist, Mormon, vegan or ideologically driven by activism against climate change – can be protected within this right.

This freedom in international law was historically focused on the religious liberty of minority communities. Today, laws securing freedom of religion and belief are no longer focused on the need to maintain the status quo in order not to undermine regional security, but spotlight a number of concerns including non-discrimination, equality and dignity. Championing this freedom has societal as well as individualist rationales, allowing people the scope to (openly) seek, (vigorously) discuss and (freely) uphold the beliefs that they choose, alone or along with others. Achieving an enabling environment for this freedom requires not only non-interference on the grounds of religion or belief by the state but positive measures to be taken to achieve and maintain such an environment in society at large. In practice, this should include, for example, the possibility to make available places of worship or to provide moral and religious education.

Question: Are you a member of any religious community? How did you get involved?

That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.
In a papyrus from Ancient Egypt

Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.

As with all other human rights, this freedom does not "trump" other freedoms and it sometimes finds itself in tension with other human rights, such as freedom of opinion and expression and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex or sexual orientation. This is reflected for example in the way Article 9 of the European Convention on Human rights is structured: there is an absolute protection of the right to religious belief, conscience and thought, but the manifestations only enjoy a qualified protection in so far as they do not violate other human rights.


European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Article 9
1.  Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom,
either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2.  Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Freedom of religion and belief – including freedom to change religion – is essential to all of us, in our search for meaning, our full development, our identity and our expression as members of a community or communities. Whether we have a firm religion or belief, whether we are undecided, or even if we do not really care much for religion or belief, this freedom matters to people and the societies they build.

Are there any communities in your country that do not enjoy the same level of freedom of religion and belief as others?

Challenges to and violations of the freedom of religion or belief

Religious groups must tolerate, as other groups must, critical public statements and debate about their activities, teachings and beliefs, provided that such criticism does not amount to intentional and gratuitous insult and does not constitute incitement to disturb the public peace or to discriminate against adherents of a particular religion.
Venice Commission of the Council of Europe

Throughout religious history, many religious and societal features have been embedded in the environment where a particular religion was practised, and they are reflected in culture and politics. Many pieces of literature, poetry, art and music, dress codes and ways of organising life together have been drawn from religions. Religion has made a strong imprint on culture, which can be seen, for example, on holy days, at feasts, in marriage ceremonies, burial practices, pilgrimages, the wearing of religious symbols (e.g. jewellery or dress codes), or in physical alterations to the body, such as male circumcision.
The influence of religions may become even stronger when nations adopt a state religion or religious ideology. In such situations, religion and religious arguments may become confused with the political, economic or social reasoning.

The extent to which freedom of thought, conscience and religion allow distinctive practices of a community of believers to diverge from those of the rest of the society is often debated within the human rights community. Examples of this include attitudes towards women in religious leadership positions, traditional ceremonies involving children, laws surrounding marriage, divorce or burial, prohibition on the depiction of divine beings or other religious figures, and so on.

Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.

In such contexts, the human rights bodies would criticise harmful practices, regardless of whether they were traditionally condoned by particular cultures, nations or religions. Such criticism is not an attack on culture, nationality or religion but an attempt to strike a balance between the right to one's religions and belief and other human rights, since several of these practices can result in serious human rights abuse. Harmful traditional practices include female genital mutilation, son-preference (which can manifest itself in sex-selective abortion, failing to care for newborn girls, discrimination in education in favour of sons, discrimination in nutrition), arranged or forced marriages, marriage of children, dowry-related crimes and crimes justified by "honour", exclusion or limitation of some rights of non-adherents to a more powerful religious group in a given community, segregation according to religious lines, and so on. Such practices disproportionately affect women and children: invoking tradition is used to justify discrimination on the basis of gender and age. Furthermore, in several cases, situations which, from a human rights perspective, are a violation of human dignity, remain unrecognised, taboo and unpunished. Few of these practices are based on religious precepts; the fact that they are deeply anchored in culture and tradition do not make ending them any easier. Changes have to come through legislative change, education and empowerment.
Throughout history, religions have played a crucial role in imposing limitations on human action in order to protect the physical and psychological integrity or dignity of other people. Yet, even though religious philosophies have contributed to the development of a conscience of human rights and dignity, the human rights related to religion and belief are no more exempt from the tensions and contradictions that are present in human rights instruments, than are other rights. As seen in the case of harmful traditional practices, sometimes convictions or beliefs are used to justify outright physical harm with severe health consequences.

Question: Are there religious practices in your community/ies that you consider harmful?

Discrimination and intolerance
on grounds of religion or belief

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Religious intolerance can be observed at different levels: among adherents of the same religion (intra-religious intolerance); between one religion or religious attitude and another, manifesting itself in various forms of conflicts between persons and groups of persons (inter-religious intolerance); in the form of confrontational atheism or confrontational theism, which are intolerant of free choice and practice of other religions or belief commitments; or in the form of anti-secularism. Religious intolerance is often confused with xenophobia and other forms of discrimination; sometimes it is also used to justify discrimination.
Most human rights violations related to freedom of religion and belief are also related to freedom from discrimination. Discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief is contrary to human rights but it is nonetheless experienced daily by many people across Europe. The fact that religion and belief are often confused with culture, nationality and ethnicity makes it more complicated but also more painful on an individual level: you may be discriminated against on the grounds of religious affiliation even if you happen not to believe in the religion you are associated with.

Discrimination and intolerance impact negatively on society as a whole, and particularly on young people who experience it. Such effects include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-segregation
  • Internalised oppression
  • Disengagement from school activities
  • Non-fulfilment of their potential
  • Attraction to violent extremist ideologies
  • School drop-out
  • Health problems / depression6

Religious intolerance is also used to feed hatred in, and to contribute to, armed conflicts, not so much because it is the cause of conflict but because religious belonging is used to draw dividing lines, as armed conflicts in the Balkans and Caucasus demonstrate. The consequences of international terrorism and the "wars on terrorism" have been particularly devastating in Europe and beyond, notably because religious intolerance becomes mixed with xenophobia and racism.
No single social group, religion or community has the monopoly of discrimination. Even though the levels of protection of the freedom of religion and belief vary significantly across the member states of the Council of Europe, religious intolerance and discrimination affects everyone in Europe.

Intolerance and discrimination
against Muslims (Islamophobia)

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Saint Paul

Of particular concern in several European countries is the rise of Islamophobia, the fear and hatred of Islam, resulting in discrimination against Muslims or people associated with Islam. Islam is the most widespread religion in Europe after Christianity and the majority religion in various member states of the Council of Europe. The hostility towards Islam as a religion and to Muslim people, particularly following the "wars on terror", has revealed deep-rooted prejudices against Muslims in many European societies. With the perception of the religion of Islam as being associated only with terrorism and extremism, Islamophobia has contributed to negative views of Islam and Muslims, wrongly generalising militant religious extremism and ultra-conservatism onto all Muslim countries and Muslim people. This intolerance and stereotyped view of Islam has manifested itself in a number of ways, ranging from verbal or written abuse of Muslim people, discrimination at schools and workplaces, and psychological harassment or pressure, to outright violent attacks on mosques and individuals, especially women who wear headscarves.7 In this context, mass-media has played a role, offering at times representations of Muslim people which were distorted, if not outright stereotyped and defamatory.
Like other victims of discrimination grounded on religious affiliation, discrimination against Muslims may overlap with other forms of discrimination and xenophobia, such as anti-immigrant sentiments, racism and sexism.

Six recurring prejudices about Muslims

All the same:
Muslims are seen as all being much the same as each other, regardless of their nationality, social class and political outlook, and of whether they are observant in their beliefs and practice.
All are motivated by religion: It is thought that the single most important thing about Muslims, in all circumstances, is their religious faith. So, if Muslims engage in violence, for example, it is assumed that this is because their religion advocates violence.
Totally "other": Muslims are seen as totally "other": they are seen as having few if any interests, needs or values in common with people who do not have a Muslim background. 
Culturally and morally inferior: Muslims are seen as culturally and morally inferior and prone to being irrational and violent, intolerant in their treatment of women, contemptuous towards world views different from their own, and hostile and resentful towards "the West" for no good reason.
Threat: Muslims are seen as a security threat, in tacit or open sympathy with international terrorism and bent on the "Islamisation" of the countries where they live.
Co-operation is impossible: As a consequence of the previous five perceptions, it is claimed that there is no possibility of active partnership between Muslims and people with different religious or cultural backgrounds.
Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe and UNESCO.

Anti-Christian sentiments (Christianophobia)

Christianophobia refers to every form of discrimination and intolerance against some or all Christians, the Christian religion, or the practice of Christianity. Like other forms of discrimination based on religion, the perpetrators may be people from other religions – often the majority religions – as much as secular institutions. Hostility against Christians manifests itself in attacks against places of worship, verbal abuse and, particularly in countries where Christians are a minority, restrictions on building and sometimes preserving churches or monasteries.
Particularly worrying is the rise in attacks against Christians in the Middle East. A recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly on this matter calls, amongst other things, for the need to "raise awareness about the need to combat all forms of religious fundamentalism and the manipulation of religious beliefs for political reasons, which are so often the cause of present day terrorism. Education and dialogue are two important tools that could contribute towards the prevention of such evils"8.

Question: Have you ever experienced any bias towards you because of your religion or belief? How did you react?


As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them.
Prophet Mohammed

Antisemitism – hostility towards Jews as a religious or minority group often accompanied by social, economic, and political discrimination – is an example of the combination of racism and religious discrimination. Reports from human rights organisations regularly state an alarming rise in the number of antisemitic attacks accompanied, in some countries, by the rise of openly antisemitic speech in the political arena. Rather than being confined to extremist circles, Antisemitism is thus increasingly being mainstreamed, hindering the ability of Jewish people to live openly as Jews, free from fears for their security and well-being[i].

In its Recommendation No. 9 on the fight against Antisemitism, adopted in 2004 and revised in 2021, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance recommends that government of Member States take measures in the fields of:

  • policies and institutional coordination – taking all necessary measures to combat public manifestations of antisemitism at all administrative levels; enact legislation aimed at combating antisemitism and ensure the principle of intersectionality in all equality policies; appoint national coordinators to supervise efforts to combat antisemitism and fully involve national equality bodies in monitoring processes and in advising legislative authorities.
  • prevention/education – encouraging leaders at all levels to speak out against antisemitism; collect data on antisemitic incidents and crimes; conduct research; provide training for civil servants in the law and law enforcement sectors; ensure high quality educational efforts to prevent and combat antisemitism and address antisemitic harassments and attacks in schools; encourage debate within the media professions on their role in combating antisemitism; commemorate the Holocaust; support NGOs in combating antisemitism, as well as common anti-racist actions between different ethnic and religious communities; ensure freedom of religion without discrimination for people of the Jewish faith; encourage sports bodies to promote action against antisemitism; condemn boycotts of the State of Israel if they incite violence, hatred and intolerance.
  • protection – promote cooperation between Jewish communities and law enforcement; take any necessary steps to ensure the safety of Jewish persons, buildings, places of remembrance; ensure support for victims of antisemitic and all other racist acts; ensure that victims are aware of the possibility of referring to the national equality bodies, to redress through civil, administrative and criminal proceedings; avoid over-interviewing victims to protect them from re-victimisation.
  • prosecution/law enforcement – ensure that criminal law penalises antisemitic acts such as: genocide, racial discrimination or racist offences or preparation for such acts; public denial, trivialisation, justification or condoning of the Holocaust, crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, as well as public incitement to and creation or participation in groups that propagate discrimination, violence and hatred against a person or a group of persons on the grounds of their actual or presumed Jewish identity or origin; desecration, destruction or damaging with an antisemitic aim of religious and non-religious Jewish buildings and memorials.


Religious intolerance and discrimination is not limited to Antisemitism, Christianophobia or Islamophobia. Among the many forms of discrimination is the non-recognition of some religions and the difference of treatment between them. Religions and systems of belief can thus be banned, persecuted or closely controlled because of their alleged "sectarian" nature or their irrelevance on the grounds of being "insignificant".
It is important to recall that freedom of religion and belief includes the right to change religion and the right not to adhere to, or declare, a religion.

Question: What happens if you decide to adopt a religion different from your family and community?

One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one's own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma.
Brihaspati, Mahabharata

Despite the growing and widespread manifestations of religious intolerance, it is important to bear in mind that religion and human rights are perfectly compatible and that only a human rights framework can secure freedom of religion and belief for all.
The history of Europe is, indeed, full of examples of violence and barbarity in the name of religion. These acts have been and are being committed by men and women, not commanded by religious precepts, but by people.
Fortunately, the history and the reality of our world is also a living evidence of the optimism of religious diversity: no single society is mono-religious and no single system of thought has ever prevailed, even under the most extreme forms of totalitarianism. Furthermore, the examples of people accepting each other despite religious difference, and often united in diversity, are many more than those of intolerance.

The work of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe, White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue "Living Together as Equals in Dignity" (2008) recognises that a range of religious and secular conceptions of life have enriched the cultural heritage of Europe and notes the importance of inter-religious, intra-religious and other dialogue for the promotion of understanding between different cultures. It also emphasises that the Council of Europe "would remain neutral towards the various religions whilst defending the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the rights and duties of all citizens, and the respective autonomy of state and religions".10
Promoting religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue is also one of the priorities of the Council of Europe's youth policy. A number of events organised under the All Different – All Equal campaign in 2007-2008 developed recommendations and action plans for promoting inter-religious dialogue in European youth work, including the Istanbul Youth Declaration on Inter-Religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work12, and the Kazan Action Plan13. All of these documents stress the crucial role of young people and youth organisations in contributing to the change towards religious tolerance.

Learn more in Religious Diversity and Intercultural Education, the Council of Europe's reference book for schools.11

The sphere of education may be a platform for tensions of human rights related to religion and belief, as in cases where the educational content has been criticised as limiting the freedom of religion and belief, or in cases where religious symbols used by schools or by students have resulted in conflicts. At the same time, education is also one of the most important spheres of life where stereotypes and prejudices can be counteracted. In this spirit, ODIHR, the Council of Europe and UNESCO published the Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims.14 This document is intended to support teachers, teacher trainers, education policy experts as well as non-governmental organisations active in the field of non-formal education in their work against Islamophobia.

Religion and belief at the European Court of Human Rights

Folgerø and others v. Norway (2007)

Parents successfully appealed to the court in Strasbourg to avoid mandatory religious classes of one particular denomination of Christianity. The court found that the state was in violation of Article 2 of Protocol no. 1, which reads, "No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions".

Lautsi v. Italy (2011)
Ms Lautsi's children attended a state school where all the classrooms had a crucifix on the wall, which she considered contrary to the principle of secularism by which she wished to bring up her children. She complained before the Court that this was in breach of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education).
The Court found no violation; it held in particular that the question of religious symbols in classrooms was, in principle, a matter falling within the margin of appreciation of the state, provided that decisions in that area did not lead to a form of indoctrination and there was nothing to suggest that the authorities were intolerant of pupils who believed in other religions, were non-believers or who held non-religious philosophical convictions.

Ercep v. Turkey (2011)
This case concerned the refusal by the applicant, a Jehovah's Witness and conscientious objector, to perform military service for reasons of conscience and his successive convictions for that reason.
The Court found a violation of Article 9 and a violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial). It
invited Turkey to enact legislation concerning conscientious objectors and to introduce an alternative form of service.

The Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities also protects religion as an element of the identity of minorities, "The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage" (Article 5) and prohibits forced assimilation.

Youth work and religion and belief

Nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential. Just as sorrow or pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all which breathe, exist, live or have any essence of life.
Acaranga Sutra

Religion is an issue that many young people deal with in their daily lives at home, in public, at work or at school. Youth work can help to make religious differences a factor of cultural enrichment for young people instead of being a source of confrontation, especially through the lenses of mutual understanding, tolerance and acceptance of difference.

Whether working at a local, regional or international level, youth workers need to be aware of the potential role and influence of religion and belief on the process of any given activity, as well as on the planned objectives of the activity. Accepting diversity is a good starting point; building on diversity as a source of strength is an excellent way to continue. A growing number of youth organisations are actively working in the field of inter-religious dialogue, promoting a dialogue between equals, and being self-critical of their own religious traditions, with the aim of increasing understanding.

Taking into consideration differences of belief and practice within the group, before and during the activity, can contribute to a better atmosphere in the group from the start. Knowing about some of the rituals and practices of different religions can be very useful and important for the good functioning and success of youth events. Consideration of dietary laws, places and times for prayer, the religious calendar and daily practices of different religious groups (e.g. the Sabbath, Friday prayers, Ramadan, Sunday celebrations, holidays) might help the organisers of youth activities provide a respectful and peaceful atmosphere as well as avoid problems of travel and of timing and efficiency of activities. The particularities of the place of the activity and the expectations of the hosting environment are equally important, in order to show respect for the needs of the group participants.
A degree of sensitivity towards religious diversity within the group would create a certain positive and motivating attitude and curiosity towards the religious practices and beliefs of others. This might also help to promote mutual respect and understanding, while helping to overcome any strong prejudices related to religious beliefs and practices.

Question: What importance does religious tolerance have in your work with young people?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

There is a large amount of youth work that is faith-based, and there are many faith-based youth organisations. The Council of Europe's youth sector works closely with a variety of international youth organisations that are faith-based and encourages co-operation among them. Study sessions and training activities at the European Youth Centre regularly include organisations such as:

  • Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe
  • European Alliance of YMCAs
  • European Baha'i Youth Council
  • European Fellowship of Christian Youth
  • European Union of Jewish Students
  • Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations
  • International Federation of Catholic Youth Organisations
  • International Movement of Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth Europe
  • International Young Catholic Students – International Movement of Catholic Students
  • Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Co-operation
  • Pax Christi Youth Forum
  • Syndesmos – World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth
  • Syriac Universal Alliance
  • The European Young Women's Christian Association
  • World Student Christian Federation

Regard your neighbour's gain as your own gain, and your neighbour's loss as your own loss.
T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien

Some of these organisations got together within the framework of the European Youth Forum and constituted the Faith-Based Group of youth organisations in order to learn about each other, promote diversity and fight discrimination and hatred. Integrated by the European Peer Training Organisation, the European Union of Jewish Students, the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe, the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations, the International Federation of Catholic Youth Organisations, the International Movement of Catholic Students, Pax Christi International and the World Student Christian Federation, the Expert Group produced, in 2008, a Tool Kit on inter-religious dialogue in youth work – Living Faiths Together. The Tool Kit, published by the European Youth Forum, provides information about monotheistic religions and proposes several methodologies and activities to understand and de-construct prejudices and stereotypes related to religion and to promote inter-religious dialogue. The tool kit may be downloaded from the Internet site of the European Youth Forum ( or from the site of the co-operating organisations.


1 (accessed on 9 July 2012)
2  Religion (2007) Encyclopædia Britannica at:
3 LindaWoodhead, with Rebecca Catto: "Religion or belief": Identifying issues and priorities. Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2009, p. iii:
4 Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents:
5 General Comment 22 of the UN Human Rights Committee on Article 18 of the ICCPR
6 OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe, UNESCO, Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, 2011 
7 FAIR (Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism), available at:
8 Recommendation 1957 (2011)  of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe "Violence against Christians in the Middle East"  
9 OSCE-ODIHR and Yad Vashem, Addressing Anti-Semitism: Why and How? A Guide for Educators, 2007
10 Council of Europe, White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue "Living together as equals in dignity", Launched by the Council of Europe Ministers of Foreign Affairs at their 118th Ministerial Session (Strasbourg, 7 May 2008), p. 23, available at: See also San Marino Declaration of 2007  
12 "Istanbul Youth Declaration on Inter-Religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work", Symposium Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work, Istanbul, Turkey, 27-31 March 2007:
13 "Kazan Action Plan", International Youth Forum "Intercultural Dialogue and its Religious Dimension", Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation, 30 November  – 4 December 2008:
14 Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe, UNESCO, 2011:

Related activities
Key Date
  • 27 JanuaryHolocaust Memorial Day
  • 21 MarchInternational Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  • 15 MayInternational Day of Conscientious Objection
  • 21 MayWorld Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
  • 9 AugustInternational Day of Indigenous People
  • 21 SeptemberInternational Day of Peace
  • 16 NovemberInternational Day for Tolerance