Georgia May shares the vision of The Rose Castle Foundation, an international reconciliation centre based at Rose Castle, Cumbria, that serves to deepen understanding of different faith perspectives within and between religious traditions.
“Radicalisation, extremism and terrorism are three words that are staining our era. Each era has its own words and its own language.” These were the words of a gentleman who visited Rose Castle and was inspired to reflect on his childhood experience of war-torn Britain, comparing the nature of the Second World War with the current ‘war on terror’. He found a comforting connection with Rose Castle, placing his hand against the old castle walls that have also witnessed many different eras of conflict at the hands of changing political and religious allegiances. However, after weathering 800 years of conflict as a castle on the English-Scottish border, Rose Castle has recently seen history turned on its head. Once a landmark of conflict and defence, Rose Castle is now a landmark of peace and reconciliation.
Until recently, Rose Castle was the palace of the Bishops of Carlisle and the estate still retains the warm feeling of a private family home. However, after relocating the current bishop’s home, Rose Castle stood vacant for several years in anticipation of what the future might hold. Meanwhile, a vision for Rose Castle was growing and attracting attention: a vision for an international peace and reconciliation centre that would run residential programmes for those in profound conflict with one another.
The vision was engaging with the challenge of religious-related violence, recognising that a lack of understanding of the ideas and beliefs that constitute faith communities has produced a new kind of conflict phenomenon. Social and political attitudes are increasingly moving towards marginalisation, fear and prejudice of the religious ‘other’. The absence of informed discourse regarding faith groups in both private and public spheres has enabled many to misrepresent and caricature entire religious groups. More than ever, public discourse needs to acknowledge the importance and increasing prevalence of religion on every level of local, national and international diplomacy. The widespread decline of religious literacy and increased religious conflict has devastatingly unravelled the fabric of cohesion and empathetic understanding that forms a receptive, respectful and diverse global society.
This vision belonged to Canon Sarah Snyder, now the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor for Reconciliation, and drew on years of experience in reconciliation work around the world. Yet, the vision was simple: sustainable peace is found in the power of enabling leaders to facilitate better quality disagreement. Sarah had witnessed the power of living, learning and sharing meals with people you would never normally brush shoulders with. Not only does communal living and mutual learning re-humanise those who have been dehumanise during conflict, it also demonstrates the plausibility and possibility of peaceful coexistence. This vision took seriously the reality of perpetual disagreement and sought methods of ‘disagreeing well’ that enabled collaboration between the most unlikely of groups. Over a number of years the vision was tested, refined and proven successful. In August 2016, with the aid of significant benefaction, Rose Castle was purchased for the use of this vision, which now takes the form of a charity called The Rose Castle Foundation.
The Rose Castle Foundation exists to equip a new generation of reconciling leaders from diverse and dynamic backgrounds, transforming leaders of all faiths and none into mediators, reconcilers and peacemakers. We provide immersive training within a context of cross-cultural, inter-religious encounter. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and looking across to the fells of the Lake District National Park, Rose Castle offers an inspiring location that grants participants a secluded and peaceful environment in which to reflect, develop fresh perspectives and see more clearly the opportunities for peace within their home communities. Inside the castle walls, the homely setting provides a secure space in which those who are in profound conflict with one another begin to understand their opponents’ motivations, beliefs and perspectives. This is a challenging, emotional and deeply rewarding process.
Our training programmes follow four key criteria: mediation (facilitating mediatory intervention between groups representing opposing sides of a conflict issue), collaboration (tasking participants to think innovatively about how they can utilise their leadership positions to confront religious violence), respect and perspective (focusing on a fostering of deep respect, compassion and even friendship between groups in conflict), and religious literacy (enabling leaders of faith and no-faith to articulate matters of faith within public discourse). We have often found that the most significant breakthrough happens around the meal table: whilst we facilitate the programme training, the real work has to happen naturally between participants so that they can find realistic ways of working together once they return home from Rose Castle.
Our work at Rose Castle is inspired by the numerous individuals and organisations that make it their mission to promote peaceful coexistence within and between communities. Whilst the gentleman who visited Rose Castle was right in recognising that the language of our time is increasingly dominated by the words “radicalisation, extremism and terrorism,” we strongly believe that these words don’t need to be the ones that define our existence. Furthermore, it is important to address the many different layers of conflict that divide our families, our communities, our nations and our globe, in order to identify the opportunities for healing. Alongside the work of other peacemaking initiatives, we have discovered that the words that define our time can be: peace, reconciliation and coexistence. We are all capable of allowing the power unleashed by these words to season our language, inform our decisions and motivate our actions.
This article is written by Georgia May who is the Programme Coordinator for the Rose Castle Foundation. Having recently finished reading Theology at Durham University, she now specialises in the practice of Scriptural Reasoning, a method of interfaith dialogue that promotes hospitality between Muslims, Christians and Jews.