The inauguration ceremony was held on wednesday, October 24, 2017
From the cradle of the Renaissance, Tuscany gives birth to Sophia Global Studies (SGS), a new center for research, training, and dialogue. The inauguration ceremony was held on Wednesday, October 24, 2017 at the Sophia University Institute. The event drew a large and enthusiastic crowd, with attendees coming from as far as Spain, China, and the United States.

The ceremony commenced with a welcome and introductory note by Paolo Frizzi, the academic coordinator of the center. Frizzi explained that this new center would be a “real and permanent workshop of discussions, studies, and networks” revolving around areas such as unity, communion, fraternity, peace, and dialogue – all of which are crucial to addressing the world’s challenge in this day and age. He further expressed that the purpose of launching a center dedicated to advanced research and training on global issues is to organically express and grow the distinct and strong features of Sophia, which has established itself as a “trans-disciplinary, international, and intercultural institution”.

Olivier Roy, a French political scientist and professor at the European University Institute, delivered the keynote speech entitled “Europe, Religions, and Identities between Globalization and Fragmentation.” According to Roy, Europe is fragmented between faith communities and secularists, and the gap is widening. “The secular states should acknowledge that there should be room for religion,” he stated, arguing that it’s not only about freedom of belief; by law, people have the freedom to practice their religion, and “by definition, you practice (religion) in the public sphere.” However, there is also a need for religious people to dialogue and to “accept the idea of being a minority”.

The event proceeded with two sets of round-table discussions, welcoming professors, scholars, and friends of Sophia from a range of academic disciplines and backgrounds – a real testament to the institution’s longstanding commitment to interreligious and intercultural dialogue and fraternity. The first discussion on Religions in the Global World was chaired by Israa Safieddine, an American Shia Muslim scholar representing the Islamic Centre of England. The panel comprised of three experts: Fabio Petito, senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Sussex, England; Adnane Mokrani, an Algerian Islamic theologian from PISAI Italy; and Roberto Catalano, head of the Focolare Movement’s interfaith dialogue program.

Mokrani emphasized the importance of finding a common language, saying that we must “discover together our common values, […] not imposed values.” Petito began his talk by declaring that religion “has been present in many complex and different ways in society,” adding that religious communities “have a role to play in building a new unity which I’m afraid the secular world is really struggling to produce.” Petito further expressed that there is much more to explore in this field which has only recently began to emerge, and that it is one of the research gaps that SGS can potentially fill. Safieddine, who is a visiting professor and has collaborated with Sophia on a number of fronts over the past few years, concluded with the following note: “I pray that Sophia continues to be instrumental in demonstrating that religion can be a source of good in the world”.

In keeping with Sophia’s tradition of an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach, the second round-table discussion on Europe in a Changing World, which was chaired by Arooj Javed who is a PhD student at Sophia from Pakistan, included contributions from three experts: Léonce Bekemans, a scholar of interdisciplinary European studies who holds the Jean Monnet Chair ad personam from the University of Padova; Esther Salamanca Aguado, expert in public international law and European law at the University of Valladolid, Spain; and Annette Pelkmans-Balaoing from Erasmus University Rotterdam who holds expertise in international and developmental economics.

Bekemans, who is also a visiting professor at Sophia, affirmed that SGS can offer “an innovative and interdisciplinary perspective” as well as an “inspiring learning space to respond to today’s challenges and opportunities.” He went on to state that today’s challenge is the search for a new equilibrium between diversity and unity in a globalizing world; how to take into account “the economic, historic, social, and political changes on the international level, but remain faithful to the principles of internal and external solidarity.”

As the event drew to a close, president of SGS and Italian ambassador Pasquale Ferrara remarked, “We are fully aware that instead of globalism we need universalism, but we are calling this (center) Global Studies because we need to put together all the different factors that play a role on the universal scene.” He further elaborated that “global” also refers to the challenge of combining various disciplines.

The center intends to foster the development of today’s youth into well-rounded leaders of tomorrow—leaders capable of facing global complexities and equipped with tools to promote dialogue and peace. Its mission is to organize, promote, and support research and training initiatives, as well as short courses and seminars. Its programs are aimed at forming a new generation of leaders, educators, politicians, and managers in synergy with departments of Sophia and in collaboration with expertise of various long-time scholars, partners, and friends.  For more information on courses and events, visit http://www.sophiauniversity.org/it/. Sophia Global Studies can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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