Founder Director's Speech at the Woolf Institute's Royal Opening
Read Dr Ed Kessler's speech given at the official opening of the Woolf Institute's permanent new home in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal.
"Your Royal Highnesses, Sheikh Thani, Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen
I've waited a very long time to say these words but…: welcome to the permanent home of the Woolf Institute.
Thank you Miriam, our wonderful Director of Research, for introducing some of our students and young academics, studying and working at the Woolf Institute, in this magnificent building. And through the Woolf Institute, our students inherit a history. And through them – and now our new building - the Woolf Institute has posterity.
Here we serve as teachers and scholars; to educate and preserve the lives of this and the next generation; to sustain those visionary horizons, which we need in order to remain human in a society, which somehow seems obsessively to want to be less than human.
According to the Book of Proverbs: "By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled."
The brief research presentations demonstrate a pursuit of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, not for their own sake but rather, to foster a society at ease with itself, in which individuals, groups and communities feel at home, and in whose flourishing all wish to take part.
As the Qur'an states, "We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may recognise one another" (Quran 49:13). This principle also lies at the heart of Judaism and Christianity for we all proclaim the unity of God and the diversity of human existence.
Yet, it must be said, we also need a society that is able to respond cohesively to the challenges and threats it faces, making our work urgent and pressing. As Revd Dr Martin Luther King said, we live in the fierce urgency of now.
Our goal, now, is to face the emerging danger of individuals and groups who are unwilling to giving a respectful hearing to the other side. When that happens, violence is waiting in the wings.
One reason why Lord Woolf and I established the Woolf Institute is to oppose the attempt to impose my truth, my culture, my way of doing things on you. No people is entitled to force its beliefs on any other people. 'Down here, in the world that I made', God said according to the Abrahamic story, 'there are many cultures, many faiths, many civilisations – each of which was made by God, each of which therefore has its own integrity, its own gifts to humanity, its own contribution to make, its own voice, its own language, its own character'.
Your Royal Highness, we would not have reached the milestone of a permanent home without dedicated trustees and I pay homage to our Chair, Lord Blair as well as Lady Woolf, Trixie Brenninkmeijer, Sarah Yamani, Peter Halban, David Leibowitz, Julius Lipner, Shabir Randeree, Bishop Tim Stevens, and the recently retired Lord Harries; to the hard working Woolf staff, in addition to those you have heard: Helen, Emma, Amy, Claire, Tina, Susanne, Esther and there are some men also, Julian, John, Mohamed and Stewart; to our loyal and generous supporters, especially the Development Council chaired by Sir Mick Davies, with Rick Sopher, Shabir Randeree and Philip Mallinckrodt; we are also very pleased to welcome our generous keystone donors from Overseas – from Perak, Malaysia, represented by Princess Eleena as well as the State of Qatar, represented by Sheikh Thani; to my supportive family, especially my parents who are here today as well as my wife Trisha without whose encouragement (and in Trisha's case, occasional middle-of the night calming influence), I might have given up years ago.
Your Royal Highness, today is a day of celebration, a term which should not be confused with amusement or entertainment. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state – it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle; celebration is about giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions.
Our new home will house many such actions; in the UK, with new research projects on religious fundamentalism and building resilience in Muslim communities, new courses on migration and immigration as well as a summer school, new audiences reached through our media suite such as the new podcast series, 'Encounter'.
And Overseas, where our work is generating great interest. Next week, Lord Blair and I travel to Doha for the annual Woolf Institute-Doha Interfaith lecture as well as the launch of our latest policy report entitled 'Beyond Dialogue'; and next month, a group of Patrons will travel to Kazakhstan where among the leaders we will meet is Governor Kelimbotov, who has travelled from Astana to join us today; I am very pleased that our proposal to undertake a research project on dialogue and inclusion has been well received.
Most of all, I would like to thank Her Royal Highness for generously agreeing to be Patron of the Capital Appeal and for her support. You have been so kind, expressing profound interest in our work, freely giving your time and encouraging both Lord Woolf and I over many years.
We are extremely grateful for your kindness and for having made the journey to Cambridge, and we would be honoured if you said a few words.
Princess Eleena, Sheikh Thani, Excellencies, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Princess Royal."
View further photos of the event here.
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