null In the Spotlight: Meera Baindur


In the May 2022 edition of our In the Spotlight series, we interview Meera Baindur, Academy Interreligious Cooperation for Peace (IRCP) course instructor and developer and esteemed member of our Global Pool of Experts.

Josie Hough (JH): Meera, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It’s always interesting to hear what our team does behind the scenes, particularly this month as we celebrate both the International Day of Living Together in Peace, and the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, two commemoration days that I feel closely link to your work on the IRCP courses. First of all, can you tell me a little about your background, and how it led you to

Meera Baindur (MB): I’m a philosopher by training and I teach philosophy too, specializing in Hindu philosophy. I have also long been involved in environmental and social activism, particularly fighting the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which punishes LGBTQ+ communities. The best way to challenge things like this, we have found, is to gather different religious leaders and form an interfaith movement. The interfaith movement took me to the YATRA programme (Young Adults Training for Religious Amity) of the World Council of Churches, where I was giving lessons about Hinduism and talking about interfaith.

Being involved in the interfaith movement drew the attention of, as they were developing their curriculum for the Interreligious Cooperation for Peace courses. So, I guess my expertise as a scholar and philosopher and in religious studies, plus working in the interfaith movement as an activist helped draw my path towards working with Amélé [Ekué, Academic Dean] reached out and we clicked – I’ve been with ever since.

JH: So how long have you been with now?

MB: Since 2019. I was initially brought on board to design and teach the Hindu and Jain related components of the course, but it has actually worked out that all of us pitch in together for different modules.

JH: Sounds like a truly interfaith and interreligious collaboration! What has your experience been since joining as Academy instructor and course developer?

MB: What stands out from my experience has been working with such a diverse, international group. It’s really interesting to work with scholars from all over the world – sometimes I feel like I’m working for the UN!

Another thing is that you truly feel part of the community. Once I started working here, I got access to the seminars, the different events that were organized. I also got in touch with my country office, here in Bangalore, and Rajula, who runs the India Regional Office, started involving me in the local programme.

I really felt, for the first time, that this course was actually going to impact people exactly where it was needed. It guides people who are going out in the field to interact with different cultures, who will put their learnings into practice. This is something that sets the course apart from other courses I’ve worked on: you can really see its impact.

JH: It must be so rewarding to see that participants are really benefiting from their learning. This leads me to my next question: what would you say are the key opportunities and challenges of the IRCP courses?

MB: One of the biggest USPs of the course is in its design: it’s so participatory. It’s not just content and an exam: the content is multimedia, participants are invited to reflect, and the assignments are very creative.

If you choose the Certification track, this course is going to benefit your career in real terms. And not just for those working in voluntary organisations: if you’re part of a big, multinational company which is setting up somewhere else in the world with a culture very different from yours, the course teaches you the basics, gives you the vocabulary to interact and communicate with people from diverse cultures different to your own.

The course is international, it’s accessible, it’s simplified so that all people can understand it and it’s universally adaptable across careers. It has self-learning modules and live instruction sessions, which I think are one of the key parts of the courses. People from all over the world come together on one platform to share their experiences – the human experience.

JH: I’ve heard many positive testimonials about the live sessions – they seem to be a favourite experience on Academy courses for many students and instructors too. I imagine you learn quite a lot! Why do you think it is so important that people study this course?

MB: There are individual ethics, which we talk about in philosophy, and then there are also the collective ethics of a society, the social ethics. This course centres on social ethics. Religion is very close to peoples’ hearts, to their core identities. It can be a great source of conflict and division, but it can also be the greatest source of union, especially in times of crisis. It may be easy for people to fight over religion, but it’s also very easy for people of different religions to come together over shared values and really make a difference. It’s this idea that you can transform something that often has a negative impact on society into a positive. Another key factor of the course are its practical components. It teaches listening and vocabulary for cross-cultural and interreligious dialogue and peace negotiations.

JH: Absolutely, impactful learnings on multiple levels. On that note, what would you say has been your most impactful activity with

MB: I would say two things. Firstly, the course itself. I would say one of the most important things I’ve done is to translate ethics into a socially viable activity. This universalization was very intellectually rewarding for me. Also, the sharing of experiences from diverse contexts: hearing about the experience of women in Germany, about youth advocacy in Africa, about patriarchy, all of this sharing of perspectives enriches the course and has enriched my own life – a form of cultural training.

The other part of my work with that I feel has been most impactful has been participating in this huge conference organized by India. I gave a session on ethics from Indian literature to an audience of hundreds of people and received a lot of really good feedback for that. I look forward to taking part in the next conference taking place in June as well.

JH: What motivates you in your role?

MB: What motivates me is love. I hold the four virtues of Buddhism very close to my heart. Loving-kindness (maitrī/mettā); compassion (karuṇā), empathetic joy (muditā), equanimity (upekṣā/upekkhā) – I believe all of them can be summarized by love, and that is what motivates me. From love comes this joy of sharing, so when I go out to teach, to share knowledge, I feel like I’m making a difference.

I truly believe in transformation, that everyone is capable of transformation – we can’t teach people how to change, but we can give them the tools to do so. Teaching philosophy gives the greatest transformation of values in all of education. People say if you teach a man to fish, you’ve taken care of him for the rest of his life… if you teach him to be a philosopher, you’ve taught him to teach fishing to others – you’ve taught him to think through life, you’ve created a master instead of a student.

JH: Those are two great motivators – love and transformation! For you, aside from diversity, what would you say sets apart as an organisation?

MB: I think the fact that it is an action-based organization with ethics at its core is a very rare thing. And as an organization, it is very self-reflective: it’s not all talk, but action too. Plus, the amount of material and resources that are open access is incredible. I hope more people come and volunteer their copyrighted material to this kind of library so that people can benefit – particularly in the area of ethics!

JH: Exactly, one of the core missions of is making knowledge on ethics accessible and open-access resources are so important in this. Why do you believe ethics in higher education matters?

MB: Higher education targets the future of the world. Giving a strong foundation of ethics, both in the way an institution imparts knowledge and as a standalone topic, is key to shaping how people will go out in the world – and end up running the world. Ethics is the core that allows humans to trust and work with others. After higher education, it’s much harder to bring communities of adults together to teach them.

What’s more, people in higher education are in that frame of mind to learn and they’re also at a very idealistic age. I say this from experience, my own drive for environmental activism started in college – that’s when I started really paying attention to the words that people said to me. Even today I’ll think of what my professors told me back in the 90s! The key stakeholders of the world are there, in higher education, to be impacted.

JH: Exactly! Is there anything else you’d like to add before we say goodbye?

MB: Just that one of the loveliest personal moments for me has been working with Amélé, I really appreciate her compassion and approach. I’ve really learned a lot about leadership from her, I see her as an inspiring, transformational leader. So is Heidi, who I work with on the course. Meeting these beautiful people, Lidia and everyone else on the team, I feel I am part of a real community and look forward to meeting everyone in person! I really look forward to working more with as part of the new university I’m working with, RV University.

JH: The wonderful people of really do make it what it is! And nothing beats meeting people face to face. Thank you, Meera, for taking time out of your day to talk to me. It’s been really lovely learning more about what (and who!) inspires you and your perspective on philosophy and ethics.