December 1999

No 211

A major and recurrent problem in Europe today is the reconstitution of societies which have become ethnically divided in the wake of civil war following the collapse of former states, as in Bosnia and Kosovo.

This year, the University of Leicester's Centre for the History of Religions, Inter-Faith Dialogue and Pluralism is to devote its annual Singhvi Lecture to the theme of multicultural societies as the key challenge of our time.

In Leicester, families whose origins lie outside the UK represent over 30 per cent of the inner city population, but all are recognized equally as citizens and have developed formal and informal ways of living together in conditions of peace and justice. The situation in some other parts of the world is very different: the development of a stable, pluralist, multicultural society is not inevitable - and as events in Bosnia and Kosovo demonstrate, once such societies have been destroyed, they are very difficult to rebuild.

Delivering the public lecture on Wednesday, December 8, 1999, in the New Building, Lecture Theatre One, at 5.30pm is Professor John Rex - a renowned international expert on racial and ethnic minorities and race prejudice.

Professor Rex, who was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, taught at the Universities of Birmngham, Leeds and Warwick before becoming becoming Director of the Social Science Research Council's Research Unit on Ethnic Relations between 1979 and 1984. Professor Rex was Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations between 1984 and 1990. Since 1990 he has been Professor Emeritus at the University of Warwick.

A prolific author, Professor Rex was a UNESCO Experts' Committee member on the nature of Race and Race Prejudice, 1967; president of the International Sociological Association's Research Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities, 1974-82. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, the University of Cape Town, and New York University, and has also lectured in many European and American institutions.

"The aim of this lecture is to suggest that both in the conduct of foreign affairs and in our domestic and local politics the creation of democratic multicultural societies is the major challenge of the times in which we live," explained the Centre's Director, Professor Richard Bonney.

"Racial prejudice and religious bigotry may continue, but most people in the UK would accept that we should live in a harmonious society. The price of that harmony is an acceptance of multiculturalism. In Northern Ireland, the barriers of a partitioned society have yet to fall and there are many obstacles to the creation of a harmonious society where equal respect is given to different religio-cultural traditions.

"There are formidable obstacles to the construction of a new Europe which embraces democratic multiculturalism because this often seems to challenge perceived notions of the nation state and national identity. Yet if we are to have a democratic Europe, where people enjoy equal rights under the law, then there really is no alternative but to take on board pluralism as the essential civic ethic: I cannot enjoy my freedom of worship, or my right to wear a cultural symbol unless you are allowed to do so too.

"Professor Rex's lecture is particularly timely because although the challenges and obstacles are formidable, the task of creating democratic multicultural societies is fundamentally important for all our futures. I greatly look forward to hearing him draw upon his unique fund of knowledge and experience."

For further information please contact Department of History, University of Leicester, tel 0116 252 2800.

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Last updated: 16 December 1999 12:08
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