International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF)

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), founded in Boston in 1900, is the world’s oldest international interfaith group. Throughout its more than 100 years, Unitarians, liberal Christians, and those known as Free Christians have provided its leadership. Between the two world wars the IARF struggled to define a liberal Christian vision of liberty and tolerance; after World War II it embraced a pluralist view of the world’s religious diversity.

In the last two decades, the IARF has drawn active participants from many religions: Japanese lay Buddhists and Shrine Shinto priests, Indian Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Unitarians, and members of the Ramakrishna Mission and Brahmo Samaj. In 1981 Rissho Kosei-kai’s founder, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, was elected the IARF’s 25th president; its 1984 congress was hosted by Rissho Kosei-kai at its Tokyo headquarters.

The IARF’s 32nd World Congress took place March 26-30 at Fo Guang Shan, the country’s largest Buddhist monastery, in Kaohsiung Prefecture. Some 340 people from 19 countries in North America, Asia, and Europe took part in the congress, whose main theme was “Dignity in Diversity.” Eighty-five representatives of Rissho Kosei-kai took part, led by Chairman Katsunori Yamanoi and Rev. Motoyo Suzuki, director of the Kanagawa District.

On the evening of March 27, a special commemorative service was held to honor the visions of past leaders of the IARF who made distinguished contributions to the organization. In a solemn ceremony, the participants paid tribute to Dr. Dana McLean Greeley, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, Rev. Yukitaka Yamamoto, Rev. Toshio Miyake, Mrs. Carolyn Howlett, and Mr. Punyabratha Roy Chowdhury, among others.

During the international council of the IARF convened March 9-11 at Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, Japan, Rev. Takeshi Kawabata, director of the General Affairs Bureau of Rissho Kosei-kai, was appointed to the Congress Working Party to prepare the 33rd World Congress, to be held in Kochi (Cochin), Kerala State, India, in September 2010. For further information, visit the IARF’s Web site, www.iarf.net/.