The 2008 Communications Conference participants in front of the Cathedral in Brussels
Around thirty devotees from all over Europe—most old hands at communications work, but some new faces—are expected to attend the 20th annual ISKCON Communications Conference in Radhadesh, Belgium from Friday June 3rd till Monday June 6th.
“ISKCON Communications, or IC, is the ISKCON Ministry responsible for establishing long term relationships with journalists and the media, politicians and government, religious leaders and organizations, scholars and universities, and Hindu leaders and organizations,” explains European Director Mahaprabhu Dasa. “Our aim is to give these groups a clearer understanding of ISKCON, and to establish a much more solid support for the Society to carry out its Mission.”
Each day of the conference will, as is custom, begin with the traditional temple morning program. The presentations and discussion themselves will run from 10:00am until 6:00pm, with a one-and-a-half-hour lunch break.
“We expect the packed program—featuring outside experts as well as many prominent ISKCON scholars and leaders—to be thought-provoking, inspiring, practical and fun,” Mahaprabhu says.
Speakers include International IC Director Anuttama Dasa, who will give presentations on Media Training and IC’s Global Vision and Network; Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies Director Shaunaka Rishi Dasa, who will speak on the History, Ethos, Challenges and Successes of IC Europe; and Rasamandala Dasa, who will moderate a panel discussion on ISKCON and Academia.
One particular issue that will receive some attention at the Conference is how to deal with ISKCON sometime being labeled a cult. Eileen Barker, Director of INFORM in the UK—which aims to provide people with accurate, balanced, and up-to-date information about new or alternative spiritual movements—will speak on Anti-Cult issues. Meanwhile Shaunaka Rishi will lead a panel discussion on ISKCON and the Anti Cult organizations.
“The challenges of Intrafaith dialogue and cooperation will also get plenty of attention, with Rasamandala Prabhu speaking on ISKCON and Hinduism, and scholar Pranava Prabhu speaking on the History of Dialogue within Vaisnavism,” says Mahaprabhu. “Patrick Hanjoul, who is the president of a grassroots interfaith organization called URI Europe, will also speak about the interfaith movement in Europe and how ISKCON devotees can get involved.”
Finally, there will be some strategic planning sessions for Europe, as well as reports from different National Communications Directors, Teams or Representatives.
The conference won’t be all intense intellectual discussion. Attendees will also enjoy entertainment by Parividha Dasa, an actor, singer and songwriter who featured in many mainstream musicals, and served in ISKCON UK’s Bhaktivedanta Players Drama troupe from 1978 to 1985. On the final day, they’ll also go on an excursion to Brussels, to visit various places of historical and spiritual interest and have a picnic together.
“This kind of conference is important because communications is such a crucial service to help the Sankirtan Mission,” Mahaprabhu explains. “Misunderstanding and oposition from the leaders of society can result in the Sankirtan Mission being severly affected in a negative way, and in some cases even stopped—at least temporarily. So to have devotees involved in communications is crucial for the mission of ISKCON.”
He adds, “The hopes of a conference like this one is that devotees get good association from senior devotees experienced in the field, that they develop friendships with other devotees, that they get inspired and trained, and that they share their experiences and activities. And we hope that they have a good time in the process!”