Foreword: Extinct & Living Religions

by Dr. Gunnar Stålsett, Bishop Emeritus
President of Religions for Peace

The Schøyen Collection is a unique gift to everyone fascinated by the mystery that lies at the origins of religions and cultures. As far as is known, this is the only public or private collection, library, or museum world-wide, that actually has made an attempt to form a collection of the various living and extinct religions of the world, and over a period of time nearly as far back as religion itself. This treasure offers us a bridge between the ancient past and the distant future. As it widens our knowledge of ancient cultures, societies and individual life, it enhances our understanding of contemporary expressions of faiths.

At a time when the significance of spirituality and values is beginning to fill a long suffered void in many secularized societies, the awareness of the pluralism of religious roots and traditions is becoming more important. Globalization implies that people of different faiths are learning to coexist outside their previously geographically defined area. Religion is not any longer the lost dimension of statecraft.

Religion represents the long line of memories in the history of nations, sometimes exploited for political aims. To entangle cultural, ethnic and national traditions from genuine religion is a constant challenge in the global work for peace, human dignity and reconciliation. The Schøyen Collection helps us to recognize the significance of our roots as religious communities and individuals and to be humbly aware of the sources from which our faith has sprung.

The human dimension of all religious traditions and their interaction with historic forces of change does not minimize the significance of the mystery of religious experience. It rather fills us with awe and humility to get a glimpse into the thoughts and revelations that constitutes the ever changing cosmos of living faiths. It affirms in a powerful way the uniqueness of the human being as created in the image of God.

It is the vision, enthusiasm and perseverance of one single person and his dedication to religion as a fundamental dimension of human existence that has brought forth this greatest collection of foundational religious documents. It adds to our sense of belonging together in an interdependent world of faiths and cultures. I therefore hope that one day the fullness of this outstanding collection will be available in one place, a library or museum, and thereby made fully accessible for the learned and the ordinary persons alike for our enlightenment, inspiration and wisdom. In the meantime scholars and students of religions may enjoy the web-site access provided by the owner. The World Conference of Religions for Peace has been generously offered to make use of this spiritual fountain in its day to day work to promote tolerance, peace and reconciliation (See www.religionsforpeace.org).

Gunnar Stålsett Oslo, Norway, New Year's Day 2006

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