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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

Sir David Khalili standing at lectern, mid-lecture

On Thursday 23 May, the Cambridge Interfaith Programme welcomed Professor Sir David Khalili for a keynote lecture exploring “The Art of Peace”. Over the course of 50 minutes, Sir David reflected on his life story and the myriad ways in which his art collecting has enhanced inter-cultural communication and understanding. 

The event was opened by Nazia Habib, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development. As she explained, the lecture sat within a longer programme of activity exploring the systems approaches to contemporary problems. A number of those attending had also taken part in a roundtable, whether exploring faith and peacebuilding or asking questions about philanthropic decision-making.

An authentic citizen of the world

Professor Richard Rex introduced the speaker, identifying Professor Sir David’s significance as a “citizen of the world”. To quote, 

“In his multifarious vocations, as scholar, author, collector, patron, and philanthropist, Professor Sir David Khalili has lived that global citizenship by appreciating the creations and the achievements of his neighbours, delighting in the traditional artistic forms and genres of many national and regional cultures, rejoicing in the variety and diversity of their beauty, and seeking in writing and exhibitions to share that appreciation with the world.”

Art as coexistence

In the lecture, Sir David then demonstrated this authentic and global citizenship with carefully selected items from his many collections. Iteratively and with illustrations, the lecture relayed instances of cultural interactions and coexistence.

Whether in substantiating the influence of Japanese Meiji art on Van Gogh, or preserving manuscripts of world history, the audience could not fail to grasp the broader message: that by collecting, caring for, and interpreting beautiful objects, we also collect and care for our knowledge of human others. Ignorance is a powerful weapon. The invitation to learn about art is itself an invitation to work toward peace.

There was an opportunity for questions, and for those in Cambridge a drinks’ reception. The lecture was livestreamed via Zoom and a recording is now available to watch below or on the Faculty of Divinity YouTube channel.

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