The two-day Congress of World and Traditional Religions is scheduled to open this week in the new Kazakhstan capital of Astana. It will be the third such congress to be hosted by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev after previous meetings in 2003 and 2006. The conference represents part of a wider effort by Kazakh leaders to position their nation as a meeting ground for the discussion of religious differences.
In attendance will be a Roman Catholic cardinal responsible for interfaith dialogue at the Vatican, the grand imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque of Cairo, various Protestant representatives, and Israel's chief rabbi, among others.
The impressive spectrum expected at the gathering is precisely what Nazarbayev has sought to create: an effort to make Kazakhstan's unique religious openness a lever for influencing the region.
Photo on upper left: The Pyramid of Peace, constructed in 2006 in Astana to represent various different religions. It is conceived as a global center for religious understanding. Here delegates from around the world meet for the trienniel Interfaith Congress. The center also includes a research library and national cultural museum.