The race riots of the 1960s made such an impact on billionaire Peter Lim that he has donated some of his millions to studies to help maintain the peace Singapore now enjoys.
The 61-year-old has given $3 million to set up the Peter Lim Professorship in Peace Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), which has been matched by the Government.
With the $6 million professorship, an expert will be brought in to lead a new RSIS programme to develop the curriculum and research strategies in peace studies.
Mr Lim lived through two race riots in Singapore, in 1964 and 1969, with violent clashes between the Malays and the Chinese that left more than 600 people injured and 40 dead.
Singapore is now an attractive place to do business in. "But we cannot take this peace for granted," he told The Straits Times.
Living with his family in the predominantly Chinese area of Bukit Ho Swee, Mr Lim was 11 when the 1964 riots broke out.
"There was a lot of fear and confusion among the children as we overheard the adults talking about the fights between the Chinese and the Malays. There were many arrests and a number of deaths," he recalled.
By the time the 1969 riots struck, he had good friends from various races.
"Things can go wrong very quickly if we are not sensitive or tolerant of people from other races and religions," he said.
The professorship will be part of a new programme to study inter-religious relations.
Indeed, religion has become a major factor in global politics, said the school's dean Barry Desker yesterday.
Religion is a powerful force, capable of causing conflicts and violence that has destabilised societies, as well as laying the foundations for peace-building, he said.
So it is important to study the dynamics of inter-religious interactions, such as the ways in which communities evolve their religious beliefs to adapt to the changing times.
The new Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme will focus on understanding religious diversity and how it is managed.
The programme was launched yesterday by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Marina Mandarin Singapore. Also present was Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean. About 550 religious and community leaders and students attended the event.
The programme will help create new scholars and leaders in inter-religious studies, who will do research on religious diversity and take up graduate courses on world religions, Mr Desker said.
Singapore is an ideal place for such work, as it has been ranked as the world's most religiously diverse society.
The study by the Pew Research Centre in Washington, DC, in April looked at five widely recognised religions - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, whose followers make up three-quarters of the world's population.
This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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