Interfaith Dialogue 2010
In 2010 the Interfaith Dialogue project organized five panel discussions and one lecture during the 14thannual Forum 2000 Conference entitled "The World We Want to Live In" which was held in Prague on October 10–12, 2010.
Between Religious Xenophobia, Tolerance and Dialogue
October 11, 2010, Academy of Sciences
Moderator: Surendra Munshi
Guests: Michael Melchior, José Casanova, Joseph Maïla, Hasan Abu Nimah, Grace Davie
Surendra Munshi discussed the meaning of the title of the Forum 2000 conference this year: “The World We Want to Live In”. He asserted that the title inherently implies what we don't want, what we do want and how to avoid what we don't want. Munshi asked in what ways secularization promotes religious tolerance and how we can peacefully coexist in an interconnected world.
Michael Melchior said religion is not necessarily the answer to humanity’s problems and that religion is the main dimension of the conflicts in the world. He went on to say that it is very easy to use the religious card to turn mistrust into hatred, stating "hatred is the cancer of all human relations, and hatred disguised as religious superiority jeopardizes any noble aspect of religion, wiping away the face of God and leading to the alienation of the other.” He said when religion takes over any sense of personal responsibility, it creates a mentality of us against them. "What has happened in recent years is that God has been hijacked." Melchior believes that the delicate balance between the particular and the universal is being broken down, and that when this happens religion becomes an act of egoism and leads to the worst acts of humankind. He urges "We are a global world that doesn't really have any advantages of globalism as a whole. We know less about each other than we did before." He believes that maintaining the balance is possible but stated "we can build something new, without giving up who we are.”
José Casanova supported Melchior’s opening remarks by stating religion is the main source of intolerance and xenophobia. He quoted a public opinion poll that shows how a majority of the population believes that religion is intolerant and creates conflict. He stated the totalitarian hijacking of God for our own purpose is a part of hubris. Casanova believed that Europe is just now beginning once again to believe in religious pluralism.
Touching on Casanova's point, Munshi said that with globalization, hubris can come to us in different forms, not only Western, but also Eastern civilizations. In order to live in diversity, we should listen to voices from different cultures.
Joseph Maila believed there is an increasing trend towards interfaith dialogue, while on the other hand, there is increasing religious tension. He asserted that religion is important in providing a vision of the world and that in order to preserve that, we must avoid the politicization of religion. We must avoid making religion the definer of common loyalty, and we cannot allow it to replace citizenship. "Religion is the identity of the self and one's own beliefs. It has nothing to do with politics."
Hasan Abu Nimah discussed the issue of religion and politics and the influence of religion on our lives. After attending hundreds of conferences, he still isn't sure if religion is the problem or the solution. He talked about his childhood spent in a village outside Jerusalem, and how he grew up knowing as much about Islam as he did about Christianity. At that point, religion was a unifying factor, but it has now become a tool of violence.
Grace Davie said that two contradictory things are happening at the same time. There is continuing secularization and yet the increasing presence of religion in the public debate. She felt that we've met this challenge with ignorance, which is proved by the quality of public debate on religion. Davie argued that the role of the state should be to improve religious education. If a person can speak in an informed and articulate way about religion, this can combat religious stereotypes.
Munshi ended the panel by saying that unless we can unify and discover what we can create together we will only repeat the mistakes of past conservatives and fundamentalists. "There cannot be a dialogue between deaf people. We must open our ears and listen to others."
Religion and Foreign Policy
October 11, 2010, Institut Francais
Moderator: Pierre Lévy
Panelists: Jiří Schneider, Joseph Maïla, Michael Melchior, William Cook
The panel discussed the issue of religion and the role that it plays in an increasingly globalized world. How much should religion affect the foreign policy of a nation-state? The themes introduced by the moderator were Islam and the role of religion in conflicts, Western culture and the role of Christianity, and religion in international affairs.
Joseph Maïla elaborated on the sequence of ideology and religion seen in post-totalitarian countries. He regarded religion as something mobilizing the human spirit and heart of the people of the former USSR and Yugoslavia, which fell apart. He illustrated it by saying, "We no longer live in Thomas Hobbes’ situation." States are not entities we can rely on in this context. A new conflict is coming forward, the conflict of identities where no strong idea of citizenship has evolved, and religious and ethnic identities are now taking over. Where governments are falling apart, religion now has the chance to play a major role.
Jiří Schneider highlighted the role of religion in international affairs. He began by painting religion as a facet of international relations that needs to be taken seriously by diplomats. “What is at stake is how to teach, not only diplomats but everyone, to look at conflicts in the context of religion.” He provided examples of international events where awareness of religion is vital to understanding them: occurrences such as the fanaticism behind 9/11, the influence of the Theology of Liberation in Latin America, the optimism during the papacy of John Paul II and more recently the Tea Party movement in the U.S. today. In conclusion, Mr. Schneider said that he was pleased that his French colleagues have begun this mission by creating an institutional framework for religion in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
William Cook, who "educates citizens" at the State University of New York, focused on the human memory. He provided a division of this memory into three kinds: remembering the moments of greatness in a nation's history, remembering wrongs inflicted on us, and finally the suffering that we have caused others. He says that world leaders and the media need to help us to remember well and fully while at the same time teaching us to “forget constructively.” He concluded with a quote from the book of Isaiah saying: "Forget the former things; See, I am doing a new thing!”
Rabbi Michael Melchior slightly disagreed with Mr. Cook's Biblical interpretation and emphasized the role of religion in the modern world. One of the problems of the Middle East peace process has been its avoidance of the element of religion. Ignorance of this element frees the way for totalitarian elementsto emerge. He provided counter-examples to this by examining the tolerance that can be seen in places of conflict such as in Jerusalem and suggested that it is vital to current international affairs. “This is not a fringe issue. It is a question of life and death of the future of humanity.”
Although no common conclusion was reached, there was an acknowledgment that the importance of religion in foreign policy needs to be recognized. This could be achieved by recognizing the power of religion in society. As Rabbi Melchior put it, “Religion is not just something for religious places. Religion is now on the center of the platform whether we like it or not.”
Territory and Religion
October 12, 2010, Žofín Palace
Moderator: Vartan Gregorian
Panelists: Rabbi David Rosen, Shirin Ebadi, Satish Kumar, Fyodor Lukyanov, Hasan Abu Nimah
Keynote speaker Chief Rabbi David Rosen opened the panel by referring to the “intricate and inextricable conflict between territory and religion” and questioned the meaning of territory, linking it to identity and suggesting that it holds a meaning greater than geographical area. He referred to the recent Swiss controversy regarding the building of minarets as an illustration of the “multicultural challenge for Western society”, that is, to what degree old societies should accommodate the new. Addressing the conference theme, Rabbi Rosen said that for the world to be what we want it to be, “we require a new social contract that can facilitate an interaction with those claiming a territorial space in a broader context” and that religion had a critical role to play in its definition. He concluded that, in a litany of global examples, “conflicts portrayed as religious are actually territorial”; in areas where religion is incorporated into power structures it becomes part of the problem rather than the solution. Looking to the future, Rabbi Rosen felt that it was critical to recognize the importance of identity in religious and territorial conflicts. To move past the divisiveness we encounter today, we must work to achieve “a universalism that comes out of our particularities,” and that “only universalism can actually heal society”.
Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah injected a Middle Eastern perspective on religion and territory. On the interference of religion in territorial disputes, Nimah found “the issue is how we react, how we manipulate our religions and make them either a problem or solution.” Nimah concentrated on the rise of identity-based religiosity and the social practice of religion despite a failure to incorporate ethical values into decision-making. In regional disputes, Nimah concluded, “the complexity of the situation makes it difficult to separate what is the state and what is the religion,” and was not optimistic about the future.
Russian journalist Fyodor Lukyanov followed, asserting that “globalization brings us back to pre-nation-state politics” when major players justified their actions with religious doctrine. The political atmosphere regarding cultural and religious identity is changing and as a result there are consequences. He remarked on the emergence of liberal xenophobia, which he referred to as a “new phenomenon which can profoundly change the political landscape in Europe.” Lukyanov praised the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church who, when visiting neighboring nations, underlined the common heritage they all share rather than the differences between Russian and Non-Russian Orthodox countries. The ongoing conflicts, he stated, are why now more than ever, real interreligious dialogue in Europe is critical.
The final speaker was Satish Kumar, who distinguished between the two types of religion: religious experience and institutionalized, organized religion. The latter is “associated with power and territory and will always be part of the problem.” Kumar continued by recounting his experiences crossing the Indian-Pakistani border, calling into question how we define identity. He charged that identities of territory and formal religion are small and cannot continue to dominate our politics; to combat this we must “identify as human beings.” Addressing the global challenges we face, Kumar concluded: “You cannot solve the political problems and the territorial problems with a narrow identity. Rise above. Transcend.”
Religion, Globalization and Secularization
October 12, 2010, Žofín Palace
Moderator: Doris Donnelly
Panelists: José Casanova, Gilles Kepel, Tomáš Halík, Grace Davie
José Casanova began with a “bird’s eye view of global processes” regarding religion, globalization, and secularization. Social and political scientists were wrong in thinking that religion was a thing of the past and that the rest of the world would follow the modern process. Instead, the world is becoming simultaneously more religious and more secular. “All world religions are being transformed radically today in diverse and manifold ways,” said Casanova.
Mr. Casanova defined secularization in three fundamental ways: as a separation of state and religious spheres, the decline of religious beliefs and practice, and the privatization of religion. The trajectory of secularization is uncertain, but what it has translated into is a more individualized practice. Today, secularization means that there are more options for any type of fulfillment to be found or created.“Anyone can be initiated into any ancestral cult,” he asserted. The individualist factor in secularization is a symptom of modernity. Religions today have become more secular through a growing global trend of mutual recognition of cultures and universalistic praise, declared Casanova. Today denominationalism, the “system of mutual recognition of groups within society,” both deters and encourages the rise of religion. The definition of religion is changing as the secular and the religious continue to grow dependently within the changing world.
Gilles Kepel, sociologist and political scientist, framed his remarks within the rhetoric of both religion and the search for collective identity. He opened with the example of the World Cup, which France lost due to what many believed was “communalist fragmentation based on diverging identities.” Today, class stratification of society has been unable to accept the changes in the post-industrial world, making it difficult for many communities to find their identity within the changing system. This is historically a drastic change: “What made a Greek a Greek was not where he was born, but that he went to the Palaestra.” explained Kepel. Instead of nationality, inclusion was associated with culture and values, of which religion was a part. The change in religion today is part of the attempt to create a certain identity in order to relate with the nation state.
Tomáš Halík spoke of the interconnectedness of Christianity and secularism in European society. He found it significant that “traditional Christianity has led a symbiotic existence for two thousand years with the only culture that seems to be secular – European modernity.” Father Halík pointed out that faith is intermixed with western culture, and remarked that “it is only Christianity that stops the secular culture from turning into a religion.” He mentioned the tension that exists between the two ideologies, which could lead to either thoughtful discourse or “trench warfare”, depending on the context. Religion and secularism cannot and should not go their separate ways, despite what extremists on both sides of the spectrum would have the world believe. To both, the “greatest threat comes from mutual demonization.”
Finally, Grace Davie, sociologist and religious analyst, sought to emphasize the difference between the perception of religion and the reality of it. She did not believe that “God is back” since that would necessarily imply that God went away. In disabusing the audience of the notion that the arrival of Muslims is a relatively new phenomenon in Europe, she pointed out that they have been here for decades, but were then known as Algerians and Pakistanis. Ms. Davie questioned “why political, economic, and social science got it wrong for so long,” and believed that the perception of religion in academia may still be wrong. Various disciplines will have to reexamine their thinking with regard to religion, which may constitute a “radical revolution in social scientific thinking.”
Religion: An Element of Democratic Change?
October 12, 2010, Academy of Sciences
Moderator: Anna Teresa Arco
Panelists: Shirin Ebadi, Tomáš Halík, Gilles Kepel, José Luis García Paneque
The panel discussed the ways in which religion can help democracy. Moderator Anna Teresa Arcoopened the conversation by suggesting that even in Islam, religion and democracy are not always opposed. She then posed the question to the panelists of whether or not religion is generally a characteristic of democracy.
Shirin Ebadi began the discussion by centering on her experience and the topic of the compatibility of Islam with democracy. She is curious as to when and why this started being asked of Islam and why no one has asked this about other religions such as Christianity or Judaism. Ebadi did admit that some of the current Islamic radicalism has given rise to a phobia of Islam which is regrettable. In Islam, as in all religions, there are different interpretations of the religion and we cannot associate the behavior of a handful with all Muslims. We should not view all those who profess Islam as the same because, “in order to make better judgments of one another we have to better understand one another.”
José Luis García Paneque from Cuba provided a short outline of the history of the Catholic Church in Cuba. He spoke of how it had suffered during the Revolution and about the slight improvement during the visit of the Pope in 1998. Even if it must be defended and supported from abroad today, he believes that the Church could be a “driving force of democratic change in the future.”
Gilles Kepel elaborated on Ebadi’s arguments as he looked at the idea of who within a religion is authorized to speak on its behalf and who is allowed to interpret it. He then laid out a working definition of Ebadi’s presented phobia of Islam. “If we are describing Islamophobia as discriminating against someone because they are Islamic then there is no doubt that there is no place for it in a democratic society.” If that is not the case, then it is necessary to have the ability to look critically at religions because if we cannot do so then we are not living in a democratic society.
Finally Tomáš Halík shared his own experience of the Church in the totalitarian Czechoslovakia of the late 1980's after being taken by Stalinists as an example of total atheisation of the state. He highlighted the prophetic role of the Church in society, and its ability to desanctify secular power and thus be an element in preventing totalitarianism. Lastly, he pointed out the changing role of the Catholic Church in Western society, where it is no longer a power but a voice. “Masaryk once said: Democracy is a discussion and it is our duty to be a competent voice in this discussion".
There then followed a vigorous discussion, in which each of the panelists proceeded with their own thesis, exchanging their points of view. Shirin Ebadi warned against western secularism and even atheism as a source of new ideology. Halík spoke about “healthy secularism” which allows us to believe in compatibility rather than conflict between secularism and religion. Gilles Kepel took another position, claiming that democracy does not have its roots in the Christian tradition but had existed earlier. As a final point, Tomáš Halík emphasized the importance of Christian universalism in the formation of a modern democracy.
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