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A conversation about the role of religion in the context of social diversity

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

"What is at stake is something profoundly existential"

How can religious and ideological diversity be dealt with in order to enable productive social cohesion? What conditions and places are needed for this? These questions were addressed yesterday evening at a discussion event in the St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin under the title: "European plurality competence instead of fantasies of cohesion! On the potentials of difference in the interaction of religions, worldviews and society".

The organising parties were DialoguePerspectives: Discussing Religions and Worldviews and the Eugen Biser Foundation. As part of the network "Religion & Democracy", they are involved in the "Cohesion through Conflict" program, which highlights intra- and interreligious fault lines in the three main topics of social diversity, culture and political education. The point of this approach, as Stefan Zinsmeister from the Biser Foundation explained in his welcoming speech, is to strive for cohesion not by omitting disputes, but by resolving them in a civil manner. Orientation is provided by the following three principles: prohibition to overwhelm, imperative to allow controversy and subject orientation (Beutelsbach Consensus). Jo Frank from the “DialoguePerspectives” emphasized that pluralism itself is the best solution for dealing with plurality. "Differences are the beginning of the conversation, not its end. We should acknowledge them, but move towards each other by broadening our perspectives and valuing respect instead of humiliation."

The journalist and filmmaker Melina Borčak then discussed with the philosopher of religion and Islamic scholar Prof. Dr. Ahmad Milad Karimi how plurality competence could be trained. Moderated by taz editor Dinah Riese, they took up questions previously submitted by participants and alumni of "DialoguePerspectives". Karimi suggested establishing "peace" as a school subject - as a culture of argumentation against hate and of (spiritual) self-examination. He also defended confession-oriented teaching as an opportunity to engage with religion: "What is at stake is something deeply existential. There are too few spaces for it in society." This also applies to the possibilities of articulating atheistic positions and transforming them into a positive self-image. Borčak argued that the dispute over differences should be conducted on a material rather than a symbolic level. Activist groups working on behalf of minorities should also primarily address the ideological core of discrimination and focus less on linguistic phenomena. Further, she emphasized the importance of law in the containment of conflicts, particularly concerning genocides in their different stages of development.

The audience participated through live digital voting on several guiding questions about the relationship between plural society, ideology, and religion. The before-and-after comparison suggested that the panel discussion had mitigated indecisiveness and helped clarify positions.

More information about the project "Cohesion through Conflict" and the network "Religion & Democracy" can be found below. If you have any questions, feel free to contact A video recording of the April 4 event can be found here.

The network "Religion & Democracy"

- Catholic Academy in Berlin - DialoguePerspectives: Discussing Religions and Worldviews (Potsdam) - Eugen Biser Foundation (Munich) - Center for Intercultural Theology and the Study of Religions, University of Salzburg

Mission Statement:

The program "Cohesion through Conflict" addresses religions as relevant forces of cultural and normative (self-) understanding. Religions inspire by giving space to experiences of transcendence and expectations of meaning. They irritate as their peculiarity has a formative effect on society and they stimulate new perspectives on public concerns. They unfold their productive potential when they release interpretive resources and provide orientation in secular societies.

Against this backdrop, we promote a reflective and open conversation of religious actors and their secular environment that explicitly acknowledges rifts and conflicts. An important reason for this discussion is the growing diversity of religious and ideological views. In light of this development, the program serves as a communication-oriented negotiation over contradictory interpretations of the good life, identity-forming claims of faith, and demands for participation in faith-related policies. Conflict is supposed to become productive as a medium of cohesion. This requires cultivating the ability to have competent debates at the intersections of religion, society, and politics. The goal is peaceful social coexistence.

The "secular age" is accompanied by a rediscovery of religious identity constructions, figures of thought, and impulses for action. This is associated with social tensions. A key to transforming them productively lies in a deeper engagement with religious traditions. That is why interfaith agents are needed who can recognize and solve religious problems related to everyday life. Aware of the impasses and lasting conflicts within interreligious dialogue, we create discussion formats to address prejudices. Understanding grows out of work on shared socio-political challenges in our secular-plural world. The diversity of religious references to the self, the world, and God represents a promise; it can sharpen the view and the acceptance of social differences - and thus strengthen democratic culture.

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