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Cohesion through Conflict

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

Making productive use of religious differences in society

Interreligious project "Cohesion through Conflict" starts with lecture by thesociologist Armin Nassehi

Modern societies are characterized by their differentiation and diversity. They produce conflicts and crises that have to be dealt with in the mode of democratic negotiation. However, sustainable overall solutions seem hardly achievable, because the different logics of perception and action of social actors cannot permanently be synchronized. The question thus is: How can social cohesion be imagined and promoted in the face of an irreducible plurality?

The newly founded network "Religion & Democracy" addresses this problem from the perspective of religious communities. What contributions can they make to a democratic culture? Under the programmatic project title "Cohesion through Conflict," the network partners will conduct and reflect on interreligious discussions in the coming years with the aim of highlighting the potential for understanding offered by civilized disputes. Conflict is deliberately stripped of its negative connotation here and instead becomes visible as a democratic promise. As a driving force, it can have a pacifying effect balancing competing religious claims.

The public launch of the project took place at a conference on April 4th and 5th at the Catholic Academy in Berlin. Its director Joachim Hake diagnosed in his opening speech: "The honest search for community all too often settles for blind formulas of compromise, a rhetoric of consensus or a pale generality that does justice neither to the richness of the individual religions nor to their inner and outer contradictions. Here the network 'Religion & Democracy' provides an alternative approach." The sociologist Prof. Dr. Armin Nassehi, who was chosen as a guest speaker because the guiding question of the debate derives from system theory, questioned the productive power of the concept of cohesion and, in contrast, pleaded for difference. Descriptively, this means first of all: "Politics must act, but religion can experience." This difference is fruitful, he said, because, in conflict situations, religion can use different themes than politics - mercy, for example. "Reckoning with people's weaknesses is incredibly important in crises." Such forms of experience could be referred to by actors who have to make collectively binding decisions. This is how the opportunity for a communicative exchange between religion and politics emerges. In his closing remarks, however, Prof. Nassehi's said that this was not a solution either, but only a different formulation of the problem. The subsequent panel of network partners emphasized the relevance of interreligious dialogues for people’s lives and thus stressed its existential personal level.

On the second day of the event, the network partners and selected experts discussed the three main topics of the project, namely the relationship of religion to culture, social diversity, and political education. The debate about the philosopher Achille Mbembe, for example, was used to examine the relationship between anti-Semitism and postcolonialism - in terms of both content and form of the debate. In the face of factual social plurality, the panelists discussed the role of speaker positions in dialogues, ascriptions of identities to minorities, and perspectives of learning in dealing with complexity. Finally, in the context of interreligious democracy education, the focus was on creating spaces, such as academies, in which believers can assume social responsibility as citizens. A leitmotif that emerged in all the discussions was the importance dispute being oriented toward gaining knowledge ("machloket"), which helps to overcome "plurality incompetence" and to shape society in a productive manner.

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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