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Theological Origins of Political Problems

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

A Discussion with Dan Diner on the Tension between Anti-Antisemitism and Postcolonialism

A public panel discussion yesterday evening at the Catholic Academy in Berlin was devoted to the ambivalent relationship between anti-anti-semitism and post-colonialism. The debate had recently become viral due to the scandal surrounding the Documenta 15. Both discourses, as the host Prof. Dr. Elad Lapidot introduced, are united by the resistance against forms of discrimination. But their connection, he said, is at the same time characterized by rivalry, polemics, and antagonism. Much is at stake here: the German and Christian self-image, positions on racism, or the relationship to Judaism. The discussion showed that, to chart this tangled discursive landscape, one must uncover the theological roots of contemporary political and cultural conflicts. This is one of the main objectives of the interreligious program "Cohesion through Conflict," in the framework of which the event took place.

The guest speaker was the historian Prof. Dr. Dan Diner, who framed his statement according to the leitmotif of "differentiation". Polemically, he ventured, "If Churchill was only a racist, Hitler did not exist." Postcolonial iconoclasm that disregards Churchill's achievement in liberating Europe from Hitler's fascism thus devalues fundamental political differences. From a universal-historical position of distance, Diner pointed out blind spots in colonial discourse. How, for example, to deal with the Ottoman Empire, which was both a representative of the colonized Orient and a colonizing conqueror? Using historical constellations, Diner showed how theological semantics are instrumentalized in the political struggle for power. For instance, in the discussion of the Holocaust, the motif of the "chosenness" of the Jews is prominent.

Prof. Dr. Christina von Braun explored under the heading of "interconnectedness" how, for example, National Socialist categories of purity of blood and race have semantic predecessors in the Spanish colonizers of Latin America. Finally, Prof. Dr. Gregor Maria Hoff placed the relationship between postcolonialism and anti-semitism in a current context. To this end, he examined linguistic and pictorial codes identified as anti-semitic in the recent Documenta art exhibition as well as the controversial theses of the postcolonial philosopher Achille Mbembe, who describes Israel as an apartheid state.

The bottom line: generalizing comparisons prevent semantic accuracy and historical robustness. Differentiation and an acute awareness of the theological undercurrents in political debates are needed.

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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