From religious tolerance to acceptance
Professor Tamer, what approach are you taking in the Key Concepts project?
Georges Tamer: We have compiled a list of key concepts in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These concepts will be discussed by renowned scholars of all three religions at conferences and elaborated further, and the results published in plain language. The first volumes will be issued in 2019.
Each chapter follows a uniform scheme. The topics covered include the terminology used and the historical development of the concepts as well as their many facets, that is, how varied the perception of these concepts is even within a single religion. The main focus is then on the commonalities and differences in the interpretation of these concepts in the three monotheistic religions.
What concept are you currently working on?
Tamer: At the moment we are preparing conferences on the concepts of "time" and "history" (12-14 December of this year) to be followed by the concepts of "human being", "sexuality", "body", "soul", "violence" and "just war" in 2019. We are also busy at work on publications treating the concepts already dealt with, especially the volume on freedom from a Jewish, Christian and Islamic point of view. There is a separate volume dedicated to each concept. The structure is uniform: an introduction, three chapters and an epilogue highlighting similarities and differences and outlining the significance of the term in contemporary discourse.
How are the results being disseminated?
Tamer: There is a website that presents summaries in German, English and Arabic in the form of a report on each of the nine conferences held so far. On our YouTube channel there are short descriptions of the concepts – in particular in Arabic – to make our results accessible to those who have little knowledge of German, explicitly for the benefit of refugees as well. We're also on Facebook and Twitter.
Please give an example of a concept.
Tamer: Take the concept of "human being" in the three monotheistic religions. What they all have in common is that they regard God as the creator of all beings and thus also of humankind. But while Judaism puts the focus on observing religious laws in order to lead a life pleasing to God, in Christianity man is freed from the guilt of Adam and Eve through Jesus Christ's incarnation and death on the cross.
Islam, which sees man as God's representative on earth (khalifa), does not recognise "original sin" in this form and accordingly does not see man as in need of redemption. The Koran thus denies the death of Jesus on the cross and emphasises the observance of the Sharia as the way to Paradise. These are not mere nuances, but serious differences with regard to the understanding of man in the three religions.
How did the idea for this research project arise?
Tamer: It was based on my experience that participants in interreligious dialogue often use the same term without realising that the concept behind it is understood in a different way by the others. I have been active in this field for many years and have noticed how things frequently go unclarified: what does my Muslim, Jewish or Christian interlocutor mean when he speaks of family, sexuality, revelation, state, society or freedom? These key concepts form the very foundation for these religions.