Christianity and Islam in dialogue

Forget ″them and us″!

Interfaith dialogue can only succeed if its actors stop fomenting value judgements from history. Essay by Alexander Goerlach

Dialogue between the religions is a tough call at a moment in history that our descendants will perhaps one day call the "age of identity". In this epoch of distinction, in which "the others" stand against "us", some regard an exchange on the subject of commonalities strange or outlandish. For others, it may just seem futile.

An unmistakable minority even perceives this dialogue as a threat, because fear of "the others" is its currency and a successful understanding would not fit the mould.

In the global game of "them and us", the major antagonists are viewed as the Christian world and the Islamic hemisphere. This has, among other things, to do with the bestseller by Samuel Huntington, which predicted the decisive battle of the future to be a "battle of the civilisations" between the crescent and the cross.

But the issue is far more complex: look for example beyond the monotheistic horizon to India, where a nationalist governing party specifies the identity of the world's largest democracy as Hindu, in a bid to target and stigmatise the Muslim minority.

What defines religion anyway?

This age of identity is occurring at a time when many are talking about the "return of religion". The modern European dictum espoused the theory that improved education and prosperity would promote the secularisation of society and the world, resulting in the eventual disappearance of religion.

Muslims in India (photo: Reuters)
India′s second-class citizens: ″Looking beyond the monotheistic horizon points for example to India, where a nationalist governing party specifies the identity of the world's largest democracy as Hindu, in a bid to target and stigmatise the Muslim minority," writes Goerlach

The issue with this theory was, and is, that it did not clearly emphasise what is actually meant by religion. This is the only way to explain the discrepancy between so-called Christian values currently enjoying great resonance in opinion polls in the Occident, while rates of church attendance have sunk to their lowest since the French Revolution.

Both are subsumed under the term religion. And precisely because no explanation was given as to what kind of religion would disappear with the triumphal march of the modern age, it remains unclear to this day what is actually meant by secularisation.

When people talk about religion as identity, for example in the concept of the Christian Occident, what religion are they referring to? In Catholic Poland, sentiments against Syrian refugees are openly stoked, despite the fact that the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has instructed all the vicarages and monasteries in the Old World to take in one Syrian (Muslim) family.

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