What is new about your approach?
Tamer: It is a new approach to scholarship, because we do not treat the concepts in the respective religions separately but rather simultaneously. Our colleagues discuss the contents with one another in-depth at the conferences. The entire project has a discursive structure. It goes beyond academic analysis of the individual themes to address how we can learn from one another and establish links between how the concept is seen in our own and the two other religions.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
Tamer: Take for example the concept of revelation. When a Christian theologian addresses the term revelation within the framework of the project, he admittedly does so at first from the internal perspective of Christianity, but not without then considering how the term is understood in Judaism and Islam. The same applies conversely to Jewish and Muslim scholars. An example of how important these links are: in the Middle Ages, Jewish thinking made crucial advances within the context of an Arab culture dominated by Islam.
Does this mean that the religions are closer to each other than many people think?
Tamer: Yes and no. They are indeed more closely related than is commonly believed. And yet there are also far-reaching differences that many people are not aware of. In a superficially conducted interreligious dialogue, the impression may arise that we are all much more similar in our beliefs than we once thought, but impressions can be deceptive. It is true in some cases, but not true in many others. We don't merely want to uncover similarities here. We also want to point out differences so that they are recognised and then also accepted. We are after objective insights. That is the best way to respect each other.
So the aim is to establish what the differences are – and then?
Tamer: The goal is not only to determine the differences, but also, on the basis of the similarities and differences, to respect the other person in the way he or she wants to be understood. As a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or non-believer, I need to know how the other person defines herself or himself religiously and acknowledge this otherness. It is not merely a matter of indifferent tolerance. We need a higher level than tolerance, namely recognition and acceptance, without trying to gloss over differences. The motto of the project is an ancient Arabic proverb, according to which 'man is the enemy of what he does not know'.
What do you think of the status of interreligious dialogue today?
Tamer: It certainly has a higher profile today than it did a few decades ago. There are numerous dialogue initiatives and forums, which are mainly organised by the religious institutions or by individuals with strong religious convictions, for example Cafe Abraham in Erlangen, initiated by Jewish, Christian and Muslim students. The initiative has now also branched out to other cities. Foundations and policymakers are promoting dialogue. But it is also very important that people of different confessions talk informally with each other about matters of faith, for example during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, or at Christmas time.
But is that enough?
Tamer: We undoubtedly have some catching up to do. I would, however, like to stress at this point that we are not an initiative for interreligious dialogue. We are scholars doing basic research, a kind of archaeology of religious knowledge. As scholars, we want to do everything in our power to attain and disseminate insights on these issues and to contribute in this way to combatting radicalisation and religious fanaticism while fostering social cohesion. In our project, scholarship puts itself at the service of society.