At Reset DOC, Marco Cesario provides an overview of a recent roundtable discussion held at the Bilgi University in Istanbul, in which participants were asked whether religion was “an integrating or dividing factor in societies of the third millennium?”
In the course of the debate, Fred Dallmayr [(professor at the Political Science and Philosophy Department at Notre Dame University, in Indiana)] emphasised the centrality of the religious message in our societies, starting with the identification of the idea of God with the concepts of truth and virtue. Following a path that appeared to follow in the footsteps of the philosophical ideas of Emmanuel Lévinas, Dallmayr underlined the centrality of a culture that sees ‘otherness’ as an indispensible condition for abandoning an egotistic and individualistic perspective of human communities. In this sense the religious message is not a dividing element but rather one of unity, with the ethical and transcendent élan it adds to a society’s aspirations. The central message provided by monotheistic religions consists of the prospect of divine love as the universal reflection of particular love for humankind.
Therefore, the problem appears to be linked to the changing interpretation of the religious message since the historical-religious perspective has been created by human beings, and hence is subject to political manipulation of various kinds. To further clarify his thoughts, Dallmayr used a metaphor of the words, “you are the salt of the earth.” The existence of humankind is indissolubly linked to the earth but is not merged with it. When religion is no longer the salt that gives ‘flavour’ to the earth, but corresponds to the earth itself, then religion enters a sphere it does not belong to and demands to rule over governments and politics. This leads straight to the deformities of theocracy.
[Abdou Filaly-Ansary (former director of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations at the Aga Khan University in London)] instead expressed the belief that religion can provide a different path for collective life. Faced with the crisis experienced by modernity, we are observing a return to religion, especially in the Arab-Muslim world, that results in an important cultural, sociological and ethical framework for addressing collective life. The theorem has worked for millennia and according to Ansary can still work today, albeit with suitable corrections. Religion has the potential for uniting people through its liturgies, traditional postures and the timeless rituals that link our history and sensitivity. Attempts to eliminate the religious substratum mean alienating the community from its own history. According to Ansary religion is the adhesive that unites communities.
Read the full event summary here. The discussion was part of the 2010 Istanbul Seminars, “an annual meeting that seeks to promote, develop and consolidate a network of cultural, intellectual and academic relationships.”