Conclusion

In: Beyond Binaries
Authors:
Klaus von Stosch
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Joshua Ralston
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In our introduction we announced that the wager of this book is that a historical informed comparative theology and ethics offers one way to engage with religious diversity in Europe. In so doing, we wanted to complicate and challenge the dominant binaries that structure academic and public discourse such as divisions between religion – secular, private – public, and Judeo-Christianity – Islam. Let us briefly say why we think that the book showed some ways of overcoming those divisions.

Religion – secular: In Europe’s self-image the secular was developed to counter and domesticate religion. Religion seems to be opposed to the secular and the secular seems to be a danger for religions. In our book you can find counterexamples against these images. Klapheck shows the affirmative power of Talmudic concepts for a plural and democratic society. In other words, she gives an example from Jewish tradition how the secular emerges from within a particular religious tradition. She shows that there are potentials in religion that make the foundations for a secular politics and public stronger. But she does not only show the value of religion for the secular, but also the religious value of the secular. She invites religions to learn from the secular and demonstrates how this is possible within Judaism.

Another dominant part of the European self-image within the binary of religion and the secular is the presupposition that the secular is neutral and a promising space for negotiating religious diversity. Against this prejudice Moyaert develops some arguments that the contexts of the multireligious dialogue within the secular sphere are not neutral but that themselves need to be a subject of the socio-political discourse. Hence, religious and secular traditions are so closely intertwined that it is problematic to use secular ideas as neutral sphere and some of the attempts of using secularity to develop good religions can be seen as a disguised form of liberal Christian dominance. Finally, the concept of the House of One shows how the secular can become a place which brings religions together when it is not outside the religious sphere, but part of its architecture and urban space.

Private – public: Another idea that seems to be dominant in Europe’s self-image is that religion is only relevant to private affairs and personal beliefs. Good religion is supposed to provide spiritual resources for a good life and does not care about politics. Good religion has to be publicly invisible and does not disturb the society. It is obvious that this idea is at odds with the political theologies within all monotheistic religions. Especially the monotheistic critique of idolatry was developed in this book as a stimulating research field to show how much religious traditions can also enrich democratic and pluralist societies with their political interventions. Although it would be too easy to see theology with the task of unmasking and dethroning the idols of our time, it is important to critically accompany the discourses about them and enrich them with ever greater complexity. Rabbinic tradition offers at this point a nuance vision of both shared participation with neighbours and critiques of dehumanising activities. Hence the contributions of Daniel Weiss and Klaus von Stosch make clear that religions have critical potentials that European societies can use for the sake of humanity. If religion only deals with private and personal affairs, the public sphere loses something very important. Lehmkühler’s contribution illustrates how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers and traditions are already productively involved in contributing to public debates across Europe on ethical issues. Thus it is not only the case that religions have something to share for the public sphere, but this is also seen within Europe – more than Europe’s self-image seems to admit.

Judeo-Christianity – Islam: Finally, we discuss in our book the assumption that Islam is opposed to European tradition. In this European self-image the formation of Europe and of its Judeo-Christian roots has been developed in opposition to Islam as the other of Europe. However, Süßmann shows in his chapter that the formation of the idea of a “European Christian civilisation” was in its origin not directed against Islam. Hence the talk of European and Judeo-Christian Civilisation was originally inclusive and not exclusive towards other traditions and cultures. But it is not only the case that othering Islam is problematic from a historical perspective. We also miss important theological insights, especially within political theology, if we do not engage Islam within European theology. That is why Ralston’s chapter proposes a comparative political theology of Europe that draws from the best of the liberal tradition and Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe but also expands it to include the practices, critiques, and political theologies of Muslims both in Europe and beyond.

We hope that these brief examples and the underlying case studies are sufficient evidence that the binaries entailed in Europe’s self-image are not adequate. However, this book can only be a very small first step towards a new European self-image beyond these binaries. Thus, we hope that many others will join and contribute more case studies to demonstrate how much Islam belongs to Europe and how much the religions and the secularities are intertwined. It might even be an important key for a productive and fruitful development of religions in Europe to find ways out of their privatization and towards a reflection of the ongoing importance of religions in the public sphere.

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