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Religion and Society

An Educational Proposal For Global and Plural Man

In the old system of values identity was connected to the idea of national supremacy and the concept of otherness served to identify a foreigner. In the new system identity and otherness are recognised as complementary and constituent dimensions of human development.

In schools is told the tale of the apologetics of the father of a family who wanted to give an education to his son by sending him to the school of a 'Sophist'. Given that the price asked for the lessons seemed to him too high he asked what the purpose was of such a high price. 'When your son goes to the theatre to see the performance of a tragedy he will not be a stone sitting on another stone'. In this way, in response to a question about the field of the useful, that of the wish for the 'particular', the Sophist gave an answer that referred to the order of truth and good, that is to say the order of knowledge and the wish for the universal.


This is one of the most important 'legacies' handed down to us by Hellenic thought. The natural desire to know, to which Aristotle refers in the first pages of his Metaphysics, concerns the disinterested knowledge of Being through a search for causes, that is to say a search for the visible that explains the invisible [Metaphysics, bk. 1, 980 a]. It is then disinterested knowledge, with its 'discoveries', that transforms the life of man in his being in the world, thereby also creating new opportunities for prosperity and usefulness. And from this pure wish to know and understand are derived the very many positive mutations in the life of man. This wish has been, is, and will be, the seed from which the phenomenon of globalisation really draws its origins.


But what should we understand by the term 'globalisation'? In 1983 the American economist Theodore Levitt invented the term 'globalisation'. He coined this word only to refer to a new economic dimension which was taking form at a planetary level or rather at a world level [cf. 'Les racines de la mondialisation: De Rome a New York', L'Histoire, November 2002, p 33]. If we speak from the point of view of the historian, globalisation can be traced back to the fifteenth century, to the epoch of the European conquests and mercantilism. If we follow what was argued in 2000 by J. A. Scholte in his work Globalization, A critical Introduction, (pp. 15-16), we may mean by 'globalisation': internationalisation, liberalisation, universalisation, modernisation and supra-territoriality. But all these terms are not sufficient to explain the phenomenon as a whole. In addition, they reflect the habit of assessing the practices and policies of other civilisations on the basis of principles and ideals that are in fashion in the West (a West that should be specified with the adjective 'Atlantic' because it is seen from a geo-cultural point of view). The multiple forms of non-Western, that is to say non-Atlantic, modernisation are increasingly evident and should be borne in mind. To be intellectually honest we should try to consider in our summarising analysis of globalisation the way that 'others' (China, India, the Islamic countries, Africa) look at the West. This is also the case because in their perspective our principles are not universal and above all are not convincing. Indeed, certain of 'our' most dearly held ideals are in practice betrayed and lose their credibility because of Western behaviour that is not always consistent. And the values celebrated by our post-moderns such as respect for the other, the different, and a sense of identity that is realised only in relationships are very often ignored in Western geopolitical practice. In addition, whereas the implosion of the Soviet Union and the economic opening up of china accelerated and intensified globalisation in line with the neo-liberal model, leading, however, to a compression and a simultaneousness of planetary space and time (of homogenisation and uniformisation and standardisation), it is equally true that China, India, South-East Asia and the Islamic world contest the universality of our values and proclaim not one but many trajectories of modernisation. Asian values are very much in fashion today and non-Western forms of modernisation (China. India, Malaysia) are obtaining an economic success that attracts the attention of investors.


With globalisation of a neo-liberal kind, our age is at the same time experiencing the contesting of a hegemonic schema according to which Western (Atlantic from Rome to New York or, if one prefers, from Athens to Seattle) modernity constitutes the end of a historical development. In the lands of Islam, culture and religion have become once again points of reference. The two colossuses of Asia, China and India, are already emerging as forms of 'otherness' that are crowned by economic success. The affirmation of their clear identity and of their own projects require of everyone, and thus also of the 'Atlantic' Westerners, a more open approach. Today, more than ever before, the whole of mankind is called upon to place itself within the perspective of fullness which is brought to completion by plurality and difference. Indeed, it is increasingly evident that globalisation is not the outcome of a single culture, of the ideas and values typical of a single civilisation, and is no longer synonymous with homogeneity or uniformity. It is a much more complex process, the result of a multiplicity of circumstances, interests and forces [cf. F. Rajaee, La mondialisaton au banc des accusés: La condition humaine et la civilisation, 2001]. Globalisation is not a uniform phenomenon but is, rather, characterised by a movement of ideas and values that confront each other, push each other, withdraw, develop, spread, crystallise, and are then transformed once again. Furthermore, the ideas and the values that underlie globalisation are not a result of the phenomenon in itself. The proof of this lies in the fact that these ideas and values can be expelled without calling into question the very idea of globalisation. Thus in order to be realistic, the project of world governance should be organised in a way that respects the cultural integrity of communities. It can be effective only if communities commit themselves to discussion about, and the construction of, not only dialogue between different cultures but also a joint and shared world culture.


The Church accompanies mankind in its discovery of the human face of globalisation not only by emphasising the urgent need to globalise solidarity, to globalise charity in order to create a 'civilisation of love' (the phrase launched by Paul VI, often taken up by John Paul II and now also employed by Benedict XVI. The much lamented John Paul II said amongst other things the following: 'Mankind in engaging in the process of globalisation can no longer be without a shared ethical code. By this is not meant a single dominant socio-economic system or a single culture that would impose its own values and criteria on ethics. It is in man in himself, the universal humanity sprung from the hand of God, that we should look for the rules of social life. This search is indispensable in ensuring that globalisation is not merely another name for the absolute relativisation of values and the homogenisation of lifestyles and cultures' (27 April 2001). Here education can do a great deal. Obviously a form of education that leads people to be 'citizens of the world'. And it is John Paul II again who teaches: 'Membership of the human family bestows on all people a kind of citizenship of the world, giving them rights and duties, and as human beings are united by their original community and by a supreme destinyThe condemnation of racism, the protection of minors, help for refugees, the mobilisation of international solidarity for those in need. These are only the coherent applications of the principle of world citizenship' [Message for Peace, 1 January 2005].


This principle calls into play the objectives and the contents of teaching and education. In the system of 'ancient' values identity echoes concepts of national supremacy, of Western superiority, and the concept of otherness served to identity the foreigner who was in general seen as inferior, if not dangerous. In the new system of values 'identity' and 'otherness' are recognised as complementary and constituent dimensions of human development. The centrality of the dialectic between 'identity' and 'otherness' in the development of the human person introduces the need to address the dimensions of 'time' and 'space'. That is to say the places, the history and the tradition of those that we meet. The image of a bow and arrow can be useful in illustrating this point: the more the string of the 'educational' bow is directed towards 'the past' and 'elsewhere', the further goes the arrow of the person during his stage of development and of growth, towards the 'future' beyond the 'here and now'. This implies education in diversity and cultural complexity, in the dual perspective of 'globality' and 'plurality'. This education should be based upon the transmission of the world's cultural heritage:


the specificity and diversity of religions;


knowledge of atheism and agnosticism;


physical, political and economic geography;


the great outlines of the history and cultures of peoples and nations;


the evolution of science and technology;


the linguistic and cultural learning of living languages;


the discovery of universal codes and languages;


and above all else the move towards a coherence in knowledge which will unite scientific knowledge with humanistic knowledge.



Almost all these 'hot' points of education are the order of the day in the discussions and the activities of inter-governmental international organisations, above all UNESCO. But this is also a possible programme for school subjects and teaching which should certainly be reviewed within the context of a final destination which requires a 'trans- and inter- disciplinary approach'. But what I allow myself to hope is that these perspectives will give to teaching all its meaning and its value when the teaching of a discipline is, as it should be, at the service of global education. By this phrase I do not seek to argue in favour of an up-dated version of encyclopaedic culture but a real 'formation' of people who are able to encounter different cultures, different mentalities, each day, 'in a catholic way' 'with a catholic soul' Paul Claudel would say, that is to say in a way capable of understanding fragments of truth, by whomsoever they are brought, by which one can open up an increasingly large embrace of the Truth. Without forgoing a global encyclopaedic openness, it is important not to forget how important it is to educate in synthesis by offering a point of perspective, that is to say by providing instruments and points of view for a vision that is not only complex but a vision that is an overall one of reality. We must observe, however, that almost always in school institutions there is a tendency to present the whole of the real by breaking it down through a parcelling of initiatives, knowledge and contexts. It seems that everything is upheld by a centrifugal principle: so many areas of competence, so many disciplines, and so many interests. In my opinion this is not enough. It is necessary to propose global meaning, a unity of knowledge that allows a unity of the person. The student himself, above all others, already tends to locate what he learns within the various boxes of his notice board. It is necessary to educate him to see that what he is learning is connected with the human condition in the world and with his search for meaning. In a different way, we will have tasks that will be incipient. There is a need for teachers who are able not only to communicate notions but also the meaning (understood as sense and direction) of life. And this cannot and must not be explained through a 'meta-discourse' but through proposing oneself as a term of comparison to develop and resolve the work hypothesis of life with a critical and systematic capacity. It is not sufficient to propose, it is necessary to train people to a comparison by teaching 'Come l'uom s'etterna' [Dante, Inferno, XV, 84].


To look for the infinite through the finite, to look for the Eternal through the temporal, to look for the Truth through a pathway amidst many partial truths seems to me to be the educational path that every human being feels he must follow. To do this it is necessary to teach people to look at 'things', to find 'through' contingent reality eternal reality. I will try to explain what I mean with the help of Blaise Pascal who wrote in one of his enchanting letters to M.lle De Roannez: 'All things conceal some mystery: all things are veils that conceal God. Christians must recognise mystery in everything. Temporal afflictions conceal eternal goods, to which they lead. Temporal joys conceal the eternal evils that they cause' [B. Pascal, Lettre à M.lle de Roannez, IV]. In other words: 'what with the eye of sense experience appears as a metaphor is, instead, reality', to which education must introduce us. What, on the contrary, appears to our 'carnal' eye as reality, seen with eye of eternity shows itself to be merely a 'sign', a symbol, which helps us to see authentic reality, which remains invisible to the eyes of the flesh. What appears to be the evanescent dream of a single day, will manifest itself, in the end, as eternal reality. What appears to be a 'solid thing' will, instead, disappear, swallowed up by the passing of time. The mission of a teacher involves the great task and the heavy responsibility of opening the eyes of the 'discerning' so that they learn to recognise and to distinguish reality beyond every metaphor. The task of a teacher is that of 'removing' the blindfold that fogs up the sight of disciples, and ensures that they open themselves to a vision of what 'really' is, as happened with the disciples in Emmaus [cf. Lk 24: 13-33].


Today, as never before, all educational institutions must expand their way of looking at the world, aware that otherness is wealth that neither wears out nor eliminates identity but strengthens and develops the growth of the self. If globalisation is not also education in such shared feeling, it will become only objectification and consumption, not wealth but the impoverishment of man and reality.


A teacher, therefore, is he who helps the disciple to open his eyes to free himself from illusions, trying to read the signs that help him to see the reality that does not pass. More than transmitting truth based on a global system, a teacher must teach young people 'to think' and 'to reason' in a global way so that the young person follows on his own the pathway towards the discovery of what must enrich his soul, fill his heart with a wisdom capable of 'wonder', which, according to the words of the great Masters (from Aristotle onwards), is the first root of all knowledge.