Education, between faith and culture. Christian and Muslim experiences in dialogue is the topic of the upcoming International Scientific Committee of the Oasis Foundation (www.oasiscenter.eu), scheduled to take place in Beirut (Lebanon) on 21-22 June.
Based in Venice, the Oasis Centre was created in September 2004 following an intuition of Card Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, bringing together Church people and academics trying to develop ways that promote dialogue and coexistence between Christians and Muslims.
Once a year, the Foundation’s scientific committee meets, alternatively in Venice and in a mostly Muslim country. As such, it serves as an important moment that underscores how much Oasis is first and foremost a network of contacts, in which experiences and opinions can be shared.
More than 50 people from some 20 countries, plus many Lebanese guests, will take part in the planned sessions, which will take place at Notre Dame du Mont.
To find out more about the event, Zenit interviewed Martino Diez, research director of the International Oasis Foundation, as well as contract lecturer in Arabic linguistics at the Università Cattolica of Milan and non-tenured lecturer at the Studium Generale Marcianum in Venice.
What are reasons behind this year’s topic?
The topic of education that we picked this year clearly follows last year’s when we met in Venice, namely tradition. To borrow an evocative expression with which Card Turkson opens the new issue of the Oasis journal, the “User Instruction Manual” that tradition passes onto us must be checked against the meeting of two freedoms, that to educate and that to be educated. The educational process stands at the intersection where the two meet.
Education is a fundamental anthropological phenomenon. However, the title adds a more specific dimension to it with a reference to “faith and culture”. We shall thus talk about education with a capital letter, not only as a way of teaching skills but also as a means to pass on a “way of life”. On this point, Christians and Muslims have great deal to discuss. Our specific historical situation, seen by many in the West as one of emergency, led Benedict XVI two years ago to write a letter to the faithful of Rome on the urgent need to address the issue of education. Last year in a report, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy formulated a cultural project proposal. However, the matter is not touch to the West alone. The problem, perhaps in a different form, is also felt in Muslim countries, where attempts have been made to reconcile modernity (or perhaps more directly post-modernity) to one’s heritage, often in an economically difficult context.
Alongside rich countries with sensible educational policies, many states find themselves with an underperforming educational sector and levels of education that have dropped in the last few decades. At the same time, classic Muslim education based on the traditional Muslim place of learning, the Madrasa, has evolved often in very different directions. For example, Madrasas in India are very different from those in Pakistan. In this context, we shall discuss the teaching of religion (or religions), the training of imams, education and dialogue, education and violence, etc.
Finally, one point whose importance should not be underestimated is the fact that the meeting will take place in Lebanon, a complex country full of tensions, but also rich in meaningful experiences in the field of education, which have shaped the image of this smaller version of the Middle East.
How does the Oasis Foundation promote its proposals in education for Christians who live in predominantly Muslim countries?
Oasis wants to be a place where people can meet and enrich one another, because we all need to learn from each other. More concretely, we provide Arabic-speaking readers a number of texts from the magisterium of the Church and classics of Christian thought, as well as articles on philosophy, anthropology, geopolitics and current affairs, mostly through our multilingual journal and newsletter. Thanks also to the Church in Need, Benedict XVI’s catecheses on Saint Paul have been translated in Lebanon, which we shall publish and send to the bishops of the region. However, these are but tokens of our work. What we really want to do is bring together as many Christians and Muslims from the region into a network of communion so that they can learn as much as possible from each other’s experiences. Oasis works both ways, and it is hard to say which one gets more or gives more.
The Synod of Bishops of the Middle East is fast approaching. What food for thought do you have for the Synodal
Fathers who will meet next October in Rome?
The Synod of the Middle East is a great opportunity; it should not be missed. It is no accident if the idea for the Synod came from the Middle Eastern country that has suffered the most in the past few years, Iraq. The challenge that the title “Communion and Witness” suggests is central to the very survival of Catholics in this part of the world. The Oasis meeting was planned before the Synod was announced, but taking our cue from the bishops’ meeting, we hope that the Committee can really be an opportunity for communion and witness.