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Christians in the Muslim World

Looking for Europe and its Foundations

Author: Laura Paoletti [ed.] Title: L'identità in conflitto dell'Europa. Cristianesimo, laicità, laicismo Publisher: Il Mulino, Bologna, 2005, pp. 216

How can the term 'conflict' combine with those of 'identity', 'Europe', 'Christianity' and 'secularism' without inevitably falling into one dimensional interpretations that understand it as something that is antithetical to the 'harmonious' construction of national and supra-national identities?

 

The volume edited by Laura Paoletti offers an answer to this question by proposing a reflection on the term 'conflict' that goes beyond the limitations of deterministic interpretations according to which conflict, by immediately coinciding with war, is inevitably 'the opposite of peace'.

 

Indeed as early as the preface the guidelines of how to think in a new way about conflict are outlined conflict is seen as an intrinsic element of social dynamics that is able to introduce a change that involves proposals.

 

Strong analogies are brought out between this approach and the approach that sees as being possible, at an trans-national level, a 'universalism of multiple loyalties', on the base of which every culture, although not being able to achieve a full coinciding between its own point of view and the point of view of others,1 can however advance to a dialogue with others without forgoing its own identity.

 

Along the road of a fertile and non-destructive identification of the recognition of the existence of a structural conflict between Christianity and secularity, it is possible to test a working hypothesis that connects in a constructive way a 'work in progress' identity for Europe. This identity, by noting differences, and in the light of such differences, can achieve an overcoming of a merely compositional perspective between different cultures and proceed to a clarity of horizon and meaning. As Paoletti lucidly argues: 'the outcome of such a process is at the antipodes of a vague syncretism that confuses and makes unrecognisable the cultural components that are present; on the contrary, the more Christianity shows that it is able to really enter into conflict with the other on its own, the more its specificity emerges and its identity is enriched' (p. 10).

 

As regards secularity, it is clearly understood that it is crucial to go beyond a reductive and sterile interpretation of secular identity understood as the outcome of the neutralisation of Christian identity. On the contrary, a dynamic approach understands secular identity as 'a sphere shared by all religionsbecause it a natural right of the human person and peoples' (Donati, p. 136).

 

The Catholic religion has the legitimacy to enter to the full into the inherent debate about the public sphere and the specific subjects of politics, faced with the belief that citizens 'are not obliged to keep silent about their religious beliefs when they vote or when they decide about public matters or take institutional decisions' (Donati, p. 133).

 

This is the knot that post-modernity must unravel if it does not want to remain blocked in an impasse that afflicts both categories of thought and practice: how can public action be defined in religious terms so that the regeneration of society is possible?

 

The so-called 'civil religion' that modern states have tried to construct as a universalistic and unifying surrogate for confessional religions, and which is based upon a neutral liberal tolerance designed to assure stability in Western contexts, has extensively demonstrated its limitations because it has watered down identities by depriving them of their value foundations. It has done this on the basis of a purported equality which today is demonstrating its dangerous fragility.

 

The challenge that the reflections contained in this volume propose to Western thought as regards European identity is that challenge which seeks to transform a crystallised vision of conflict into a creative vision, one that is not destined, that is to say, to perpetuate in a repetitive way a déjà-vu that is excessively sterile for the cultural destiny of the Old Continent, but one that is open to the possibility of renewing itself in an approach that sees the affirmation of religious identities not as an inappropriate prevarication but as a fundamental resource for society and for the attribution of a new meaning to secularity.

 

 

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1. P. Donati, 'The challenge of universalism in a multicultural postmodern society: a relational approach', in E. Halas (ed.), Florian Znaniecki's sociological theory and the challenges of 21st century (Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Mainz, 2000), pp. 31-47.

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