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By Naime Çakir, Ute E. Eisen, and Hildegund Keul
Europe at present is marked by vehement migration movements. Millions of people attempt to escape violence and war, poverty and the threat of impoverishment. They have left their homes and press upon Europe’s external and internal boundaries to ask for asylum and immigration. In 2015, approximately one million refugees arrived in Germany; numerous others continue to hope for the chance to be able to lead a life in peace in Europe. At the same time, the terror that emanates from militant Islamist groups and that, along with war, political persecution, and poverty, represents one of the causes for the migration of refugees, has reached Europe. The repeated terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 alone in France are examples of this. This situation arouses a fear of refugees of Muslim faith among Europeans. In the majority of cases, a policy of isolation is chosen as an answer to this. Member states of the EU turn a blind eye to the demand for acceptance and fair distribution of asylum-seekers. They also are not ready to invest more in the fight against the causes for the flight of the refugees. Instead, nationalist sentiments are expressed forcefully, and fences are erected at the borders. In many places, a hostility toward foreigners and toward Islam is given forcible expression, even in the form of attacks on refugee quarters, 528 alone in 2015 and, of these, 126 arson attacks in Germany (https://www.proasyl.de/news/2015-dramatischer-anstieg-von-gewalt- gegen-fluechtlinge/).
But, globalization and migration, with the chances and risks connected with them, are essential signs of our times. And the debates about migration and the flight of refugees, vulnerability, and security have long since been determined by religious-political aspects, so that Christian theologians, too, have been challenged to take a position. In the current heated situation, the intensification of the interreligious discourse is more important than ever for theology and society. Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theologies see themselves obligated to deal critically with the potential for violence in their own religious traditions, and to bring their resources for peace-making to bear in society.
The Christian-Jewish discourse has established itself since the post-World War II period and has led to a stable network in research and teaching, which is to be enlarged further. The foundation since 2010 of the five academic centers for Islamic Theology at the Universities of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück, and Tübingen provides since then an academic institutionalization and a better perception of Islamic Theology in Germany. Other institutions include, for example, the Academy of World Religions at the University of Hamburg. They further the integration of Islamic Theology, Judaism, Buddhism, and other world religions in the academic discourse in Germany and Europe.
The European Society of Women in Theological Research (ESWTR), the largest international association of female academics active in research in the areas of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Theology, Jewish studies, Islamic studies, Indology, and other religious studies, as well as general comparative religious studies, connects with these positive developments. The society was founded in 1986 in order to create a network for female scholars in those theologies dominated by men. It supports women’s and gender research and, at the same time, aims to increase the proportion of qualified women at the universities. The ESWTR in Germany formulated the following resolution in the summer of 2015 on the island of Crete:
“The ESWTR/D, oriented on the founding maxims of the ESWTR, pledges itself to continue to pursue its interreligious course. Specific steps to this end are: National conferences with the most equal representation possible; presentation of this concern in the specialist groups; the inclusion of corresponding information in email and website; the commitment to speak personally with female theologians from various religions, and to invite them to become members in ESWTR.”
(Resolution of the German Section of the ESWTR at the international conference “Sharing the World and Sharing the Word”, August 17-21, 2015, in the Orthodox Academy, Crete.)
With this resolution, the executive and advisory boards, as well as the individual members of the German Section of the ESWTR, obligate themselves to intensify the interreligious orientation announced already since its foundation. In the last decades, it was mostly female Christian theologians who were active in the ESWTR. In the future, more women representatives from non- Christian religions are to be recruited. The interreligious discourse is to become the topic of conferences as well as of the continuing work of the professional groups, and is to show itself in the composition and work of the executive and advisory boards.
Already in 2014, the national ESWTR conference, in cooperation with the Department of Feminist Theology and Gender Research at the University of Münster, practiced Christian-Muslim dialogue. With the theme “Vulnerability: Natural, Divine, and Dangerous. Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the Vulnerability Discourse”, we chose an innovative research theme, namely the location of theologies in that vulnerability discourse, which is beginning to establish itself precisely in an interdisciplinary sphere. Thereby, the ESWTR broke new ground with its goal of bringing Christian and Muslim resources to bear in the precarious problematic situations of social, political, and not least of all religious vulnerabilities. – From this specialist conference grew a documented dialogue between a female Christian theologian and a female Islamic scholar, which was published in the Herder-Korrespondenz (Number 12/2015, 39-43 and Number 6/2016, 39f).
At the coming national ESWTR conference in Germany, which will take place at the conference center of the Justus Liebig University Gießen from November 4 to 6, 2016, we will continue the dialogue already begun. It is planned as an interreligious conference with equal representation of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim speakers. The theme of the conference will be: Holy Scriptures in Conflict – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives. It is an urgent concern of the interreligious discourse to conduct the discussion about holy scriptures academically and on a level of equality, and to reflect critically upon religiously-grounded forms of oppression and violence. The holy scriptures of the Tanach, the Bible, and the Koran are used to the present day among each other and against each other as weapons in the struggle between cultures and religions. Thereby, dividing lines run – contrary to the perception of many – not only between, but also within, the religions. It is the same way with the connecting lines, for which the gender discourse, which brings academic women from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam together and unites them, is only one example of this. In concert with female scholars who take a position against fundamentalisms in their own ranks, we seek and develop together ways out of the supposed impasse of our times.
On the work of the ESWTR, see http://www.eswtr.org/de/home.html.
Translated into English by Dennis L. Slabaugh.