THE ROLE OF RELIGION IN PUBLIC LIFE

Document Type:Essay

Subject Area:Politics

Document 1

In the Western political systems a frontier has been drawn between man's inner life and his public actions, between religion and politics. The West is characterized by a desecularization of politics and a depolitisation of religion. Part of the elite Western opinion views religion as irrational and pre-modern; (Weigel, 1991: 27), in his book says "a throw-back to the dark centuries before the Enlightenment taught the virtues of rationality and decency, and bent human energies to constructive, rather than destructive purposes. " In the Communist block, religion was officially stigmatized as the opium of the people and repressed. In theories of integration and modernization, secularization was considered a 'sine qua non' for progress. Following events such as the Rushdie-affair and of course 9/11, which sparked public debates and political contention over issues of Islam and integration across Europe, migration scholars increasingly turned to religion as an important aspect of migration and integration processes.

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One important reason for the lack of research which runs essential in the analysis , is that suitable data sources on minority religion in most European countries until recently were very scarce. Major national and cross-national surveys of religious affiliations, beliefs and practices (like the European Values Study) use sampling frames that do not adequately reflect the religious diversity of contemporary European societies. In particular, they do not usually represent significant and increasing Muslim minority populations. Moreover, survey measures of religiosity are rooted in Christian faith and focus narrowly on Christian religious denominations and practices. Since the fall of the Shah, research about the role of religions in conflict dynamics has increased. The amount of research, however, lags considerable behind the boom of studies of ethnic and nationalistic conflicts.

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The attention for the role of religion in conflicts has been stimulated by positive and negative developments, including the desecularisation of the World and the rise of religious conflicts. In most Strategic Surveys, attention is now paid to the militant forms of religious fundamentalism as a threat to peace. Also important has been the phenomenon of realignment or the cross denominational cooperation between the progressives and traditionalists with respect to certain specific issues (Hunter, 1991). Threatening the meaning of life, conflicts based on religion tend to become dogged, tenacious and brutal types of wars. When conflicts are couched in religious terms, they become transformed in value conflicts. Unlike other issues, such as resource conflicts which can be resolved by pragmatic and distributive means, value conflicts have a tendency to become mutually conclusive or zero-sum issues.

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They entail strong judgments of what is right and wrong, and parties believe that there cannot be a common ground to resolve their differences. Religious conviction is, as it has ever been, a source of conflict within and between communities. In Europe there were only two: Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. No religious wars were registered in the Americas. These wars could be further classified by distinguishing violent conflicts within and between religions and between religious organizations and the central government. In Europe, Bosnian Muslims have, for more than two years, been brutally harried by Serbs who are called Christians. On the border between Europe and Asia, Christian Armenians have thumped Muslim Azzeris, and Muslims and Jews still shoot each other in Palestine.

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Each religion has its fanatic religious fundamentalists. The Kach Party, which was leaded by Rabbi In countries of immigration, the way in which newcomers adapt to the receiving society has always been an important issue. One of the most widely used theories on migrant adaptation is assimilation theory, which posits that migrants converge into the mainstream, leading to a Generational differences in ethnic and religious attachment decline, and at its endpoint the disappearance, of an ethnic/racial distinction and the cultural and social differences that express it” (Alba and Nee 1997, 863). Assimilation is thought to be a gradual, partly unconscious process, which is usually not completed within the life course (Gans 1973). It has therefore mainly been studied through the process of generational change (Alba 1999, 2005; Lieberson 1973; Portes and Zhou 1993).

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Meir Kahane until his death in November 1990, used tactics of abusing and physically attacking Palestinians. Kahane believed in a perpetual war and preached intolerance against the Arabs. Christian fundamentalists in the US cater a "Manifest Theology", a fundamentally Manichean worldview in which "we" are right, and all civil and aggressive intentions are projected to "them" (Galtung, 1987). "Because 'they' are evil and aggressive forces of chaos in the world, 'we' then have to be strongly armed, but do not perceive ourselves as aggressive even when attacking other countries" (Williamson, 1992: 11). Intolerance is also spawn by a minority of Islamic organizations, like Egypt's Gama'at al-Islamiya, Libanon's Hezbullah or Algeria's Islamic fundamentalists. It didn't publicly disapprove of the German atrocities in Poland or in the concentration camps.

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To secure its diplomatic interests, Rome opted for this prudence and not for an evangelical disapproval. The role of bystanders, those members of the society who are neither perpetrators nor victims, is very important. Their support, opposition, or indifference based on moral or other grounds, shapes the course of events. An expression of sympathy or antipathy of the head of the Citta del Vaticano, Pius XII, representing approximately 500 million Catholics, could have prevented a great deal of the violence. The ecumenical peace engagement was particularly important in creating a mass constituency for peace. The pastoral letter 'The Challenge of Peace is God's Promise and our Response', issued in May 1983, challenged the very foundation of U. S. nuclear policy and opposed key elements of the Reagan administration's military buildup (Cartwight, 1993).

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People can also be empowered by providing them with theological support against injustice. Jeger, 1993). Another example are the activities of the 'Cry for Justice' organizations which were, according to Father Nangle, a response to a call from Haiti "for as many internationals as possible for as long as possible to go into the most violent places in Haiti's countryside to be a protective presence, to protect human rights abuses, and to foster a climate for free and open dialogue and assembly". War versus Peace. With respect to war and peace, the religious approaches could be divided under two main categories: pacifism and just war doctrine (Life and Peace Report, 1990). Many varieties of pacifism could be distinguished: optimistic, mainstream and pessimistic (Ceadel, 1987).

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Development, Cooperation, and Humanitarian Aid. A great number of INGO's, engaged in all kinds of development projects, have a religious base. I do not know of any study assessing the efforts of religious INGO's, but scattered data suggest that these efforts are considerable. In 1974 Belgium had 6,283 catholic missionaries in the world. In 1992 this number decreased to 2,766: 1,664 in Africa, 633 in America, 464 in Asia, and 5 in Oceania. During 1978-1984 Pope John Paul II mediated successfully between Argentina and Chile over a few islands at the tip of South America. Both countries narrowly averted war by turning to the Vatican as a mediator. The Vatican was succesful only in keeping the parties at bay, not pushing a settlement. In the end, that proved quite enough once domestic factors, especially those in Argentina after the Maledives/Falklands war, changed.

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According to Thomas Princen (1992), the Papacy has special resources that few world leaders share. A third factor stimulating 'field-diplomacy' is the growing awareness that case studies and especially practical experience in the field would enhance the research work and the training of professional conflict-managers. As compared to other professions, such as lawyers, economists, or physicians who have respectively their law courts, business and patients or dead corpses to try out their theories, most peace-researchers have no practical experience. In addition, certain kinds of information to understand the dynamics of a conflict requires the analyst to be in the field. The confluence of these factors started the development of a third generation of peace-making approaches: field-diplomacy. It refers to sending non-governmental teams to conflict areas, for an extended period, to stimulate and support local initiatives for conflict prevention.

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An NGO with ample experience in constructive conflict management is 'Search for Common Ground' based in Washington (1993 Report). It began in 1982 and focused originally on Soviet-American relations. Now it works in the Russian Federation, the Middle East, South Africa, Macedonia and the United States. They develop what they call a common ground approach which draws from techniques of conflict resolution, negotiation, collaborative problem solving and facilitation. The aim is to discover not the lowest but the highest denominator. Upchurch is focusing violence in Los Angeles where in 1,992,857 young men and women were killed in group related violence. Not only at non-governmental but also at governmental levels, field-diplomacy projects are being developed. Recently, the United Nations Volunteers started projects to support the peace process in several conflict areas in the world.

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Their project in Burundi endeavors to promote peace at a community level through grassroots confidence building measures aimed at enabling the emergence, return and social reintegration of persons in hiding internally displaced people and refugees. Part of the project's efforts will be to shift the dynamic of inter-group relationships from animosity and confrontation to mutual esteem and cooperation. Second, a serious engagement is necessary. As the adoption of a child cannot be for a week or a couple of months, it is a long-term commitment. Facilitating a reconciliation process could be depicted as a long and difficult journey or expedition. Third, field diplomacy favors a multi-level approach of the conflict. The actors in the conflict could be located at three different levels: the top leadership, the middle level leaders and the representatives of the people at the local level.

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Most peace efforts focus on the upper layers. They are concerned with international and national peace conferences and peace agreements signed with pomp. A lasting peace needs to take care of the deeper layers of the conflict: the psychological wounds; the mental walls; and the emotional and spiritual levels. The latter refers to the transformation of despair in hope; distrust in trust; hatred in love. Our understanding of these soft dimensions is very limited. Some expect an escalation of religious conflicts as well. Despite an increase in the attention to the religious dimension of conflicts, it remains an under-researched field. There is no useful typology of religious conflicts; no serious study of the impact of religious organizations on conflict behavior; no comparative research of peace-making and peace-building efforts of different religious organizations.

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