I have the real pleasure to participate in the European Intensive Programme (IP) on “Translating God(s): Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies” organised between June 14 and 25, 2010, at the Irish School of Ecumenics (Dublin) under the responsibility of Professor Norbert Hintersteiner. Some 20 European universities participate, delegating between 60 and 80 of their doctoral students and, of course, also some of their professors. The programme, with its four headings “Naming and Thinking God in Europe Today”, “From World Mission to Interreligious Witness” (as part of a Concilium congress at Trinity College), “Interreligious Study of Religions”, and “Fluid Religions in New Modernity”, allows us to interact with some of the main theologians working on intercultural and interreligious studies.
The formula of the IP provides for some of the most creative and stimulating environments that I know of. During two weeks, the focus is on young theologians at doctoral level, who can meet with some of the key figures in their field, who get in touch with young colleagues from all over Europe, and who are stimulated to think together and to address common issues and concerns. This is a wonderful opportunity for the elaboration and interchange of ideas. There is a whole pedagogical setup that stimulates the interaction in a very free way.
I was struck today by the difficulty we have to engage in real intercultural and interreligious conversations. Our background experiences are often so different, as are also the sometimes painful memories that each one of us carries in him or herself as part of a cultural and religious legacy. It’s not always easy to understand why someone else thinks radically different from what we ourselves think – and the lack of mutual understanding can be very painful in an environment where people engage the best of themselves to open up to others and to learn from others. Contextual theology – and I think all theology is contextual – comes at that price when it engages in a movement beyond itself and becomes trans-contextual by opening up in conversation and discovering itself at the risk of the other. But it is also such a wonderfully deep human experience of reconciliation in the midst of discovery.
I had been asked to give a 30 minutes reflection on “Naming and Thinking God in Western Europe Today”. I have tried to point to 10 more or less traditional issues in Western Europe, in which the name of God has played an important role – 10 issues that we can also today heed in a new way, 10 issues that can help us to engage our world from the perspective of our religions and faiths. I just name these issues here: reconciliation amidst histories of violence and war; mission in a globalizing world that Europe has often attempted to colonize; the building up of conversational identities in response to fear ridden security concerns when facing “others”; the rediscovery of a foundational connectedness interacting with the legitimate modern discovery of the creative subject; the focus on the preferential option for the poor amidst a history of political and social liberative action; the relation with a God of life over against the idolatrous obsession with order, hierarchy and law; a restructuring of time and space as “holy” amidst the stress of our competitve societies; a new alliance between theology and rationality on the one side, and, on the other side, empowering spiritual and mystical traditions; the commitment to religion in the public debate and space; the attention paid to vision and prophecy even beyond what we ourselves can bring about. Of course, these are merely 10 suggestions and they can, without any doubt, be improved upon.