The 7th international conference on “Religion and Violence” was held in Tetovo, Macedonia Oct. 16-18, 2015 sponsored by the University of Vienna, University of Innsbruck, and Tetovo State University of Macedonia. This theme allowed participants from many countries in Europe as well as from Turkey, Israel, the United States, and Canada to consider the important theme of religion and violence. Academics from various disciplines including theology, religious studies, religious education, philosophy, sociology, and political science as well as religious scholars convened to consider the topic of religion and violence.
Islam, in particular, has recently come under the most scrutiny for being intractably linked to violence. The site of this conference in the Balkans was appropriate in reminding participants of the complex struggles of the 1990s in which religious identity that became an ethnic marker occasioned violence and bloodshed throughout this region.
Among the latest incidents of violence in the name of Islam are the horrific beheadings by ISIS, the hideous attack on Charlie Hebdo in France, and the grisly massacres by Boko Haram in Nigeria that have been rapidly multiplying over the past two decades. Although Muslims across the world condemn these atrocities, media coverage and public outrage often blur the distinction between Islam as a religion and the theologies of violence promoted by extremists to give their profane goals the appearance of a just cause and thus to gain new sympathizers and resources. Consequently, questions about the notion of “true” Islam and the distinction between Islam and the actions of certain Muslims have become a central focus of attention.
Seminal interventions at the conference considered philosophical and theological frameworks to address religiously motivated violence including exposing the “myth” that most violence, historically and today, is religiously motivated, exploring the roles of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders in instances of violence, and applying Rene Girard’s theory of the scapegoat and its sacrifice in religions and human societies.Secularism was not presentedas the simplistic solution to removing violence from human society since many great recent conflicts have not been religiously based while ideological commitments have in many cases have replaced religious identities as a polarizing elements inothering and demonizing opponents.
At the same time the fact was acknowledged that religious resources needed to be marshaled to provide solutions to violence through showing paths to reconciliation, restoration, and ultimately transformation in the mode of active peace building.Means of reconciliation included bearing witness, truth-telling, and allowing the voices of both victims and perpetrators to be heard. The difficult problem of restorative justice that would not further inflame further hatred or provoke vengeance. Forgiveness, tranquility, and the ability to live with paradox and gradual healing were among theological resources offered by religions. Seeing Abrahamic traditions as siblings or proximate others whose differences appear more glaring alongside the many shared elements was a compelling motif in understanding violence in the intertwined histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Resources for non-violent theologies in Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and Islam, both classical and contemporary were communicated by experts in these respective traditions in the interest of deep interreligious understanding of resources for peace at individual an social levels. Literature, as well as formal philosophy and theology, was also offered as a resource for amelioration of violence through engagement and understanding of both similarity and difference.
The future of addressing violence in societies and within and across religious traditions included broadening our understanding of violence beyond war and armed struggleto other areas including domestic violence, or class racial, and gender discrimination.
Several case studies presenting examples in France, Switzerland, and Romania used statistics and other data to demonstrate the integration of most Muslims in those societies despite the occasional resistance of local populations to visible Islamic identity symbols such as minarets, mega-mosques, or Islamic dress. In several of these European casesthe resilience and pluralism of national consensus allowed fairly positive prognosis for the future of Muslim integration. More intractable conflicts such as the occupations of Palestine and East Turkestan and interventions in Ukraine were indicated as sites where current violence poses the most challenging obstacles to peace building since trust and collaboration cannot result from any simple act or proposed solution.
In particular,Muslim theological and historical resources for developing a theology of non-violence and active peace making were analyzed including highlighting or reinterpreting specific revealed texts, examining the contexts for legal rulings, and emulating positive examples of peacemaking in the life of the Prophet Muhammad and in Islamic history.
Pedagogical strategies that would deepen students’ understanding of religious teachings by engaging them in answering the questions most deeply relevant and meaningful for their lives were suggested as one strategy to combat violent, fundamentalist understandings or superficial inculcation of religion.
We are pleased to announce that next year`s conference will be convened in Bucharest, Romania on the topic of “Perspectives on the ‘Other’ in Textbooks and Sacred Scriptures”.