Author Archives: David

How come a self-proclaimed progressive Jew sides with halal meat?, by Rahel Wasserfall

Last week, by chance, I watched a video from the site AKADEM, the French cultural site on all things Jewish (November 20, 2013). Claude Askolovitch, a self-identified progressive Jewish journalist, explained that he was let go from his job as a journalist at Le Point because of an article he wrote defending halal slaughter in France. I was intrigued and continued watching. On the video, he mused about the causes of hatred toward Muslims in contemporary France and asked why both the Front National, a right wing anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic political party, and the Socialists have difficult relations with French Muslims. He then presented the story of how the Front National has been taken seriously and has, in his words, become “the thinking norm.”

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, started a polemic about halal meat two years ago. She claimed that 45 percent of the meat eaten in France is halal and that halal slaughtering is inhumane. She also asserted that the French are eating it unknowingly and that it is unhealthy for the French population as a whole. Her outrageous statements culminated in a wild pseudo-scientific scenario in which the contents of a dead animal’s stomach are spewed onto the meat while the throat of the animal is ritually cut. This ritual way of slaughtering would pour the stomach bacteria over the meat and render it pathogenic.

This strong, vivid image made me think of my parents whispering that Arabs tend to kill their enemies by cutting their throats. When I was a child in Paris during the most difficult months of the OAS[i] retaliation in the city, an Algerian man was assassinated below my apartment. I can still see in my mind’s eye the chalk contour of his body form on the pavement when I went to school the next morning. The image of cutting someone’s throat was seared into my childhood as the “Arab way of killing.”

Is there something reminiscent of this primal fear in the antipathy to halal slaughtering? Is slaughtering an animal by cutting its throat somehow symbolically linked to the fear of being a human victim of that knife? Madame le Pen has also asserted that Muslims effectively reject the “real French,” as they believe that halal meat touched by a non-Muslim becomes non-halal, and thus no longer edible by a Muslim.  The news media erupted after her claims, explained Askolovitch, and many publications reproduced them without checking their veracity.

Askolovitch, a journalist, did exactly that; he researched the facts and proved that these stories reported all over the media were completely erroneous.[ii] The percentage of animals slaughtered in Ile de France was no more than 2 percent. Furthermore, there is certainly no scientific evidence that the meat is unhealthy because of the way the animals are slaughtered. Le Pen’s claim that halal meat is rendered non-halal by virtue of being touched by a non-Muslim is simply hate mongering.

In her claims regarding halal, Le Pen points to what she thinks is the main problem with the Muslims: they separate themselves, eat differently, and do not drink as the French do. France is not the only place in Europe where halal and kosher slaughter are under attack as inhumane, because stunning the animal prior to ritual slaughter is unacceptable to Muslims and Jews who eat halal and kosher.

Askolovitch develops a thesis surrounding the problem of secularity in France and the inability to include religious others into the Republique. He begins by telling his audience that Alain Finkelkraut, the French Jewish philosopher, just observed that he is not really completely French and the only “real” French are the “Francais de souche.” The word souche (lit: root) has connotations of ancestry and land, which takes us back to 19th-century nationalism and blood.

As I was listening to this story, I was reminded of my own adolescent feelings that as a Jew I would never “really” belong to France. I loved the Republique, but she did do not love me back! I left France to find my place in a Jewish land and then, as many Jews before me, in the goldene medinah,[iii] the United States. I am still longing for what could have been, if I had felt loved by the Republique of my childhood. Does the Republique today behave toward its Muslims as it did to its Jews?

Rahel Wasserfall is Director of Evaluation and Training at CEDAR and resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

[i] The OAS (organization de l’ armée secrete) was a counterterrorist part of the French army that refused to let go of Algeria, they were active from 1954 to 1962. Its motto was “L’Algérie est francaise et le restera” Algeria is French and will remain so.

[ii] Claude Askolovitch, Nos mals-aimes: Ces musulmans dont la France ne veut pas. September 2013, Editions Grasset.

[iii]Yiddish; literally the “golden country.”

Musings on diversity from Vienna, Sarajevo, and New York, by Maja Šoštarić

On a sunny morning in August 2013, as I exited the peaceful Parc des Bastions in Geneva, Switzerland and passed by the oversized chess figures near the park gate, I was astonished to see some familiar faces, a real blast from the past, on coming out into Place de Neuve. There they were again: four bronze sculptures by the contemporary German artist Thomas Schütte, entitled Vier große Geister. I had seen them before in 2011, earlier in their tour of European cities, on Vienna’s Graben Street. One is pointing to the skies; another looks defiant, with arms crossed; the third is stretching his arms combatively; and the fourth looks as if he is preparing to embrace someone. What do these four figures really represent? Faith, pride, persistence and hospitality? Or perhaps fundamentalism, segregation, fighting, and indoctrination?

FoD 1 b sostaric photos 3 - cropThe original German title of the sculptures can mean both Four large ghosts and Four great spirits. This ambiguity is probably intentional, as the odd foursome can be interpreted either as terrifying, voracious manifestations of one’s own past coming for its prey, or as dignified, lofty symbols of civilization and humanity. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Be it as it may, the majority of observers will probably be captivated by something inherently paradoxical: the static dynamism and motionless interaction of the figures.

Back in 2011, while walking past the Vier große Geister in Vienna in the midst of the crowded Graben, replete with tourists, occasional horse carriages, and one very persistent cello player, I caught myself thinking, “Are these four sculptures in some sort of conflict? Or are they independent of each other?” And then, since I always find a way to connect my thoughts with my immediate locations, I concluded that, viewed through my Vienna lens, the four could stand only for faith, pride, persistence and hospitality, and that their interaction could be seen only as togetherness.

Indeed, as I was returning from an eventful soiree with some old friends in Vienna’s 16th district, also popularly known as the Balkanstrasse (Balkan Street), I thought how welcoming this place was toward the citizens of the former Yugoslavia. In Balkanstrasse cafés almost no one speaks German. In the subway or the street, you’re more likely to hear Croatian, Serbian, or Bosnian than German, to the point where you might forget you’re in the Austrian capital. When I was a student here, those of us from the “former state” used to hang out in a large area of the main university aula. But no matter how difficult it was for us—financially, culturally or socially—to adapt to Vienna, all my “ex-Yu” friends and I achieved our goals while respecting Austrian norms and culture and at the same time preserving our respective identities. Many Asians, Mexicans, or Turks in Vienna have embraced a similar lifestyle, in what may be a textbook example of togetherness resulting in diversity.

But Vienna was just a temporary shelter for my restless spirit. When I arrived in Sarajevo more than three years ago, I was handed a city map along with the names of the most important sights. Only several weeks after my arrival, having walked the webs of narrow streets and climbed all the neighboring hills, did I discover a still widely unknown Old Town souvenir: the Sarajevo cube. I stumbled upon it in the tiny streets of the central Baščaršija neighborhood. A simple wooden cube encapsulates the four symbols of Sarajevo: the Beg mosque, the Roman Catholic cathedral, the Old Synagogue, and the Old Orthodox church. This is also why Sarajevo is sometimes compared to Jerusalem: in a small circle of a few hundred meters, four important religions are represented. Indeed, on my short bike ride from the Old Town to my house, I travel through centuries of continuous religious and ethnic coexistence.

Yet I think coexistence has found its absolute pinnacle in the majestic New York City, where I see myself at some point in the future. Walking down endless Broadway late at night, blinded by the colorful lights of Times Square, I witnessed the city’s burgeoning night life, a sweet tyranny of everything, and an overwhelming power of contrast: luxuriously dressed-up people and half-naked people, dancing people and crawling people, people publicly denouncing religion and people publicly worshiping their gods. The avenue resounded with a Babel of different languages. “So this is what diversity is really all about,” I thought, slightly tired, somewhere amidst all those people. But I was not entirely right. The day after, I visited the impressive 9/11 memorial and the neighboring St. Paul’s Chapel, which hosted numerous volunteers who cleaned up the ruins of the destroyed World Trade Center in the months following the attacks. The church houses dozens of objects, photographs, and prayers recalling that period from throughout the United States and the world. That, in fact, is what diversity is all about.

Vienna by night is not nearly as alive as New York, but there are certain nights when everybody is out and about. One such example is Lange Nacht der Kirchen (Long Night of the Churches). All Christian churches keep their doors open for visitors, whoever they may be. I remember the abundant scent of wax candles in a Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, and the elevated voice singing an Old Slavic mass in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church of St. Barbara. Although the Muslim and Jewish communities are (still) not part of the initiative, their believers have expressed great interest in it. Indeed, if they were to participate, Vienna would have much more to offer; its first and second districts contain numerous synagogues, while the 10th, 16th, and 17th districts are replete with mosques and places of Islamic worship.

Given the presence of different religions in Sarajevo, there are also many occasions to celebrate. During the month of Ramadan preceding the Eid-al-Fitr holiday (also known in Bosnia as ramazanski Bajram, the Ramadan Bayram), observant Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Come sunset, however, it is time to enjoy iftar, an evening feast. Many non-Muslims, myself included, are regularly invited to iftars and blessed by the hospitality of our Muslim friends. The small Jewish community in Sarajevo also prepares celebrations, and I was fortunate enough to attend a seder (festive Passover dinner) with prayers recited in Hebrew, Bosnian, and—interestingly—old Spanish (because the first Jews who came to Sarajevo were expelled from the Iberian peninsula in the 15th century). Likewise, on Christmas Eve, many Muslims and other non-Catholics gather in front of the Sarajevo Cathedral in order to wish their Catholic friends merry Christmas. All this is to say that the above-mentioned four sculptures, as viewed through my Sarajevo lens, are doing nothing less than emanating optimism—in spite of the war and annihilation of the city’s recent history.

New York, too, saw destruction not that long ago. Nevertheless, it is nothing but a splendid, relentless motion, resulting from the interplay of faith, pride, persistence and hospitality. I stayed in the exciting area bordering fancy SoHo on one side and colorful Chinatown and Little Italy on the other. In other words, a typical American cupcake bakery is just minutes away from countless Chinese restaurants or delectable Sicilian specialties— a microcosm of people and opportunities. New York really is “all that jazz.” After having enjoyed the magnificent revival of the Harlem Renaissance in the Apollo Theater, the African Poetry Theatre of Queens, and the Japanese-looking Botanical Garden of Brooklyn, completely by accident I found myself in front of Norman Mailer’s beautiful Brooklyn house. My guidebook quoted a sentence from one of his novels: “I don’t think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for.” Considering my second chance encounter with the Four great spirits in Geneva, I could only mumble to myself, “How appropriate, how wonderfully appropriate”.

Maja Šoštarić (2012 ISSRPL) works at the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

2012 – ISSRPL Occasional Paper No. 5, by Maja Šoštarić

Fixing the House: The Challenge of Tolerating the “Other” in Public and in Private

Maja Šoštarić

“Imagine that a rat somehow enters your house. What do you do? Essentially, you have two options. One is to kill the rat. Another one is to fix the house.”
(Indonesian kyai – Islamic scholar, during a visit to a pesantren – an Islamic boarding school)

I have witnessed many an interesting, bizarre, or even tragicomic scene during my two-years work in Bosnia focusing on transitional justice. Coming from neighboring Croatia, I have always found the Bosnian mentality somewhat similar to my own. Yet, the Bosnian sarcastically painted sense of humor is something unique that cannot be found anywhere else in the Balkans. I deem it to be by far the best tool for accurately portraying some truths regarding the country’s perplexing political situation, like that scene from Danis Tanović’s 2001 Oscar-winning movie where a Serb and a Bosniak, trapped in an improvised bunker between the opposing armies, quarrel over who started the war, although they might die under a sniper any minute. But eventually, it’s not the sniper that kills them, but their own haggling.

One real-life scene from my professional life in Bosnia is a case in point. During a public debate, a Bosniak, a Croat, and a Serb shared their deeply moving war stories of hunger, torture, and detention, recognized the suffering of the other sides and talked about reconciliation and coexistence. This was indeed something new for the audience present in a packed room on a chilly winter day. The international community must have been very content, for the “value-for-money” ratio finally looked larger than one.

Yet there is another side to the coin, as there always is. Immediately following the debate, I was fortunate to sit down for a cup of tea with the abovementioned three gentlemen, who were smiling to each other, to me, and to the rest of the world. No surprise, then, that I was enormously taken aback to discover, with the stage lights down and off the record, that these three men did not agree on virtually anything. One of them claimed to have been detained in a camp of which another man was denying the mere existence, and the third man was supporting the argument of the second one. As loyal followers of Balkan movies will have guessed, I left them cursing at each other and yelling, all at the same time. (I only heard, from a safe distance, that it was something about you, us, them.)

Is peacebuilding, therefore, just a colorful circus show, a never-ending performance to make believers of those who choose to believe? Is, by extension, tolerance (and hence intolerance as well) something that is exclusively reserved for the private realm, at least in the Western liberal intellectual tradition?[i]  If that is the case, we are very much facing the rat problem mentioned in the caption. What follows from that argument, then, is that the house should be fixed. The first step to proceed, if we think more about the kyai’s valuable advice quoted in the above epigraph, is to identify the hole through which the rat squeezed in, also allowing for the fact that the problem does not have geographical, cultural or social borders: any society can be seen as a house, and any type of intolerance as a rat.

These thoughts were on my mind as the bus I was traveling on this summer stopped in front of a mosque and a church – not one after another, but in fact, one next to another. In the Yogyakarta province, Indonesia, a mosque and a Protestant church share the same address. I was on the bus full of curious minds from all over the world. The bus has just arrived in front of the church and the mosque in order to obtain an insight into how local Muslims and Christians coexist peacefully. The persons on the bus have all read something about the numerous interreligious clashes and disputes in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, whereby the Muslims and all others also coexist with several Islamic subgroups not associated with or recognized by the majority of Indonesia’s Muslims.[ii]

Moreover, we have all heard stories about the Indonesian constitution that foresees six official religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism) to one of which everyone has to belong, and where atheists, or those who refuse to declare their religion, are severely punished. But when one is in the country, stories like that are difficult to believe, judging from the smiling faces around every corner. Therefore, one cannot help but wonder whether the Indonesian people, similarly to the Bosnians and pretty much everyone else on the planet, sometimes only perform.

By performing, of course, I do not mean theater as much as life. But the metaphor of performance found applicability while watching with others the Ramayana ballet in Prambanan Temple in central Java. The content and structure of the performance finds parallels in how one makes sense of “fixing the house.” A traditional Javenese ballet, it is based on the prominent epic and performed in four acts, or, as they call it, episodes. But, the reader is now wondering, how does the ballet play out along the public-private debate? Does the message it conveys and the way it is performed tell us something more about tradition, tolerance and violence?  In the first episode, the main hero, Rama’s wife Shinta, is abducted by Rama’s most bitter adversary, Rahwana. In the second episode, Rama, helped by Sugriwa, the ape envoy, is trying to reach Shinta, while in the third episode Rahwana is already waging a war against Rama. Rama kills Rahwana in episode four, and, of course, reunites with Shinta, and they live happily ever after.

So let the story of tolerance in private versus public (in Bosnia, Indonesia, and everywhere else) and about a summer school that has the rare courage to address the issue (in private and in public), be told in four episodes as well, for the author of these lines still naïvely, but passionately, believes in happy endings.

Episode 1: ISSRPL – Locating the Problem

The curious minds hopping off a bus are the participants of the 2012 International Summer School of Religion and Public Life (ISSRPL) held on two Indonesian islands: Java, being the majority Muslim area, and Bali, being populated mainly by Hindus. By bringing together an ethnically and religiously heterogeneous group of participants (28 fellows from 18 countries) to a country that is equally ethnically and religiously mixed, the school organizers aimed to create small “communities of trust,” as the school director, Boston University professor Adam Seligman, puts it.

Generally, the summer school involves approximately 25-30 fellows coming from about 20 different countries. The yearlong discussion on tolerance and living together differently was started in the Balkans, where, as pointed out in the introduction, it is still a very delicate issue. The first ISSRPL was held in 2003 in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Dubrovnik, Croatia, followed by other Balkan-located schools in 2004 (Sarajevo and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina), 2006 (Stolac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Boston, United States) and 2011 (Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria). The logo of the school is also closely related to the Balkans: it represents a design of the Čaršijska Mosque in Stolac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was destroyed in 1992-93 and reconstructed in 2003.

Through an intense degree of interaction, and combining cognitive (academic) and emotional aspects, the ISSRPL fellows learn about the country they find themselves in, but also about the people with whom they spend the bulk of their time: other participants of the school. Building on the premises that knowledge is collective (social) and that people build real, active communities (something that is deeply anchored in human nature) by doing together.

Unlike most programs in interreligious and interethnic dialogue, the summer school does not stress what we have in common with the other, but accepts and attempts to build precisely on our differences. That is a challenging undertaking, vastly avoided or at least ignored, precisely because difference is the root of every conflict, be it difference in standpoints, provenance, religion, or levels of wealth. Focusing on the root of conflict is, doubtless, the most targeted way to solve it. By the similar token, addressing difference in the context of the contrast-painted societies is probably also the most efficient method of dealing with difference.

Episode 2: Telling Them What They Want to Hear – a Recipe for Tolerance?

Back to the curious minds from the beginning. Similarly to the ape envoy from Ramayana, they are far from listless and drifting. In the next scene, we see them in a Protestant church, holding some pink lunchbox gifts, eating oranges and listening to the pastor. She is telling them how they, the Christians, have absolutely no problems with their Muslim neighbors. And the Muslim neighbors, who invite everyone to the mosque, concur. All is well, thank you for asking. Yogyakarta has been declared, according to some survey, the happiest city in Indonesia. And according to some other survey, Indonesia, the presenters hurry to add, is indeed the happiest place on the planet. Hence, Logical Reasoning 101 suggests: Yogyakarta is the happiest city on Earth! Some of the curious minds are immediately frowning, and we should forgive them, for doubt is the ultimate quality of those being curious. The question that imposes itself is: could it be that this is just an appearance, something similar to the introductory show performed by my three Bosnian peacebuilding friends? The group leaves in a state of doubt.

A Balinese intellectual gives them an opposite perspective, in a lecture held in a heavenly resort with palms, pools and all other predictable requisites of paradise, in Ubud, Bali. “The tourist heaven you see here”, he points out, “is nothing but the way we make our living. In reality, it’s completely different. Look around. See for yourselves.” The group does just that, trying not to be deceived by the fabulous odor of the yellow plumeria flowers which can be found all over the island. And indeed, truth is out there, as the “X Files”, a TV show popular in the 1990s, suggests. At times, it seems that the Balinese identity, with everything offered for sale, has been constructed merely for purposes of the tourist.[iii]

In a Javanese Catholic church, a priest, looking and speaking like a textbook example of Christ’s shepherd, gives a memorable Sunday sermon. Essentially, he speaks about three people: Udin, a journalist of a local newspaper in Yogyakarta who was probably killed by a politician whom he had associated to corruption; Marsinah, a female worker, who was murdered after she had led a mass labor protest against the corporative owner where she worked. The case was closed without any decision by the court; and Munir, a human rights activist who was poisoned on a flight by military secret agents. Udin, Marsinah and Munir are today’s prophets, the priest concludes, for they were ready to suffer in order to make this imperfect world a better place for the rest of us.

The core of the problem lies exactly in the public sphere. The reason why the honest and profound Bosnian reconciliation process so far has not translated from the public to the private, and vice versa, and why some people in Indonesia publically insist on impeccable harmony within society, while human rights violations still occur in suspicious and dodgy corners far away from sun and the sea, is the inability to grasp the very concept of tolerance, whom one should tolerate, and where. Tolerance “involves accepting, and abiding or accommodating views that one rejects. It calls us to live in cognitive dissonance and presents contradiction as a sought after goal. We are obliged to “bear” what in fact we find unbearable.”[iv]

Often times, tolerance is confounded with indifference – an elegant solution that is based on the premise that a realm of privacy is not to be broached at any cost, and that therefore, tolerant or intolerant views should be removed from public discussion. This is where the issue of space becomes pivotal, too. At home, we think what we want to think, and we say what we want to say, because we are free. Outside, in public, we do not really care (What is there to be tolerant about when it comes to Aborigines if I reside in Buenos Aires? Why on Earth do I have to have an opinion on the Tutsi, or even, God forbid, empathize with them, if I live in Montenegro?), or, in the best of cases, we pretend to care while simultaneously acting completely opposite. That, or so we seem to be taught, is the way to achieve world peace and to coexist with the “other”.

Episode 3: Tolerating vs. Confronting the “Other”

Then, again, who is your “other”? The “other” is obviously not a Tutsi from Kigali if you have spent all your life in Podgorica. On the contrary, it is someone who enters your own, private, comfort zone. The “other” is precisely that person claiming to have been detained in a camp that “your” army set up. The “other” is that Christian building a church in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood; the “other” is also a Jew in Bosnia, where he or she cannot actively engage in politics, or a Jewish observant in Indonesia, where he or she cannot tick a box which says “Judaism” on an ID card, for there is no such category; the “other” is a Muslim in the Paris banlieues or the London outskirts; the “other” is a Chinese on the island of Java, who has never learned to write or to speak Chinese, but has also never really been accepted as an Indonesian; the “other”, too, is that annoying human rights activist who does not stop reminding the world of child labor in your fabric. It seems that the world has plenty of “others”!

Deranged dictators and their policies (though not only) are, as a rule, obsessed with “otherness”. Hitler’s Endlösung (Final Solution) had the objective of exterminating every single Jew in Germany, and then beyond. Saddam’s gassing campaigns during Anfal targeted helpless Kurds in selected areas of Iraq, and Milošević’s insane policy of etničko čišćenje (ethnic cleansing) was systematically conducted against non-Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. Throughout Indonesia, in 1965, everyone was suspected to be a Communist and as a consequence, thousands of innocent people died. Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia, went so far as to kill all the people wearing glasses, for they were deduced to be intellectuals, and therefore enemies of the Angkor, the civilization of Kampuchea established by Pol Pot.

Africa, too, is not spared of such abominable stories. Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis was, similarly to what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, replete with cases of war rape, with the scope of humiliating the opponent to the core. Moreover, Uganda’s infamous fugitive Joseph Kony has committed unthinkable atrocities leading the ironically named rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (previously also dubbed the Holy Spirit Movement) and aiming to establish a state based on the Ten Commandments. The ongoing crises in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are closely related to this issue.

Punishing “otherness” can also occur in a less brutal manner, of course. Recently an American Muslim in Lombok, Indonesia, was sentenced to five months for religious defamation because during Ramadan in 2012, he pulled out the plug on a mosque’s loudspeaker claiming that the loud voice disrupted the guests at his guesthouse.[v] Likewise, “others” are in many cases held at a safe distance. For instance, the Palestinian people in Bethlehem cannot exit their town, secluded by a wall, and go and visit relatives in Jerusalem, only 8.5 kilometers away, without an official Israeli authorization that is extremely rarely granted. Similarly, Bosniak people in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, have not been to the Croat part of the city for more than twenty years and vice versa. Moreover, both Bosniaks and Croats also swear they will never do so, ever.

Episode 4: Knowledge of vs. Knowledge for Tolerance

But where does this discussion lead us? Now, imagine the group consisting of a Ugandan Catholic, an Indonesian Pentecostal, a Zimbabwean Anglican, a Bosnian Muslim, an Afghani Muslim, an Indonesian Hindu, an American Jew, and a Croatian Catholic. These people all carry along certain views of those who are “other” to them. Perhaps they think of these others as dangerous; perhaps they are skeptical about them; perhaps they see them with a nuance of neutrality, even indifference, when not in direct contact with them. In any case, there is always a certain level of mistrust in interacting with the “other.” Learning about the “other” in an academic way is useful, but it is only the part of the process (Seligman calls this “knowledge of”).

The most distinctive premise of the school, however, is to link this “knowledge of” with an even more precious form of knowledge: “knowledge for.” Imagine a long day of lectures on the Indonesian constitution or Balinese identity; visits to the Merapi volcano by motorcycle, the breathtaking Prambanan, a collection of 240 Hindu temples, or the Kotesan Buddhist village in Java; or worships like the Jewish Shabbat prayer, the Muslim Juma’t Prayer, the mass in the Javanese Catholic church, or the Shiwa Buddha tooth-filing ceremony in the midst of the rice fields of Bali.

After such a full day, when the abovementioned group of people, heterogeneous in everything one can be heterogeneous in – age, gender, race, religion, language, and built-in conceptions of what is acceptable and normal – has dinner together, dances together, sings on a bus, goes to swim, or cooks together, they necessarily build a closer community. They have shared experiences (for they have just returned from a long day and there is a lot to talk about), and they become more open to talk about some more personal issues, such as conflict, belonging and identity. That is, then, the “knowledge for.”

One particular moment that struck this author and which instantiated all that was said thus far, revolves around a young woman, whose provenance I will not disclose for her own safety, and who is the most impressive person I met during the ISSRPL in Indonesia. Young as she is, she leads an unthinkable life for the majority of us participating in the school, some even more than twice as old as she is. Her life consists in constant fear: how will she get to university? What will happen with her and her sister? Is somebody she knows going to get beaten up or killed? She has been trying for several years to set up educational programs for women in her country’s rural areas, facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles and risking her life on a daily basis.

And in the midst of Bali, the hallucinating paradise, something entirely unplanned happens: the young woman suddenly breaks into tears. And what follows, to me, is the core of the ISSRPL: Muslims, Jews, and Christians from all over the world sit still and listen to the girl’s sobbing. No one is trying to console the young woman with some wise words, proverbs and catchy phrases. Importantly, no one is trying to say: “You know, I understand you, for what is/was done to my people is equally bad”. The only gesture coming from all those present, the Muslims, Jews, and Christians, is that of silence, gradually turning into many tears. Certainly, no one was being tolerant in relation to the girl, for there was nothing to tolerate, given no geographical or historical connection between our realities and her quagmire. But, equally, no one was being indifferent. That is the point where empathy jumps in, or, as Dominique Moïsi has so wonderfully put it, the “geopolitics of emotion.”[vi]

That is, in brief, also what the experience of the ISSRPL teaches us. You actually do not have to tolerate your distant “others”, those you do not live with or are not connected to in any way, because their behavior does not affect you. But you can at least try, once in a while, to see the world from their shoes, and compare to what you see from yours. It is a refreshing experience. And that is exactly what happens when you have some forty people from all over the world discussing the limits of power of Yogyakarta’s sultan under a tree just next to the Prambanan temple.

The near “others”, on the other hand, are a more challenging group to deal with. Not only do you have to try to understand what they are going to do next, but you also have to tolerate them (as much in private as in public, in order for the concept of tolerance to really work) so you can all coexist peacefully. When the ISSRPL fellows go back to their countries of origin, this second, much bigger, challenge immediately arises. One thing is certain: You do not merely study the “other” like you study country flags, Amazonian vegetation, or architectural styles. Much more is at stake. You live with the “other”, acknowledge the differences between that other and yourself, and learn to accept them. It is, indeed, astonishingly simple, and, what is more, it guarantees the “happily ever after” ending. The house is safe; the rats will not return.

All that said, I have to note that normally I am genuinely disinclined to appreciate the texts ending with a verse, or, even worse, a whole strophe. It is just so cliché. But, wishing to leave the confused reader with something tangible, or at least memorable, after hearing a whole lot about tolerance, Ramayana, Indonesia, Bosnia, rats, the problem of otherness, and in particular, the ISSRPL that assembled all those puzzle pieces together into a beautiful mélange, I will close with a poem, for a simple reason. I do not believe that anyone has ever made such a powerful point in fewer words than this particular maestro, on why tolerance is a matter of sheer necessity:

The blood, the soil, the faith
These words you can’t forget
Your vow, your holy place
O love, aren’t you tired yet?

(…)A cross on every hill
A star, a minaret
So many graves to fill
O love, aren’t you tired yet?
–Leonard Cohen, The Faith

Author Bio

Maja Šoštarić, a 2012 ISSRPL Fellow, has a PhD in Political Science from University of Vienna with research stays in Paris and Osaka, a postgraduate diploma in International Studies from Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, as well as a Master’s in Economics from Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. She has worked with a number of international organizations, NGOs, and think tanks. Her primary interests are diplomacy and international affairs, human rights and languages.

[i] Seligman, Adam B. 2003. “Tolerance, Tradition and Modernity.” Cardozo Law Review no. 24 (4):1645-1656.

[ii] Hefner, Robert. 2011. “Where have all the abangan gone? Regionalization and decline of non-standard Islam in contemporary Indonesia”. In: Politics and religion in Indonesia. Syncretism, orthodoxy and religious contention in Java and Bali. Edited by Michel Picard and Rémy Madinier, 2011. Routledge, London and New York.

[iii] Picard, Michel. 2008. “Balinese identity as tourist attraction: From `cultural tourism’ (pariwisata budaya) to `Bali erect’ (ajeg Bali)”, In: Tourist Studies; 8; p.155.

[iv] Seligman, see supra note 1, p. 102.

[v] Bagir, Zainal Abidin, 2011. “Defamation of Religion Law in Post-Reformasi Indonesia: Is Revision Possible?”, Gadjah  Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The paper was first presented “Law and Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Asia” Seminar, 17-18 December 2011, organized by Asia Research Institute and the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.

[vi] Moïsi, Dominique. 2008. “La géopolitique de l’émotion: Comment les cultures de peur, d’humiliation et d’espoir façonnent le monde”, Flammarion, Paris.

The International Summer School on Religion and Public Life Changes Name

After ten years operating programs as the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life (ISSRPL), we have changed our name to CEDAR–Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion. This better reflects our organizational growth and the needs of our affiliate schools in the Balkans, North America, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa. We have redesigned our practice and programming to better address the opportunities afforded by our global network. Continuing to support the pedagogy developed by the ISSRPL, CEDAR is a global educational network enabling members of disparate communities to recognize and accept their differences as they work toward a civil society.

2011 – ISSRPL Occasional Paper No. 4, by James W. McCarty, III

Rejecting Utopias, Embracing Modesty: Reflections on Interreligious Peacebuilding in Light of the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life

James W. McCarty, III

My field of study, Christian Social Ethics, is a child of the “Social Gospel” movement.[i] At its best, this movement represents the incredible possibilities of constructive and theologically informed Christian political engagement toward the creation of a just society. At its worst, it represents the worst of religious social thought: the utopian dreams of naïve people whose religious vision of a perfect society impeded their work for a good one.[ii] Like many others influenced by Enlightenment beliefs about human potential, some Social Gospellers believed that humanity was evolving into a more moral race and was coming into its final stages of development. This dream quickly became a nightmare in the wake of two world wars and the attempted extermination of European Jewry. Advances in technology did not coincide with advances in morality. Rather, they made it possible for the modern phenomenon known as “genocide” to come into existence.

On the other end of the spectrum, for nearly a century people were predicting the global decline of religion. People proclaimed “the death of God” and forecast the rise of a global secularism, understood as the disappearance of religion from public life. Those who were wiser cautioned against such bold claims, but the mainline story for decades was that religion was “on the ropes” and had nearly zero chance of long-term survival. Today we know that such predictions were naïve and pompous. The significance of religion in global public life seems, to people in the West, to have increased exponentially over the last decade. Of course, the importance of religion was never in decline, we often simply chose to ignore its untraditional manifestations. The utopian vision of a “secular” society liberated from religion seems like nothing more than a fairy tale in today’s world.

Finally, many liberals, devoted to social justice and peacemaking around the world, continue to spread the often offensive untruth that “all religions are really the same” or that “at the heart of every religion is love and justice and peace and, therefore, we should all just get along.” They gloss over real and significant differences between religious and theological traditions in order to proclaim a false universalism and surface unity between the religions.  We have seen over and over that people are often willing to die and kill over those seemingly “trivial” differences liberals want to ignore. They pursue the solidarity of religious traditions through the categories of liberalism and, therefore, fail to do justice to both the great religious traditions and the project of liberalism. The utopian hope of all faiths leading up the same mountain is dashed every time someone refuses to climb the aforementioned mountain.

Utopias are exciting and we want to believe them. They give us a goal to work toward and an energizing spirit that inspires masses of people. Utopias sustain us when reality causes others to despair. However, utopias are false dreams that eventually shatter when people attempt to implement them in history because they must eventually exclude those who do not buy into or fit neatly into the vision. Liberalism is one such utopia, and Communism is another, and both have been party to some of history’s most egregious crimes. They were the leading political visions of the bloodiest century on record.

In contrast, the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life (ISSRPL) embodies a pedagogy of modesty. Rejecting all utopias, the ISSRPL pursues tolerance, shared practices, recognized and embraced differences, and the admission of religious, theological, and ethical ambiguity rather than purity in communal religious life. Perhaps the most important form of modesty practiced by ISSRPL, however, is its refusal to claim to know any final answer to the complex question of how to make and sustain peace in a religiously plural world. The school is an experiment as much as it is anything, and while there may be tentative theories being explored, the results of the experiment are not yet clear. Focusing on the lived experience of religion in various contexts, the school challenges and complicates the “neat” pictures of public life theorists like John Rawls and Karl Marx present. Public life is not just “political life” in a narrow sense. Religious life is public life as well.

An Example of What is Possible

Bulgaria is a country that has passed through centuries of Orthodox Christian hegemony, five hundred years of Ottoman rule, decades of a Communist regime, and is now in the early stages of a liberal democratic society. Now, imagine if you will an Orthodox Christian monastery in Bulgaria that is home to one young monk. This monastery was built over a century ago by a Muslim man whose Muslim wife found healing at a nearby spring of healing water tied by legend to the traditional Orthodox faith of the country. Today this monastery houses a very old icon which has a special miraculous power: it provides healing to women who have been unable to conceive. Many women come and pray before this icon every year and find healing for their barren wombs. Christian women pray before this icon. Muslim women pray before this icon. This occurs in a country where churches were destroyed and converted into mosques which were centuries later converted back into churches. This, in a land where Turkish-Muslims were exiled to Turkey, and Bulgarian-Muslims were forced to have their names changed into “Christian” ones as recently as the 1980’s.

In a land with centuries of ebbing religious conflict, how does such a place as this monastery exist? On the one hand, it is a miracle. On the other hand, it is very simple: Christians and Muslims share something there. They share a history, a holy relic, and a practice of healing. Through times of strife throughout the rest of the country people of various religious backgrounds have come to pray before this miraculous icon. They have shared life’s pain and joy, at least, in this one place, and it has survived conflicts between religions and the Communist attempt to eliminate religion.

In this space questions of theology are not asked, Holy Scriptures are not compared and contrasted with one another, and no attempts at conversion are made. People from various religious backgrounds simply share in a practice that gives life. They go away from their shared practice different but not converted. Rather, they allow the space to be what it is—a shared space of life-giving practices—and do not trouble that space with the conflicts that sometimes rage outside.

However, that space is not wholly “public,” and outside that space conflicts still occur quite frequently. ISSRPL exists to discover if there are some other shared public practices that can create the space for tolerance. It is an experiment of which no one yet seems to know the results.

What is ISSRPL?

ISSRPL is an experiment, a “laboratory,” in which scholars and activists of interreligious peacebuilding from around the globe travel to some place in the world with a history of religious conflicts and live together for two weeks. During this time they eat meals together, study together, sightsee together, witness each other’s worship services, and even do “yoga” together. Throughout these two weeks a multitude of conversations and key events occur. For instance, imagine Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians from Bulgaria, Uganda, and Indonesia singing “Amazing Grace” while American Jews and Bosnian Muslims cheer them on. Or, imagine a heated debate about Muslim women wearing headscarves in which a Muslim woman makes it clear she will not remove her scarf because “it is part of who she is.” In response, a Christian man says, “You weren’t born with it on your head,” to which a secular Jewish woman enthusiastically cheers. Both of these instances happened within hours of each other at the 2011 ISSRPL.  This is life at the ISSRPL.

The Principles of the ISSRPL

There are several key principles and assumptions under which the ISSRPL functions. The first is that the dominant models in contemporary political philosophy, liberalism and communitarianism, are inadequate models for making sense of religious plurality and establishing a sustainable peace. Adam Seligman, the founder of the school, said, “[One] purpose of the school is to understand the implications of different political models.”[iii] One implication of both of these dominant models is that they are inadequate in the face of increasing religious diversity. They both assume a certain type of hegemony, of the individual or the traditional community, which inevitably excludes certain religious persons from ever being able to be full members of such a political community. They both create “others” that can never be wholly integrated. Rather than attempt to perfect one of these inherently flawed models, the school is an experiment in creating a third way between them.

A second key assumption is that “part of living together is bearing one’s own discomfort.”[iv] In other words, there are differences that cannot be transcended and these differences will sometimes, if not oftentimes, make us uncomfortable. For instance, I am uncomfortable when I see a woman wearing a burqa; in fact, I find it hard to fathom how enforcing this practice is anything other than a form of oppression of women. In a like manner I cannot count the number of times I have had Muslim women insist to me that women in the West are oppressed because they are forced to adhere to standards of beauty and sexual vibrancy that distract from their intelligence and spiritual strength to be successful. The dress of women in the West is truly offensive to their social, religious, and moral sensibilities. However, this does not mean that we cannot live with one another in a way in which we respect, or at best tolerate, our differences without either of us “accepting” them. More importantly, this does not mean that we cannot live together without eventually wanting to kill one another even if we never accept all of each other’s practices.

This is a third core principle of the school: tolerance is not “too low” a virtue to be the goal of interreligious peacebuilding. It is popular today to dismiss tolerance as an inadequate goal for social life because it implies a “distaste” for another’s way of life and, therefore, we should move beyond tolerance to acceptance or the celebration of differences. The school takes as one of its starting points the exact opposite stance. Just as human rights best function as a “floor” or “basement” for our social life rather than some unattainable “ceiling,” we should strive for tolerance because that is the best we can achieve in a world in which religious differences are often not simply a matter of “taste” but have significant moral and social implications. There is a high likelihood that one’s religious (and political) beliefs and practices are highly offensive to someone else. One part of social life is that we live with people who offend us. Striving to live as if this is not so is another utopia that is bound to disappoint. Rather, if we could simply tolerate those who offend us and make us uncomfortable we will have taken an important first step towards a sustainable peace.

One way in which this discomfort is borne by everyone in the school is by attending one another’s religious services. Witnessing the worship of another person can be a jarring experience. We are reminded of the different ways that we each pray to our God and that we inhabit different religious and moral worlds. While there are always places of contact where some commonality can be found, those points of commonality do not remove or transcend our differences. The differences always remain and must be tolerated if they cannot be accepted.

An important part of such tolerance, for the ISSRPL, is the willingness to live together under the assumption that no one people group—religious, ethnic, national, or racial—has a monopoly on suffering. In other words, no one in the school can claim the suffering of their people as a trump card to end the hard work of attempting to live together through offense and injury.[v] This is, perhaps, the most difficult principle of the school as there are often people in the school who come from places where the rhetoric of “greater suffering” of one group versus another is a daily reality. It is easy to view the goal of tolerance as a cynical one that refuses to move past “petty” offenses, but when one remembers that peacebuilding is not necessarily about how to live peacefully with your annoying next door neighbor but, rather, how to live peacefully with the person who stole your family’s land or how to ride the bus with the person whose brother killed your daughter, we are reminded of how difficult interreligious peacebuilding can be.

The learning that happens in being physically present in the worship of another or in suppressing the desire to claim one’s suffering as a trump card is fundamentally different than the learning that happens when reading an essay on prayer or reading about the suffering in your enemy’s history. This type of learning impacts us beyond some form of generalized knowledge[vi] about the other by forcing one to learn what it means to physically remain in relationship with one whose words or life are at times offensive. This is why the ISSRPL places such an emphasis on embodied pedagogy.[vii]

Finally, the school assumes that over two weeks of living, studying, and working together the group of between thirty and forty well-intentioned people of goodwill will “splinter.” Some event will occur that drives a wedge between certain members of the group. All that we have discussed before is tested in this experience. Can we practice tolerance in the midst of real offense and injury? Inevitably, it seems, the group recovers from this experience and comes back together to live together in a tolerant community. What is it that enables this to happen? This, it seems, is the yet unanswered question. In the year I was part of the school it was drawing upon some of the core principles of Western liberal individualism that brought the group back together. I gathered from conversations that in previous years it was a commitment to some form of communitarianism that brought the group back together after strife. However, neither of these alone is sufficient for the enterprise. The question of the school is, “What is the third way between these two dominant political models that the school is uncovering in its annual practice?”

Embracing Modesty

Out of my experience with the ISSRPL I have learned three key lessons for thinking about interreligious peacebuilding: first, dialogue is insufficient to establish peace; instead, shared practice, even public rituals, are necessary to sustain any peace begun through dialogue or political policy; second, interreligious peacebuilding is risky and there is never any guarantee that an achieved peace will last; third, we must embrace theological, political, and embodied modesty and reject the pursuit of utopias.

One of the most common responses to religious diversity and conflict is to promote interreligious dialogue. In these settings people of different faiths come together and talk about their religious beliefs with one another. Members of one religion teach members of another religion about their holidays, theological commitments, and forms of worship. Oftentimes, the purpose of such sessions is to dispel rumors about a religion or answer “hard questions.” While such dialogue is helpful in introducing people who may not otherwise cross paths to one another, and serves as a type of “icebreaker” between communities, it is insufficient to establish a sustainable peace. The knowledge gained at this level of engagement is still too abstract and general to sustain peace. Rather, people must share life together.[viii] Some form of shared practice—perhaps as simple as sharing a regular meal[ix]—is necessary for people to move beyond seeing those of another religion as a “generalized other.”[x] Practices are concrete, and sharing practices is a an embodied experience that makes it harder to act as if the one you share such a practice with is not a human in the same way you are a human.[xi] It is ritual that sustains religious communities during times of theological strife, and it will take some form of publicly shared ritual between religious communities to sustain any understanding or peace that is achieved through dialogue. “Ideal speech situations” do not exist in reality. In reality what we have are embodied persons who share space with other embodied persons. Shared practices and rituals create an embodied knowledge that simply cannot be achieved through dialogue, no matter how “ideal” it is.

In addition, no matter how much dialogue occurs or how many practices are shared, there is never a guarantee that today’s peace will last tomorrow. Peacebuilding is always risky.[xii] In response to this reality, the ISSRPL emphasizes “trust.”[xiii] It claims that with modernity we have had to learn to live in danger. More often than not we have responded to this danger with practices of exclusion, othering, and violence. In traditional communities there is no need to “trust” anyone because you can have “confidence” in them. Everyone you encounter is a person like you—from the same family or tribe—but with the rise of the modern age we began to live with strangers. You can never be confident about how a stranger will react to your action or even your being. Living amongst strangers seems to be an inherently dangerous situation. In this situation, if we want to live peacefully, we must trust our stranger-neighbor with no guarantee that they will not harm us. Thus, every attempt at living peacefully with those who are “other” is a risky endeavor. [xiv] To pursue a worthwhile end we must always take risks. Our attempts at life-sustaining moral action are never guaranteed success. Too often people refuse to act without the confidence that their actions will achieve their intended results; they do not engage people without knowing they will be respected and treated appropriately. However, if we only welcome others when we are sure our hospitality will be reciprocated we become slaves to our individual prejudices and fears and of our society’s generalized stereotypes of those who are our strangers. To create peace we must be willing to trust people who offend us and make us uncomfortable. It is for this reason that peacebuilding is always a risky endeavor.

Finally, we must embrace what Adam Seligman calls “epistemological modesty”[xv] and Ellen Ott Marshall calls “theological humility.”[xvi] We must be willing to admit we do not have a monopoly on the truth if we are ever to achieve a lasting peace that includes those who are “not like us.” One can claim to know the whole truth and maintain a certain form of peace in a homogenous and hegemonic community, but in a plural society one must always make “modest claims.”[xvii] We must make modest and humble claims—and have modest goals—because bold claims too quickly become utopian justifications to continue the cycle of violence that plagues our world. The most terrible crimes and human rights abuses of the twentieth century—genocides in Europe, Asia, and Africa, constant and protracted warfare, decades of Apartheid rule in South Africa, the use of “disappearances” in Latin America, international terrorism—were all committed in the name of political, ethnic, and religious utopias. Some of history’s greatest atrocities have been motivated by humanity’s highest ideals. The remedy for such overzealous violence is modesty.

One of the leading causes of violence is the notion of “purity.” The pursuit of ethnic and religious purity, especially, has served as a justification for violence against all who may be potential “pollutants.” One way in which we learn to embrace modesty and reject utopias is through sharing spaces and practices with one another. For example, the monastery mentioned earlier is a shared space that both Muslims and Christians in Bulgaria have an interest in preserving because they share practices there. In a similar manner, there is a small community in Macedonia in which Orthodox Christians and Sunni and Shi’a Muslims all celebrate the Day of Saint George at the same shrine. In these celebrations the Christians incorporate some traditionally Macedonian Muslim practices (such as stepping through a string of beads), the Muslims incorporate some traditionally Christian practices (such as giving gifts of eggs dyed red), and they all incorporate traditional Macedonian practices in their celebrations (specifically, the  youth swinging from a rope on a tree).[xviii] They share holiday practices and a holy space and maintain peace while being surrounded by communities that have experienced conflict. While shared spaces and practices are no guarantee of peace, they are a risk that, when taken, opens up the space where trust and peace are viable possibilities.


We live in a world shaped by great ideals and horrific violence. The twentieth century has taught us, if it has taught us anything, that the inevitable outcome of striving for utopian dreams is historically gruesome violence. In response to this, the ISSRPL maintains that we must take modest steps towards religious peace. These steps must be physical and not metaphorical. Politics is impotent to create peace between religious and ethnic groups. Dialogue, while pointing in the right direction, is incapable of sustaining peaceful relations. Perhaps we should return to the lessons of so-called “primitive” or “traditional” religions and communities and create shared practices and rituals that perform peace. Habituation in such practices may be able to form people with the virtue of peacebuilding. And even if we continue to be so different from one another that we still experience discomfort, perhaps we will have enough of the virtue of patience to be able to bear our discomfort. At least, this is what the ISSRPL understands to be its modest claim. And if this happens, maybe we will stop killing each other.

Author Bio

James W. McCarty, III, a 2011 ISSRPL Fellow, is Director of the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program at Oxford College of Emory University, a doctoral student in Religion at Emory University, and a former minister at Normandie Church of Christ.

[i] See Gary Dorrien, Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition (West Sussex, UK: Wiley –Blackwell, 2011), for the most comprehensive survey of the discipline and the story of its roots in the Social Gospel movement in the United States.

[ii] See Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (1932, Charles Scribner’s Sons; reprint, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), and Reinhold Niebuhr, Reflections on the End of An Era (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934), for two of the most biting critiques along these lines.

[iii] Quoted from an informal conversation at the 2011 ISSRPL.

[iv] Adam Seligman, “Trust, Tolerance and Modernity – the Problem of Liberalism,” lecture delivered at ISSRPL on July 5, 2011.

[v] Charles Taylor has called the phenomena of using the suffering of one’s people group as a “trump card” the “victim scenario.” He claims that one defining feature of the modern world is the proliferation of people claiming to be victims in such a way that it justifies their present and future violence. When two groups continue to use this “victim scenario” against one another a cycle of violence is put in motion that is very difficult to overcome and often ends in the mass killing of innocent people. It is no coincidence for Taylor that genocides arose in an era where the claim to victimhood absolves moral considerations. See Charles Taylor, “Notes on the Sources of Violence: Perennial and Modern,” in Beyond Violence: Religious Sources of Social Transformation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, edited by James L. Heft, S.M. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 15-42.

[vi] See Adam Seligman, “Pedagogic Principles and Reflections Developing Out of ISSRPL Practice,” ISSRPL Occasional Paper Series No. 1,

[vii] Ibid., 1.

[viii] This claim is not dissimilar to Sharon Welch’s critique of Jürgen Habermas “that morally transformative interaction requires far more than conversation between different groups and people” and her claim that “genuine’ conversation presupposes prior material interaction, either political conflict or coalition, or joint involvement in life-sustaining work.” See Sharon D. Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk: Revised Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000). 124.

[ix] Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, 136. “For those whose differences are great, work together is often possible at only the most basic level: preparing food together, cleaning, building houses, making clothing.”

[x] See Seyla Benhabib, “The Generalized and the Concrete Other: The Kohlberg – Gilligan Controversy and Moral Theory,” in Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1992), 158-70, for the classic exploration of generalized knowledge about social groups.

[xi] I am not so naïve as to think that practices as simple as eating together will lead to world peace. Rather, I am claiming shared practices such as cooking and eating open up spaces that make peace a greater possibility than if those spaces had not been opened. Sadly, Tone Bringa, in her documentary film Bosnia: We Are All Neighbors, has demonstrated that even friends who have shared coffee for decades can abandon one another in times of violent conflict between religious groups.

[xii] John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 163-9.

[xiii] See Adam Seligman, The Problem of Trust (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

[xiv] This is not unlike Sharon Welch’s “ethic of risk.” Welch argues against an “ethic of control” which has defined so much of Western ethics and argues instead for an “ethic of risk.” She defines the ethic of risk in this way: “The ethic of risk is characterized by three elements, each of which is essential to maintain resistance in the face of overwhelming odds: a redefinition of responsible action, grounding in community, and strategic risk-taking. Responsible action does not mean the certain achievement of desired ends but the creation of a matrix in which further actions are possible, the creation of the conditions of possibility for desired changes.” Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, 46.

[xv] Seligman used this phrase during a group conversation during the 2011 ISSRPL.

[xvi] Ellen Ott Marshall, Christians in the Public Square: Faith that Transforms Politics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 75-6. “I use the phrase theological humility to denote a posture that (1) admits limitations of knowledge and partiality of perspective, (2) explicitly and deliberately practices hermeneutics, and (3) remains transparent about faith commitments and accountable to other sources of knowledge.”

[xvii] See Adam Seligman, Modest Claims: Dialogues and Essays on Toleration and Tradition, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004).

[xviii] I learned of this shrine from viewing the unpublished film Peace for All (Shared Shrines) and in informal conversations with its director Elizabeta Koneska. The historical background behind this film can be found in Elizabeta Koneska, “Shared Shrines in Macedonia,” in Elizabeta Koneska and Robert Jankuloski, Shared Shrines. (Skopje: Macedonian Centre for Photography, 2009).