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from fragmentation to responsibility

Prof. Michael Fuss

Teacher of the History of Religions, Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome

1. Cultural Conflict on the Horizon

The religious situation in today’s society calls for an immediate commitment to intercultural and interreligious education. One of the enormous challenges globalization poses is in the area of socio-economics and involves interaction between cultures and the question of solidarity. Without calling up the apocalyptic scenario of a culture clash (Samuel Huntington), we can predict that the interaction taking place today between different cultures and religions is going to pose a serious threat to humanity in the near future. On the one hand, 1) cultures all over the world are being inculturated by Christianity, which is truly becoming the universal Church, while on the other, 2) all religious trends are present in every local Christian community, on-line if nothing else. From a global perspective, Christian cross-culturization is taking place according to the dialectical logic represented by the Tao symbol (two interacting halves of a circle representing the polarity of Yin and Yang, black and white, etc.), symbolizing the two interactive halves of interculturality (that of witnessing to ones own identity and that of welcoming the other). In this global perspective, intercultural education is not a subject like any other but becomes synonymous with the new inculturation of Christianity into multi-polar, post-Christian society.

On the positive side, the Church is the primary ‘global player’ in the area of solidarity and cultural mediation. The incarnational structure of Christianity (Karl Rahner) culminates in the Word “made flesh” in each and every society. Based on the common origin of the human race, the body of the Church is built on the transverse interdependence of peoples (Nostra aetate, 1). The very Catholicity of Christianity indicates its capacity to integrate all cultural and philosophical-theological pluralism, geographically and temporally.

Since all religions make the same claim to be universal communities (umma in Islam, sangha in Buddhism, unlimited tolerance in Hinduism advaita, “natural religion” of neo-paganism), the question arises whether this element of conflict might not constitute the very foundation needed for effective interculturality. The crux of the matter seems to be combining the subjective – values and beliefs – with the objective – peaceful co-existence. The Science of Religion has made a contribution to the question of religious co-existence by abandoning the evolutionary or pyramid paradigm (according to which religions advance from a primitive form to a superior and insuperable one) in favour of an interactive, synchronous model, according to which all religious forms exist simultaneously. The ‘family of truth’, a model proposed further on, is an attempt to translate the need for openness to others and personal affirmation into a pedagogical program.

The challenges in education. Recovering the past, promises, commitments

Italian Episcopal Conference, European Symposium, Roma 1-4 July 2004

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