Introduction to the Study on Religion in Italy by Massimo Introvigne and PierLuigi Zoccatelli

How many Catholic priests, bishops or religious people are there in Italy? What associations aspire to represent Italian Muslims? Which associations address national masses of the many Protestant communities and individual Pentecostal Churches? What websites, email accounts, phone numbers correspond to the different Buddhist organizations, Hindu and Sikh communities in Italy? How many Italians are satanists? Which groups practice occultism, spiritualism, ceremonial magic? Which religions bring together flying saucers and Marxism? What is the Association for the Sbattezzo?

This is the work of the monitoring research agency CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), which since 1988, has been working to understand Italian religions – and non-religious spiritual paths. Well covered here in the the Encyclopedia of Religion in Italy by Massimo Introvigne and Pier Luigi Zoccatelli. The authors present historical introductions, finally reliable statistical data, addresses, phone numbers, Internet links and doctrinal analysis of more than eight hundred organized spiritual and religious minorities in Italy – many of which, little known or discrete, shines a new light on pluralism in Italy. This work greatly changes the perception of religious pluralism in Italy.

Pluralism and prejudice: How conflicts over religious pluralism reveal America’s new ‘Sacred Ground’

The only Protestant running for president in 2012 is President Obama, an American of both a racially and a religiously diverse family background. Both vice-presidential candidates are Catholics, and Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, is Mormon.

Does it matter?

Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core thinks it does. In his new book, “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America,” Patel sees our political process as a mirror of our increasing diversity, especially religious diversity. He writes, “America is among the most religiously diverse countries in human history and by far the most religiously devout nation in the West.”

The question Patel poses, however, is how are we, as a nation, managing these factors? Are we furthering the narrative of “American exceptionalism” in which religious freedom and tolerance are supposed to be one of the best ways we showcase our values to the world? Or are we losing “social capital” to religious fragmentation and even enmity?

Patel takes quite a risk in this book, starting with the manufactured Islamophobia around the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” and his own anger and disgust at this blatant manipulation of religious intolerance for political purposes.

And then, as Patel often does, he provides a teachable moment. At the height of what has been called the “summer of hate” in 2010, he writes that he gets a phone call from Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, one of the most respected Islamic scholars and public intellectuals in the United States. He tells Sheikh Hamza of his anger at this “ridiculous hatred” by a “handful of bigots.”

The core message of “Sacred Ground” is exactly that. Now is the time for not only Patel and Interfaith Youth Core, but also for all of us who believe in the promise of America, to do our best work.

Sheikh Hamza’s words to Patel also reminded me of what we often say in the peace movement: a conflict that cannot be named cannot be mediated.

The Observatory of Religious Pluralism opened this week

On Tuesday 5 the Spanish Minister of Justice presented the new Observatory of Religious Pluralism, a webpage for providing information about religious diversity in Spain. Its main objective is to promote a better public management of religious pluralism, based on a just application of the Spanish constitutional and legal framework in order to guarantee to all individuals their right to practice their religion freely.
The Observatory is also a reference portal for researchers and in general for anyone who wants to know more about religious pluralism in Spain.
To this end, the Observatory provides updated data at the municipal level about places of worship of different faiths and analyzes its evolution, systematizes the legislation that affects the exercise of religious freedom, develops guidelines in order to promote the good governance of religious diversity, identifies and promotes good practices of public management of religious diversity, channels the demands of governments and provides answers through specific routes of governance, and promotes research and bibliographic production on religious pluralism and its impact on Spanish society.

Understanding Angela Merkel

by *Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff*

October 21, 2010

*WASHINGTON* — Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is said to be the most
powerful woman on earth. But even by these standards, the global media
tsunami that followed her remarks about the failure of multiculturalism
in Germany must have caught her by surprise. Her every word was
dissected in every corner of the world, and here is how that reads: /The
Australian/ found that Merkel “rejected the idea of cultural pluralism.”
Columnist Esther J. Cepeda of the Washington Post Writers Group
understood that Merkel called “the very idea” of immigrants living
“happily side by side” with native-born Germans “an illusion.” Russia’s
/RT TV/ asked, “Is diversity dead?” The /Miami Herald/ translated her
remark to mean, “Muhammad, go home.” And, adding some historical
gravitas, the paper concluded, “We should all be alive to the grim
historical resonance of a German chancellor declaring the idea of
disparate cultures living peaceably side by side a failure. What, after
all, is the alternative? Shall Germany officially declare itself a
nation with room enough for one culture only? For the record, that’s
been tried already. And it didn’t work so well, either.”

Got that. Been tried. Didn’t work. Which then raises the question: Why
would an otherwise moderate woman adopt the views of the modern-day
anti-immigrant populists? Why would she endorse a position that could be
called relativist at best and racist at worst? Is it simply her Germanic
gene, as the /Miami Herald’s/ op-ed historians seem to suggest? The
answer is simple — Angela Merkel is not the woman she is currently made
out to be. It is time to consider what she really said and really meant.
It is time to put her remarks into context.

[Continue Reading]

“Islam Was Always Part of Europe”: Interview with the Historian Michael Borgolte

Michael Borgolte, who is a professor of medieval history at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and chair of the Institute for Comparative History of Medieval Europe, claims that Islam has always been a part of Europe and played a significant role in the past. In his recent publication on Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Medieval Europe he describes the Middle Ages as a time when Europe was at least as religiously diverse as today. Muslims came as a conquering power, but settled quickly and facilitated the transfer of knowledge to Europe from the East. In this interview, Borgolte explains how peaceful immigration of Muslims to Europe today helps the continent to return to its normal state of religious pluralism.

“Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans”

The interchange between Muslims and Europe has a long and complicated history, dating back to before the idea of ‘Europe’ was born, and the earliest years of Islam. There has been a Muslim presence on the European continent before, but never has it been so significant, particularly in Western Europe. With more Muslims in Europe than in many countries of the Muslim world, they have found themselves in the position of challenging what it means to be a European in a secular society of the 21st century. At the same time, the European context has caused many Muslims to re-think what is essential to them in religious terms in their new reality.

In this work, H.A. Hellyer analyses the prospects for a European future where pluralism is accepted within unified societies, and the presence of a Muslim community that is of Europe, not simply in it. He draws upon his academic expertise in a variety of disciplines, including sociology, politics and religious studies, in order to give the reader a thorough theoretical backdrop. Uniquely, he combines this knowledge with his background as an independent scholar engaged in policy networks and institutions. The result is a work that has drawn critical acclaim from some of the most noted scholars in the West on a very important topic.

This is the first of a series of events that will be held on the themes of Dr. Hellyer’s book in 2009/10 in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Pluralism is certainly one of the key issues facing us today, and Dr. Hellyer’s book is a fresh perspective on an age-old topic.

American Muslims Widely Seen as Facing Discrimination

Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58 percent) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.

The poll also finds that two-thirds of non-Muslims (65 percent) say that Islam and their own faith are either very different or somewhat different, while just 17 percent take the view that Islam and their own religion are somewhat or very similar. But Islam is not the only religion that Americans see as mostly different from their own. When asked about faiths other than their own, six-in-ten adults say Buddhism is mostly different, with similar numbers saying the same about Mormonism (59 percent) and Hinduism (57 percent).

By a smaller margin, Americans are also inclined to view Judaism and Catholicism as somewhat or very different from their own faith (47 percent different vs. 35 percent similar for Judaism, 49 percent different vs. 43 percent similar for Catholicism). Only when asked about Protestantism do perceived similarities outweigh perceived differences, with 44 percent of non-Protestants in the survey saying Protestantism and their own faith are similar and 38 percent saying they are different.

Results from the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 11-17 among 2,010 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones, reveal that high levels of perceived similarity with religious groups are associated with more favorable views of those groups. Those who see their own faith as similar to Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism and Islam are significantly more likely than others to have favorable views of members of these groups.

Detailed questions about perceptions of Islam show that a plurality of the public (45 percent) says Islam is no more likely than other faiths to encourage violence among its believers; 38 percent take the opposite view, saying that Islam does encourage violence more than other faiths do. Views on this question have fluctuated in recent years, with the current findings showing that the view that Islam is connected with violence has declined since 2007, when 45 percent of the public said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions do.

Almost half of Americans (45 percent) say they personally know someone who is Muslim. Also, slim majorities of the public are able to correctly answer questions about the name Muslims use to refer to God (53 percent) and the name of Islam’s sacred text (52 percent), with four-in-ten (41 percent) correctly answering both “Allah” and “the Koran.” These results are consistent with recent years and show modest increases in Americans’ familiarity with Islam compared with the months following the 9/11 attacks. Those people who know a Muslim are less likely to see Islam as encouraging of violence; similarly, those who are most familiar with Islam and Muslims are most likely to express favorable views of Muslims and to see similarities between Islam and their own religion.

Ismaili leader praises the Canadian example

At the end of his Canadian tour in Vancouver, the hereditary leader of the world’s 15 million Shi’a Ismaili Muslims, Aga Khan, described Canada as a model for diversity. Khan has often visited the country and has maintained a close relationship during his 50-year reign. Khan added that the absence of pluralism has led to much of the world’s discord.

In a special article in The Globe and Mail daily newspaper, former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson describes Khan as an incredible spiritual and political leader: “As imam, he is responsible both for leading the interpretation of the faith and for helping to improve quality of life for all in the wider communities where Ismailis live. This dual obligation is often, I think, quite difficult to appreciate from the Christian viewpoint of the role that church leaders are expected to perform.”

See full-text articles:

Clarkson’s commentary in The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail

The National Post

The government will create a watch group for cultural and religious pluralism

The Spanish Ministry of Justice, Mariano Fern_ndez Bermejo, has announced the creation of a Watch Group for Cultural and Religious Pluralism following the mark of the National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations. The goal is to certify the principle of equality between all religions and to build constructive relations among those religions in accordance with the Spanish Constitution.

Interview with Tariq Ramadan

LAS PALMAS – “What can Europe offer to Islam, and the Muslims to Europe?” “Europe gives Muslims who were born there a life in societies under the rule of law and democracy, where we can express and develop pluralistic points of view. In the other sense, what Muslims can contribute to Europe is further cultural horizons, the wealth of real pluralism. Islam also contributes to questions of spirituality and ethics, which trouble the whole of this consumer society. I am both things, a European and a Muslim, and my own contribution is to work for a reconciliation.” – Tariq Ramadan