Cultural diversity and interreligious dialogue

Pavlos Kavouras (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece)
Angeliki Ziaka (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)
Panagiotis C. Poulos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece)
Gerasimos Makris (Panteion University, Greece)
Topic: Interfaith dialogue
COMELA 2021 Colloquium

Colloquium Abstract

The study of religious rituals and practices as culturally informed systems can be very insightful in approaching and understanding religious experience in its totality. Such practices, as they are almost always mediated and expressed through diverse performative situations, enable us to explore human experience through culturally discursive articulations and conceptualizations about religion. Considering this field of experience in an interreligious context, particularly as manifested in cases of syncretic and hybrid cultural practices, can offer challenging perspectives regarding religious porosity and resistance. Drawing on the rich ethnographic experience of the panellists regarding religious ritual and practices in the wider Mediterranean region and the Middle East, this colloquium aims to address the potential and limitations of religious reflexivity in helping to establish an interreligious dialogue through and beyond cultural experience.

Keywords: Religion, Inter faith, discourse, performativity, Mediterranean, Middle East

Actually lived culture and achieved spirituality: Reflections on the dialogics of silence
Pavlos Kavouras, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Abstract: Culture determines how a particular society lives meaningfully in a time, space and modality compound. Spirituality refers to transcending ego-consciousness. Actually lived culture is informed by habitual consciousness and ego-centered humanity. Achieved spirituality signifies a self-reflexive humanity that is realized through and beyond ego awareness. Humanity manifests itself through the triptych of experience, expression and communication.
The focus of this paper is on how subjectivities authoring discourses of immanence and transcendence are mutually annihilated in a dialogics of silence.

From Religious Practice to Religious Experience: Ways to approach the individual or communal experience beyond the canonical limitations
Angeliki Ziaka, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Abstract: Beyond the legal spirit of religions, as this is established and defined within their historical and canonical path, exist religious practices and experiences that extend human knowledge, personal and communal, to the search of the unspeakable. In this presentation we look at the reasons behind the maintenance of stereotypical perceptions or prohibiting attitudes in the context of official religious systems. We will deal specifically with the so-called mystical experiences, which, although they enrich the religions they stem from, whenever they act autonomously or go beyond the letter and script of religious law, they are treated with suspicion. We will therefore explore, on the one hand, the objections expressed towards the tarikat (Muslim “brotherhoods”) within Islam and, on the other hand, the ways in which personal experience and communal religious practices claim integration but also the transcendence of their relationship with the official religious system, situating themselves on the “margin” is perceived in terms of freedom and full devotion to God but also in relation to the close community of the tarikat. The means to practice this mystic experience are mainly physical and esoteric. The initiate is called with music, danse and song, dhikr mediation, to elevate the body vibrations to the search and feeling of the eternal.

Musical geographies of urban interreligious encounters
Panagiotis C. Poulos, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Abstract: The formation of hybrid and syncretic religious musical practices in urban contexts is a process highly interrelated with the condition of flow and mobility of social subjects. However, the powerful metaphor of cultural ‘crossroad’, often employed to describe cities such as Istanbul, as well as other urban centres in the broader Mediterranean region, is challenged by the politics of control and regulation over social space. These politics that are grounded in local modernity projects cause ruptures in the flow of peoples, objects and ideas and create points of segregation and exclusion within the city. Consequently, they affect those porous intermediary spaces within which interreligious encounters are historically located and developed. This paper examines comparatively the co-presence of Greek-Orthodox and Jewish musicians of Istanbul within those intermediary spaces of syncretic musical activity, and explores how their interaction was shaped and transformed during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic.

Small Acts of Kindness can work Miracles
Gerasimos Makris, Panteion University
Abstract: Religions are strange animals. The more one feeds them the more aggressive they become. At least in the wider monotheistic Judeo-Christiano-Islamic tradition hallowed doctrines of love and compassion have been historically employed for the killing of adversaries; not always, it is true, but the incidents of violence by far outnumber those of amicable co-existence, even during –or precisely because of– the so-called secular age. Still, from another point of view, one is in infrequently surprised how small acts of kindness defy the fears and mistrust that hegemonic readings of the religious other. By its nature as an ethnographic history of the presence what dares to question the self, anthropology can reveal what institutional religious structures and an excessive reliance on knowledge usually hides, viz. a commonly held need to see the other as a mirror of the self and both as images of something higher.