Do cosmopolitanism and religion stand in opposition with each other? To which extent are cosmopolitan ideas, practices and narratives meaningful to the religious experiences and affiliations of concrete individuals and groups? To which extent have religious communities made use of cosmopolitanism as a cultural resource that is channelled by institutional structures? Which media platforms are available to religious organizations and movements concerned with the promotion of cosmopolitan solidarity and ecumenical understanding at both local and transnational level?
Cosmopolitanism gains momentum both as a practice that is apparent in things that people do and say to positively engage with the ‘otherness of the other’, and as a moral ideal that emphasises both tolerance towards difference and the possibility of a more just world order. Religion is not often seen in connection to cosmopolitanism, a notion that is commonly equated to worldliness and secularism. In fact, some religious affiliations and practices are understood as bound to parochialism, tradition, and lack of tolerance. In the media, the debate on religion is often tied to public discourses about terrorism, security and freedom of expression and opinion in the public sphere. This is particularly significant when we consider the way in which Islam is publicly perceived in the western world as a highly institutionalized religion with a strong influence on the conduct of and collective identity of Muslim communities. The growing visibility of Muslim identity in the public sphere, through particular forms of attire, behaviour, and symbols, is seen as potentially fuelling xenophobia and ethnic conflict in collective imaginaries across the Western world. The continuing controversy over the public use of the headscarf in France, the 2005 affair over the publication of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and the 2009 Swiss vote to ban new mosque minarets, are only a few recent examples of how particular religious symbols and practices make the assertion of Muslim identity more visible in the public sphere. The fact that fundamentalist Islam is being increasingly tied to global terrorism in the mass media has played a key role on stirring the perception of fundamentalist Islam as a threat to individual freedoms and peace. While there is a growing interest in the meanings of religion and secularism in both media and scholarly debates, the linkages between cosmopolitanism and religion only very recently received the attention of sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and religious scholars concerned with the role of religion in public life. This is in part because particularistic attachments to a community of faith sit uneasily with the ethical universalism and secular ideals of justice and equality that underpin cosmopolitan discourses and perspectives. Yet, while religions divide social groups and ethnic communities, religions can also offer influential forms of transnational, cosmopolitan solidarity and play a key role in conflict resolution both locally and globally. In pursuing particular forms of ecumenical understanding, religious organizations have, through history, always dealt with problems and challenges concerning the question of the ‘inclusion of the other’, which is at the heart of characterizations of cosmopolitanism as an ethico-political outlook.
By bringing together leading scholars from religious studies, sociology and anthropology, this conference seeks to investigate the connection between religion and cosmopolitanism and the role of religion in the public sphere through the lens of sociological, anthropological and theological perspectives.
The Cordoba Foundation will be presenting a paper here on its experiences and thoughts for Cosmopolitanism
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