On Thursday, 2nd of November at 10am, in the amphitheatre of the Faculty of OrthodoxTheology of Belgrade University, was opened an international and interreligious conference: Interpretation of the religious ‘other’ regarding the Holy Scriptures and their implication for the shaping of public communication. The initiator of this project was the department of Christian journalism of the Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen/Nürnberg in collaboration with the Faculty of Orthodox Theology (University of Belgrade), the Faculty of Islamic Studies (University of Sarajevo) and the ‘St. Basyl of Ostrog’ Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Foča (University of Sarajevo). Since the idea was to have at least one conference in each of the participant countries from the Western Balkans, our faculty had the honor to organize the first conference and, by doing so, to establish the directions of its further development. The detailed Programe you can download here, and a complete gallery you can see here.
The conference was opened by the dean of the host faculty, Prof. dr PredragPuzović, who pointed out in his speech the significance of religion for modern man and the necessity of mutual religious communication. Then, participants were greeted by Prof. dr Aid Smajić, representative of the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Dr Irena Z. Pavlović from Erlangen and Prof. dr Predrag Dragutinović, the representative of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology and coordinator of the Belgrade conference.
After the opening ceremony, the conference started with the first session: The religious 'other' in the Old Testament. The participants of this session were Prof. dr Rodoljub Kubat, teaching professor at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology (University of Belgrade) and Prof. dr Vladislav Topalović, dean of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Foča (University of Eastern Sarajevo). Professor Kubat based his presentation on the religious 'other' in the book of Prophet Jona. The religious 'others' in this book are unequivocally the sailors and people of Nineveh who actually behave more morally than Jona himself. So the implicit message of this book is that God cannot be placed into some national labels, nor is His presence in world manifested in some (whichever) privileged group. God is merciful and He accepts everyone who honestly repentsand turns towards Him. The basic message that is present throughout the whole Old Testament canon is intensely emphasized in this book: my neighbour = my religiousness. A fifteen minute response was given by Prof. dr Vladislav Topalović who looked back on some examples of misinterpretation of this book which actually led to intolerance towards the religious 'other' throughout history, usually manifested through different forms of anti-semitism. Considering this, the professor pointed out that the challenge for modern theologians in multireligious words is to find the right exegesis of this book. The second part of this session was presented by Nenad Božović, teaching assistant in the Department of The Old Testament Studies and Prof. dr Mensur Husić, teaching professor at Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo. As. Božović spoke of religious 'other' in the book of Ruth where he pointed out that this book is remarkable example for discussing the religious 'other' in Bible. The main character of this book is Ruth, who is in multiple ways 'the other' when compared to usual biblical characters – Israelites: she is from a different background and a different religion, and she is also a refugee and widow. Considering the recent waves of refugees from the Middle East to Europe among which are many women, and also widows, we find the relevance of this book for contemporary contexts. A fifteen minute response was given by Dr Mensur Husić who ended the first session noting that every man is unique and also the highest part of God's creation and, as such, he should be treated as such.
The title of the second session was The religious 'other' in the New Testament and it was started with Dr Vladan Tatalović discussing 'The Merciful Samaritan (Lk 10,25-37)'. By explaining the 'perspective of passerby' and 'perspective of victim' in parable, the professor pointed out that true acceptance of the religious 'other' means getting out of 'the comfort zone', even the 'religious' one, especially considering the contemporary social context of life in the Balkans. The main norm is love which exceeds national, religious and gender limits. A fifteen minute response was given by Muhamed Fazlović, teaching assistant at Department of Hermeneutics at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo. As. Fazlović pointed out that tolerance always means getting along, and that with time it should lead to the true acceptance of the Other and Difference. The participants of the second session were prof. dr Predrag Dragutinović and dr Orhan Jašić. Professor Dragutinović pointed out that his presentation, 'Woe to you scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23)', was inspired by one particular question: what is the relation between the judgements of Jewish religious authorities and some verses of 'Sermon on the Mount' in Matthew 5-7? How could it be that one text is calling for love towards all people, even enemies and persecutors, and at the same time saying about judgement that is awaiting for one nation (Mt 23)? The conclusion was that the judgement said in Mt 23 is actually criticism of certain kind of religiousness (formalism and exclusivism) through commandment about love. Afterwards in his response, Dr Orhan Jašić pointed out the importance of dialogue which can cause hypocrisy/pharisaism if it isn't tolerating differences. In order to have authentic dialogue, we must accept difference because that is the only way to create true and authentic respect for the other people. With his conclusion the second session ended.
After the break a third session began called The religious 'other' through the eyes of tradition. This topic was presented by Prof. dr Darko Đogo, professor at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Foča, who discussed 'The Old Testament theology of war and patristic interpretation. What can we learn from the patristic approach to Old Testament texts?'.
The plenary discussion was right after this topic and it was led by PD. dr. Lars Allolio-Näcke, professor at 'Friedrich-Alexander-University' in Erlangen/Nürnberg and Danilo Mihajlović, teaching assistant at Department of Old Testament Studies. The participants had the opportunity to look back on presentations of each session and discuss anything of interest together.
The second day of our conference, on 3rd of November, started with the topic Aspects of religious communication and was presented by Prof. Johanna Haberer, who pointed out that Christian journalism should transmit faith to the world and treat kindly those neglected parts of our society. It’s interesting that the heavenly mission of the Church is to communicate and work using media, and by doing so ask important ethical questions and try to answer them as well. After World War II, the Protestant church respected freedom of information and it represents successful model that is still in use nowadays.
After this lecture, PD. dr. Lars Allolio-Näcke presented a paper on Monotheism, violence and the public sphere and pointed out the importance of explaining questions of freedom, tolerance and respect in historical and social context. Prof. Lars Allolio-Näcke also recognized the social phenomenon that many people are not invited to be tolerant and kind, and then – the starting point is the reaction of state authorities and institutions to liberate society of public fear, and, to do something like that, honest dialogue is required. Tolerance means accepting ‘other-ness’ and that’s great challenge for the modern world but it’s followed by common goodness for each and every member of society.
Dr. Irena Z. Pavlović held a lecture on Crisis – and War Communication from the Perspective of Media Studies and said that authentic media requires a certain amount of self-criticism. Dr. Irena Z. Pavlović pointed out that the media could also be creators of new wars and that’s why it’s necessary for peace-making academic research. Peace-making journalism has non-violent conclusions and it’s conflicts always lead to a positive outcome, it is oriented towards peace, truth, recognizing propaganda and it is devoted for useful perspective. It is used as a prevention against violent conflicts. However, this kind of journalism seeks for i’s place in the world since the era of world peace hasn’t arrived yet.
The second session was dedicated to Churches and religious communities in the media and was hosted by Jelena Jorgančević Kisić who opened the topic with the statement that the Church is dynamic and her approach is adaptable. The guests of this conversation were Aleksandar Gajšek (journalist), Jelena Čalija (journaist), Momir Turudić (journalist) and Andrea Jovanović (philosopher). During the conversation on this topic they came to the conclusion that experience in media is important and a journalist has to know that his audience aren’t only people from within the Church so his speech needs to be carefully constructed.
The third and final session was followed by topic The role of the church in public communications and the conversation was hosted by Prof. dr. Dragan Radić with guests: Prof. dr PorfirijePerić, Metropolitan for Zagreb-Ljubljana (Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Belgrade), Stanislav Hočevar, Archbishop of Belgrade and Prof. Dr Darko Đogo. They pointed out that the Church has a close interaction with the contemporary world and should use its language and forms of communication. That is contemporary mission of the Church in the XXI century.
The third day, on Saturday, 4th of November, started with a program which included lectures and workshops. The first workshop was hosted by a student of host faculty, Marina Ćakić, discussing Review of first day papers & ‘Can we have authentic dialogue without self-criticism?’.The second workshop was hosted by a student from Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen/Nürnberg, Ronja Hoffmann, discussing Escalating and de-escalating communication. The methodology for both of these workshops was the same: students were divided into several groups and had the task of writing a short comment on a particular topic given by the workshop moderator. Even though students gave different answers and opinions on one question, we all agreed that authentic dialogue needs to be followed by serious criticism of society and institutions. We were also discussing the religious ‘other’ and tried to define together the meaning of ‘religious safety’ and what it means to be in a ‘religious comfort zone’. By showing some examples of intolerance and provocation in history, we also mentioned some crucial moments in history that show us that Christians and Muslims are capable of peaceful life in the same place and that they should go beyong usual political issues that are very often misinterpreted as religious ones. Getting out of ‘religious safety’ means abandoning forms and rules offered by a certain religious system and the reason is: being philanthropist for everyone, no matter of national, racial or gender differences. This special mission, whether it is said by the Bible or the Qur’an, is always an imperative for each and every human being since that is it only way to respect and love the Other. Especially the ‘different Other’.
After the break, the workshop continued with Challenges of making religious contributions to the world and religious media and moderator by journalist Jelena Jorgačević Kisić and Dr Vladan Tatalović. Beginning the workshop, moderators gave students certain instructions on news media and how to organize research and create report for TV News. Students were then divided into several groups with the task of organizing three reports on secular and religious media. The goal was to show how Church and Media function and how they should communicate. This was followed by a discussion where, among many other conclusions, we said that media should not publish any material which has intention of insulting or humiliating any religious group/minority.
Concluding this workday the participants were adressed by prof. dr Predrag Dragutinović, coordinator of the first conference organized in Belgrade, who thanked fellow students and professors who helped in creating a positive and productive atmosphere at this conference. Then, the participants had the opportunity for a tour of Belgrade guided by Prof. dr Predrag Dragutinović and his fellow students from Belgrade.
On the fourth day of the Belgrade conference a shorter trip was planned to some archaeological sites in Eastern Serbia which are of great historical significance. We visited archaeological sites Lepenski vir and fortress Golubački grad on Danube river, which is located on the very shore of Danube that is actually the state border between the Republic of Romania and Republic of Serbia.
Our trip began at 8am and at around 10:30am we arrived at archaeological site Lepenski vir. The route from Golubac to Lepenski vir was followed by a route that is on the very shore of Danube and it gave us amazing panorama view of the river and the other shore of Republic of Romania. A few days earlier we organized group visit to Lepenski vir where we had our own guide through this beautiful building which left us speechless with its beauty and historical significance. On our way back we stopped at Golubački grad where the Danube was waiting for us while the Sun’s fractured rays were battling with the strong wind which powered windmills on the other side of the shore. This view left the present participants with a strong impression and its similarity to the Bosphorus. We continued our journey in restaurant in Veliko Gradište with ‘the table of love’ (lunch) using the last minutes of our time together to exchange contacts and impatiently expecting our next conference in Sarajevo next February of 2018.
While ending the conference with event like this trip, we drew a few conclusions together with Prof. Dragutinović and Prof. Kubat. One of those was that this was the proper way to end a conference because it was helping us to establish better relations with our guests and also providing them time to enjoy their stay in our country. The other conclusion (with all of its theological implications) was definitely reminding us of the beauty of the land with which God blessed all the people in the Balkans, and this exact reason is the guiding imperative of a peaceful and common life in God's garden which is right here and now.