Inter-religious Dialogue in Rome
Interview with Dan Madigan SJ
The Religion Report, Radio National
At Rome's Gregorian University, an Australian Jesuit priest has
established a new Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures.
Stephen Crittenden: In Rome, an Australian Jesuit priest with an
expertise in Islam has just launched what may be a milestone in
Father Daniel Madigan SJ is to be the first President of a new
Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures, which he’s
founded, based at Rome’s famous and prestigious Gregorian
University. It will specialise in dialogue between Christians, Muslims
and Jews, and will offer courses to all students at the University.
I spoke to Dan Madigan in New York City, while he was there, and
asked him to describe how it will all operate.
Daniel Madigan: It’s aimed to train people to work in the
field of inter-religious dialogue. My specialty is Muslim-Christian
dialogue of course, but we do cover other religions as well, and
one of our main concerns is Jewish-Christian dialogue. We have courses
also in Asian religions and a number of courses in Hinduism, Buddhism
and things like that. We’re aiming not just to train specialists
in this field, although that’s one of our principal aims,
but the idea is to get this kind of study on the agenda right throughout
the university. So you’ve got 3,000 students there studying
theology, philosophy and so on, many of whom are going to be leaders
in one way or another in their respective churches. And so it’s
important for them to study their theology, already taking account
of other people’s beliefs, and other ways of looking at the
same evidence about God.
Stephen Crittenden: I think many people would have the idea that
inter-religious dialogue is something that takes place between theologians
and religious leaders, that it perhaps doesn’t have any real
practical influence on improving the kind of relations between Christians
and Muslims in the wider world, particularly in the kind of post-September
11 world. Are there actually practical advantages to be drawn out
of this kind of dialogue?
Daniel Madigan: I do, I think the most important dialogue is not
the kind of dialogue that goes on between theologians and officials
and diplomats and one thing and another. That kind of dialogue actually
can be quite frustrating because everyone’s got one eye on
their catechism or another eye on who’s going to say what
about the positions they hold. The most important kind of dialogue
is actually the day-to-day dialogue which doesn’t consist
in talking about religion, but it consists in talking about what
are you going to do in local politics, what are you going to do
about the curriculum in your school, what are you going to do about
some situation that’s arisen in your neighbourhood? It’s
that kind of dialogue, the dialogue of action or the dialogue of
living, which is much more important than the official dialogues
and the kind of expert dialogues. Although obviously, given it’s
my field, I think there is some place for that.
Stephen Crittenden: Indeed. Has September 11 renewed your excitement
about your own field?
Daniel Madigan: Excitement? I don’t know. It’s certainly
renewed my sense of urgency, there’s no doubt about it, but
I’m living in the US at the moment, doing some research, and
all the talk here about war and somehow the belief that these things
can be solved by increasing security and increasing arms spending
and so on, that gives me a much greater sense of urgency because
I think we just can’t do it that way. We’re not going
to solve these issues by building tighter bastions, we’re
only going to solve the problem by actually coming to terms with
Stephen Crittenden: Indeed your Institute is, I understand, attracting
Islamic students, presumably there to study their own religion ?
Daniel Madigan: No they’re actually there to study Christianity,
although they do take my courses in Islam for example, which is
very interesting for me, as I hope it is for them. But they’ve
come to Rome principally to study Christianity, they study also
Judaism, they study Hinduism, Buddhism etc. We insist that every
student has a basic grasp of the range of religions but each student
specialises in one religion or another, and the Muslims tend to
specialise in Christianity, partly because they’re interested
in dealing with these issues that arise between us. I find them
among the most interesting students actually.
Stephen Crittenden: I understand the Jesuits in Europe have been
very involved in working with immigrant Muslim communities, and
I want to ask you, as someone interested in dialogue, whether there
are problems associated with multiculturalism that need to be overcome
in the post-September 11 environment. I’m thinking of the
idea that the ghetto promotes isolation, not dialogue.
Daniel Madigan: The ghetto.
Stephen Crittenden: How many of these people would be living in
a ghetto, on the edges of large European cities I imagine?
Daniel Madigan: Yes, it varies a lot from place to place. There
are some European cities where Muslims actually live right in the
centre of the city, there are others where they’re out in
the suburbs, and as you say, it does make quite a difference, depending
on whether people are marginalised, and it depends again on whether
they’re from previously colonised countries, or whether they’re
immigrants from a culture that has had no colonial contacts. There
are lots of factors that come into play. I think the thing about
Europe is that most European countries see themselves as mono-cultures,
they see themselves as though there is an identifiable national
culture, and that’s certainly true in Italy the way people
talk. But what we’re trying to do is address that question
and to say to people, Well, in fact if you take the immigrants,
if you take the Muslims and the Hindus and so on out of the equation,
when you just talk about yourselves, in fact there are an enormous
number of differences between Catholics and lay between North Italy
and Southern Italy, between the rich and the poor, between the left
and the right, and there is an enormous diversity of culture within
Italy. But as soon as you mention immigrants, Italian speakers say
there is only one culture.
Stephen Crittenden: I understand that there’s been in fact
a rapid growth in anti-Muslim feeling among Italians, led indeed
by politicians and intellectuals.
Daniel Madigan: Certainly by politicians. Also by some church people.
There’s been a Cardinal, Cardinal Biffi and a number of bishops
have been quite outspoken about this. And I don’t think they’ve
done anyone a favour, because really the talk is rather alarmist.
The numbers we’re talking about are relatively small, and
in fact if you look at the figures, there are lots more Italians
who are converting to Buddhism or to being Jehovah’s Witnesses
for example, than ever think about becoming Muslim.
Stephen Crittenden: I have read though that there’s some
real concern that Italy may have become one of the European centres
for Islamic terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
Daniel Madigan: I think that’s quite overstated. There are
some rather outspoken people speaking in mosques here and there,
but the large majority of people are there in the west because they
want to be in the west, they’re not in the west because they
hate the west, they’re not in the west because they want to
make the west Muslim, they’re in the west because they don’t
want to be where they were before.
Stephen Crittenden: We forget that, don’t we? I read a United
Nations report on development in the Arabic world that’s just
come out a few weeks ago, in which half the young people in the
Middle East, half the Arabic young people interviewed said they
wanted to come and live in the west.
Daniel Madigan: Of course, and that’s the thing we do indeed
forget, that the Arab world and the Muslim world more generally
doesn’t hate the west, because so many of them actually want
to come and live here. What they hate I think is the sense of exclusiveness,
a certain arrogance that we have in the west, and there are certainly
things that we’ve failed in many ways, the US sponsors corrupt
regimes here and there when it suits them to protect oil. Every
country has its political interests, and I think the failure to
deal with those issues in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the Palestinian
situation obviously fuels this sense of anger. But I think above
all, there is a sense of desire to live with the freedoms of the
west, to enjoy the development of the west.
Stephen Crittenden: Father Daniel Madigan, SJ.
Fr Daniel Madigan SJ
President, Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures, Gregorian
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