Religion out of taboo at Ghent University: ‘Everything must be negotiable’

Religion out of taboo at Ghent University: ‘Everything must be negotiable’
Religion out of taboo at Ghent University: ‘Everything must be negotiable’

Last summer rector read Rik Van de Walle throughout the Bible, advising all his followers on Facebook to do the same. In an interview with Kerknet he said: What can you understand about the world and current events if you have no minimal notion of religious stories? Many conflicts have religious aspects. And when asked whether there was room for religion and philosophy at Ghent University, he answered positively and added a concrete idea:

We could, for example, organize a forum where people can speak freely about their philosophy. Not so much in a form of debate where you look for contradictions, but informative. With the essential intention of speaking and listening, and enriching each other.

And lo, a year later we were invited again to the rector. Together with the assignment holder Diversity Khalid Benhaddou he is giving Kerknet a scoop: the Forum Interphilosophical Dialogue is in the starting blocks.

What exactly is the forum about?

Khalid Benhaddou • In the past year I have had many preparatory conversations with privileged witnesses of the various philosophies and with students. We formed a steering group that meets monthly. This resulted in 4 spearheads:

  1. First of all there will be one leaflet with all contact details of the philosophies of life, so that students and employees of Ghent University know who they can turn to with questions.
  2. In the spring of 2023 we will start with dialogue tables. Seven or eight people enter into a dialogue with a facilitator, not only about ideological themes, but especially about all themes from a ideological point of view. The discussion facilitators, usually representatives of the philosophies of life, receive dialogue and discussion training from an expert for this purpose.
  3. At the dialogue tables, a scientific hatch linked. With a meeting before and after, we will investigate the effects of the method. Until now, there is only scientific material for dialogue tables in contexts of conflict, for example after an attack.
  4. To reach the wider public, there will be lectures, panel discussions and a big event in collaboration with the City of Ghent on the Day of the Philosophies of Life in March 2023 with the title Here the lamp is lit.

You want to give the necessary publicity to this initiative. Why?

Rik Van de Walle • Ghent University has been a pluralistic university since its foundation. That means that she must be open to all philosophies of life. It is important to express that attitude explicitly.

Perhaps my personal history has something to do with my commitment to it. As a youth, I was very engaged in the Church. Today I am an atheist, but therefore not anti-Catholic. Far from even. I remain sensitive to everything that has to do with religion.

When I read the newspaper, I see that religion is often a source of tension. And that while there are more similarities than differences between the religions.

We can overcome the ignorance and unwillingness to understand each other in the human-to-human encounter.

And if there is one place where this should be possible, it is the university!

You need a momentum organizing that allows people to move into a different world of thought. Like when you read a book. Not to convince the other, but to rub your own conviction on the other. Like Levinas it formulated: in the face of the Other I discover myself.

Benhaddou • Globalization forces us to go beyond our own view and look for common ground for us all. you sometimes have safe spaces needed where people can meet like-minded people, but especially in the public arena brave spaces, where we dare to confront our views with those of other people.

What might that ‘common ground’ look like?

Benhaddou • We will have to discover that together. It is only by talking to each other that ideas arise that can be supported by everyone. But I think that the principles of the rule of law an important benchmark to be. It is difficult to enter into a dialogue with someone who does not respect them.

Van de Walle • I’m really glad you’re so firm about that, Khalid. Though I didn’t expect anything else from you. In the summer you immediately condemned the attack on the attack in the media very strongly and unequivocally Salman Rushdie. I was genuinely proud to call you an employee of Ghent University. You could also have been silent…

Benhaddou • To be honest, I sometimes hesitate to respond in the media. You always get so much sludge back from various sides. But sometimes silence is not an option. (Watch the video of Silence is not an option.)

Van de Walle • I share that experience, but indeed we should not be silenced.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Religion taboo Ghent University negotiable

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