From a perspective of Intercultural Theology, I like to focus on three key areas all connected to the broader question concerning religion and politics. I consider them as mega trends in a sense to indicate their high impact on future policy decisions, and their interweaving complexity. These mega trends that are interlinked are, a) religion and migration, b) religion and world peace, and c) religion and sustainable development.
However, let me first have a look into the religion-politics conundrum as it is notable since the early 1990s. It is merged with an epochal process of globalization that prevailed since the end of the Cold War. Rather unexpected in social sciences guided by a secular modernity paradigm, religion appeared as a motivating force in geo-politics. In order to cope with the new complexity, the global landscape was designed n rather monolithic spheres of influence, or “civilizations”, defined by separate religious identities. This roused suspicion over the impact of religions in politics, foretelling the likelihoods of international conflicts at the fault lines of civilizations. The plausibility of such territorial scaling of religion(s) in globalization came under pressure, not least with processes connected with 9/11, 2001. The post-9/11 discourse on the interaction between religion and politics framed more complex conceptions of ‘glocalization’ processes, leaving space for local agency and characteristics. It supported the observation of religious heterogeneity within countries, the perception of internal frictions within religious traditions as well as conflicts over interpretation within global communities of faith. Also, experiences of inter-religious relationships appeared more meaningful than simplistic portrayals of religio-political identities. However, 2015, the so-called refuge crisis, challenged the more complex question of religious impact on politics once more. In the aftermath, a populist conservative turn in geo-politics played with fears of undermining cultural territorial norms. In Europe, for instance, large-scale immigration was connected with globally-orientated Islamist extremism. Stereotype religious identity markers are in place to be exploited in local/national politics. This is the background scenario of the three mega trends mentioned above Intercultural Theology deals with.
A) Not at least in Christian theology the connection between ‘religion and migration’ has evolved a central theme, pointing to migratory dynamics in church and mission history but also engaging the imagery of God in systematic theology. In Intercultural Theology it is connected to the emergence of so-called migrant churches as a stable feature in European landscapes of religion. This has caused vital debates on de-provincializing European church history and theology. It resonates in controversial statements of a ‘reverse mission’ of global South churches in secular European ‘heartlands’ of Christianity, and directs attention to institutional structures such as transnational networks of megachurches, a rather recent appearance of the wider global Pentecostal movement. In theological education the research on migrant churches drew greater attention to the relevance of empirical qualitative research. Besides the consistent co-presence of migrant Christianity generated new perspectives in ecumenical relationships, and helped to produce more concise hermeneutics of intercultural exchange and transcultural theories in theology.
B) The intricate connection between ‘religion and world peace’ finds expression in the World Ethos, coined by Hans Küng. The triadic formula posits that there is no world peace without peace among religions, and that there is no peace among religions without inter-religious dialogue, and no inter-religious dialogue without basic research on the self-understanding and diversity of religions. Thus, the legacy of a world ethos epitomizes inter-religious dialogue and acknowledges a more precise discernment of religious diversification. It seeks to understand religious entanglement in peace politics by strictly avoiding stereotyping of religions. In theology, theorization of inter-religious dialogue is a rather recent feature. Although the coexistence of religions in social spaces is a historical factor in most regions of the world, the critical discourse on inter-religious exchanges only dates back to the late 1970s. It found its first peak in the 1990s when discourse on religious plurality found recognition in theological education. Christian theologies of religion supported the growing interest in other religions, and the appreciation of religious pluralism in our societies longed for inter-religious exchange programs in order to facilitate better understanding of different religious rites, thinking and behavior. Exposure programs that aim at direct experiences of religious neighborhoods caused an inter-religious euphoria. In the post-9/11 era inter-religious encounters came under pressure, challenged by religious fundamentalism. Inter-religious dialogue intensified, but transformed into more critical perceptions of religions imbued with skeptical overtones. In actual Intercultural Christian theology, it necessitates more in-depth studies on theologies of religion, including hermeneutics of comparative religion. The future of inter-religious dialogue and the future of peace will depend also on the greater profile of theologies of religion, drafted by theological discourses inside respective religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Islam or Judaism to name a few.
C) Intercultural Theology draws attention to the geopolitical leitmotif of sustainable development. In 2015, the UN implemented the Agenda 2030, heralded as a decisive passage into a ‘great global transformation’. The global arena of development politics stepped into an era characterized by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable development signifies an interplay of social and ecological justice, addressing violations of human rights, gender inequality, and measures to combat climate change. In sum, the Agenda 2030 offers a platform welcomed by large sections of religious non-governmental organizations (RNGOs), or else faith-based organizations (FBOs). For long, the entanglement of religion and social change has been ignored or marginalized in social scientific analyses, causing only a reluctant discovery of RNGOs in development politics. It has taken time to respect the fact that amongst the stakeholders in civil society contributing to the formulation of the Agenda 2030 were numerous RNGOs, representing diverse faith traditions and religious communities. Intercultural Theology necessitates recognition of religious actors in developmental geopolitics. It helps to stir growing interdisciplinary attention of the transformative potential of religion. The RNGO-orientation towards human rights, their trust-building relationships to rural communities and their expertise in mobilising grassroots development, all contribute to the implementation of SDGs. Intercultural Theology, by its knowledge of lived religion worldwide, also opens horizons of sustainable development by including new religious movements that have been termed apolitical in the past (such as Pentecostal or African Independent Churches). Whether this acknowledges claims of a ‘religious turn’ in development politics remains to see.