Is nationalism politicized like religion?

Religious Nationalism: Ignore or Resist?

GENEVA, Switzerland

LWF webinar on the politicization of religion

(LWI) - How can believing people react to increasing religious nationalism? How should we react when politicians use religious symbols to promote their own exclusive values ​​and visions? How can interfaith engagement support secular groups in maintaining a more just, more inclusive and solidarity society?

These questions were the focus of a webinar on “Ignore, Resist or Engage? Global responses to religious nationalism ”, which the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) held on September 22nd.

The online discussion, in which speakers from India, Indonesia and the USA took part, was organized by the LWF together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELKA) and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) organized.

Interreligious engagement in public space

Dr. Sathianathan Clarke, professor of global Christianity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., spoke about the disturbing "takeover of the nation state by violent fundamentalist religions". These would persecute all those who are perceived as “a threat to the religious, racial or sexual ideals of the majority in power”. That is because, said Clarke, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim extremists “need recognized public platforms to translate their sacred beliefs into everyday practices” and “to shape and shape everyday life in the real world ".

In his home country India it is very obvious that the Hindu nationalist forces are “trying to destroy the secular character of the constitution”, which currently protects all religions and ethnic groups. Against this background, the tradition and practice that applies to all religions of being able to pray "in the security and security of our holy places" as communities is not sufficient to combat such a rise in fundamentalism, he said. Believers would have to break out of their “comfortable religious bubbles” and campaign for more comprehensive “interreligious engagement in public space”.

Muslim political scientist, researcher and faculty member of the ICRS, Dr. Dicky Sofjan, brought a different, Indonesian-influenced point of view into the discussion. He said nationalism was not seen as such an extreme position in his homeland as it is in Western societies. While many countries are concerned that religion is stepping back from private to public, the much greater threat in Indonesia comes from a transnational religious movement that is importing fundamentalist ideologies from abroad into Indonesia and trying to enforce them there.

Sofjan said that the five basic principles of the Indonesian state and its constitution - also known as Pancasila - "seek a religious nationalism that is open and tolerant and fully recognizes the cultural pluralism and multi-religious character of our country". In the pursuit of harmony among the hundreds of different ethnic groups and language groups, nationalism is understood as the “golden mean”, he explained, and Islam has always promoted a “doctrine of the unity of religion and politics”.

The secular as the new sacred

In the USA, “Christian nationalism politicized and falsified the gospel” in order to advance the narrative of “America as the New Holy Land”, according to Lutheran pastor and journalist Angela Denker. Denker is the author of the book "Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters who elected Donald Trump" and also spoke about the great influence that have used social media in spreading misleading messages and conspiracy theories. The number of people who no longer trust the institutions - including the Christian churches - has reached new records.

As the moderator of the online discussion, Rev. Dr. Sivin Kit, LWF Program Officer for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations, asked what people who are specifically involved in interreligious activities can do to create peace together against the background of this increasing polarization. Dr. Clarke emphasized the importance of "leaving the security of our own languages ​​and our usual places" in order to be able to "imagine the secular as the new sacred, the street as the new temple," in which believers see the flourishing of human life "Protecting, promoting and being able to maintain".

Dr. Sofjan reported on the work that the ICRS is doing through the religious literacy program, with which it aims to educate and train Indonesians who know little or nothing about religions other than their own. He declared that the public school system had to be reformed so that knowledge about the country's many different religious communities would also be imparted there. He also stressed the importance of reinforcing the notion that there are “different and changing ethnic and religious identities”.