Research project on Religion and Violence
Since the end of the bipolar world order of the Cold War, international relations have been increasingly determined by tensions along religious lines. Samuel Huntington's essay of 1993 apparently has set the tone for a new discourse on civilization as a source of international conflict. With the demise of the ideological rivalry of the East-West conflict, new enemy stereotypes are being created on the basis of religious identification. On the one hand, religion is being used as a tool to justify violence; on the other, violent means are applied to remodel religious identity according to the secular principles of another civilization. Entire religions are being demonized as threats to international peace; Huntington's dictum of the "bloody borders of Islam" is proof of this tendency. The lecture delivered by the Catholic Pope at the University of Regensburg, touching upon the issue of religion and violence and quoting from a biased evaluation of Islam by a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, has again demonstrated the danger of stereotyping. In the Western discourse about religion, the term "fundamentalism" is mainly used in a polemical sense. However, the renaissance of religious awareness and the search for civilizational identity by a religious community are not necessarily identical with an aggressive attitude towards other religions or civilizations. A clear distinction has to be made between actual and perceived threats emanating from a given religion or civilization. If this distinction is not made, the "clash of civilizations" may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the wake of the developments triggered by the events of September 11, 2001, it has become almost impossible to evaluate claims and counter-claims with a detached mind. Virtually every discourse on the political role and global impact of a religion is overshadowed by the so-called "global war on terror," which makes critical analysis and comparison of the conflict potential of religions and competing world views very difficult. It is the task of philosophy to analyze the inherent social, ethical and anthropological implications of every religion sine ira et studio. The answer to the question about the relationship between religion and violence − "religious violence" or "violent religion"? − must not be left to political interests alone. It is a legitimate task of philosophy to distinguish between a potentially violent message of a given religion and the abuse of religion (or ideology) for the purposes of violence, and to define the proper criteria on the basis of rational principles.