Tel Aviv University and Goethe University establish a joint Center for Interfaith Studies

“(…) For the first time, Tel Aviv University in Israel and Goethe University in Frankfurt will establish a joint center. With a focus on interfaith studies, the center will promote research on religion, in particular the monotheistic faiths – a field in which both institutions specialize. The two universities will conduct joint research, hold academic conferences, and train students and researchers in this area.

The agreement for launching the new center was signed during Germany Week at TAU. The signing was attended by the German Ambassador to Israel Susanne Wasum-Rainer, TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, and the President of Goethe University, Prof. Enrico Schleiff.

(…) Prof. Menachem Fisch, who leads the initiative at TAU:I am thrilled to be part of the establishment of a unique, first-of-its-kind center for the study of the monotheistic faiths and their mutual development. This is a worthy initiative, and one more building block in the academic collaboration between the two countries.” (…)”, explains the pressrelease by Tel Aviv University (TAU).

It is to be hoped that this planned centre will address issues such as Islamism in Germany and the protection Islamism enjoys from the political establishment in Germany, or the romanticisation of Islam as it is readily practised by a majority of the German academic world and is in the tradition of Goethe, or the missionary, Christian aggression towards the State of Israel as can often be observed in the EKD or Pax Christi.

Prof. Enrico Schleiff, President of Goethe University:”What we are agreeing upon today is, as far as I am aware, unprecedented – at least in the humanities in Germany. It is not merely a formal cooperation between a German and an Israeli university, but rather the development of a highly visible, joint institutionalized international research centre. The centre is cross-departmental on both sides and working in an area of study that is most relevant to the German and the Israeli society alike: the history of and the present challenges in religious diversity, difference and conflict in pluralistic societies. It will focus on questions regarding inter-religious dialogue, religious fundamentalism and conflict, but also on the rich cultural heritage and the potential inherent in religious traditions. This centre is the start of an even closer cooperation.

However, when one reads Prof. Schleiff’s words, one is more inclined to fear that this centre produces lukewarm both/and phrases from which one then helps oneself according to the wind.

In the first place imho, the question should be whether Islam is a religion at all, whether Christianity is actually monotheistic and how a dialogue can look like when there are still to various extents explicit calls for the extinction of Jews in major organisations adherent to Islam, Protestantism or Catholicism, or as both Islam and Christianity were strategic alliance partners in the Holocaust.

And let’s not forget that a large part of German cultural academia recently have spoken out in favour of BDS. Schleiff should have addressed this issues and be it with soft words. Doubts are justified, but one must hope for the best. Inter-faith dialogue is a bright and good idea, but needs clear cut speech about the history of violence whose victims were Jews.