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Nationalism, Transnationalism, Globalization: Dynamics of Civil Religions

Panel Chair: Valerio Severino | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The question of religious communities in society cannot be solved without taking into account society as a religious community itself, referring to practices, discourses and institutions conceptualized as civil religion as well as political or secular religion. The sacralization of politics in the age of nationalisms, the interreligious contact of the state especially with Christian churches, have assumed a transnational character. From this point of view we should consider the migration of national symbols, since the French Revolution until the totalitarianisms, the upsurge of universal models of society religiously determined. Religious traditions of communities are re-invented, constantly in correspondence to the ethnical, national, imperial, global stages of society’s structure. Such aspects lead to consider the adaptation of civil religions to globalization today, as a part of a general reorientation of the concept of citizenship. This panel aims to develop an interdisciplinary cooperation between Political Science and History of Religions by bringing original case studies and encouraging theoretical considerations.

Valerio Severino

The Roll Call of the Fallen Soldiers – Case Study. The Migration of Nationalist Symbols

Devastating tragedies such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the massacre during Polish 1970 protests, are still now commemorated with a Roll Call of the victims’ names pronounced publicly. As a matter of civil or political religion this ritual is studied by political scientists and sociologists. Each contribution around this topic has been restricted to a specific national context in which the ritual took shape. For the first time, a comparative method of History of religions will be applied in order to retrace the transnational diffusion of this ritual from the Napoleonic era, passing through the Fascist European experience, to the present.

Jane Skjoldli

The pope as high priest of a global civil religion?

Sociologist José Casanova suggested seeing the pope as “high priest of a new universal civil religion of humanity”; that popes have abandoned libertas ecclesiae in favor of libertas personae by assuming a role as a bulwark for universal human rights on a global arena. This paper discusses Casanova’s suggestion, asking how it may contribute to understanding events such as the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy, 1986, where John Paul II (canonized April 27, 2014) presided over prayer gatherings that involved religious authorities from various religions around the world. Recognizing the context of Casanova’s suggestion as John Paul II’s pontificate, the paper proceeds to discuss, in view of Benedict XVI and Francis, whether Casanova’s suggestion holds more than a mere reflection of supposed papal ambition and if that “more” might be understood as adaptation and/or transformation to dynamic global context(s).

Anja Kirsch

The literary roots of civil religion: the transformation of the “hero of labour” and the topos of socialist work

Work has always been of exceptional importance for German Democratic Republics’ real socialism and its Marxist-Leninist worldview. Being far more than an economic necessity, work – in the sense of socialist labour – was seen as a value in itself. The “hero of labour” was the narrative archetype of the “new socialist man” and one of the central issues of worldview education. The stories about him are characterised by experientiality: the transformation of ordinary people into reliable socialists was, according to the script, the result of an extraordinary, even ineffable ‘socialist experience’. In this paper, it will be argued that GDR’s labour rhetoric documents the dynamics of the debate about the nature of socialism and the stylistic patterns that were used to create a socialist culture of remembrance, discussing their implication for a classification as civil Religion.

Arminadav Yitzhaki

Principles vs. Pragmatism in the Behavior of Religious Political Movements: Rabbi Berlin and the 1937 Partition Plan Controversy

The Mizrahi was one of the important Jewish movements formed in the 20th century (1902) following the founding of the Zionist Movement. Its basic ideology was to resettle the Jewish people in the Holy land according to the Jewish faith, viewing the Zionist movement as advancing the long awaited Redemption. Rabbi Meir Berlin (1880-1949), scion of a renowned rabbinical family, was the charismatic leader of the Mizrahi Movement in the first half of the 20th century and as such held central roles in the Zionist establishment. He was a man of vision, integrity and clear principles, stemming from strong religious convictions. A classic case of collision between his religious ideology and politics occurred in 1937 when the British Peel Royal Commission proposed the Partition Plan as a solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict. Flatly rejected by the Arabs, the plan sparked bitter controversy among the Jews. Proponents were reluctant to concede a sizable portion of the territory pledged by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, but nevertheless regarded the plan as the lesser of two evils. However, R. Berlin, a central leader of the opponents, fiercely opposed it, mainly for religious reasons, remaining steadfast until the 1947 UN Resolution, which he was eventually obliged to accept.


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