Interview about RISECI project
Interview with Dr. Jordi Sànchez,RISECI project coordinator, published in ‘Catalunya Cristiana’ in August by Samuel Gutierrez.
Could you explain further what the process was of creating this international project on the role of religion in Europe? Why have you decided to lead it from the Blanquerna Observatory?
The Centre is aware of the trends and dynamics of religions, both locally and globally. We are interested in following what is happening in the world from the perspective of religion and spirituality. For this reason, we decided to present a project to the European Union because we understand that the culture and identity of the European continent have been set by religious contributions: sometimes through imposition, and at others with the propositions that religion has made to European citizens. Our proposal has been accepted by the European Cultural Program and we now have two years to think about it in terms of specific activities, including film festivals, exhibitions, round table discussions, publications…
What is the starting point for your intuitions? Is religion still important today in building a European cultural identity?
Religion is not something marginal or only practised by a few pockets of believers, it is on the street, in the media and it is helping to shape a new dynamic of identity and what it means to be European today. There isn’t a very clear framework, and so we have to study it. To do this, we will look at it from the Lutheran north in Sweden and from a Christian, but not exclusively Catholic, standpoint ; we’ll also be looking from Central European Slovenia, where Christianity is very present but also under the influence of Balkan Islam, which coexists there.
The process of deconstruction of the roots of Europe has been discussed for years, including the religious dimension. Have you noticed that this process has begun to reverse? What is the role of new technologies in this trend?
Rather than deconstruction, I think there is a certain indifference and neglect of European roots in general. Some time ago there was a very belligerent battle over the issue of religion but today it is more muffled. New technologies show today that those who have power are connected and they respond to the questions and aspirations of the people. New technologies mean that many religions are waking up and not just sitting inside the temples. They are going out into the digital world to look for the people who are doing research. It’s an interesting phenonemon in Europe, religious deinstitutionalization is growing but online links among people are increasing virally. The digital world is clearly reconfiguring the religious and cultural universe.
In such a secular society, is studying the role of religion in the construction of a European cultural identity going against the flow?
Perhaps, but it is precisely this study of European identity or identities from the perspective of secularisation which unites us all, because a common feature of European peoples is to have passed from a scientific, artistic, philosophic and political culture represented by medieval theocentrism to a culture where the individual and his rights are at the center of everything. Such secularism is well-established in Europe, if only in opposition to religion. The fact that studying religion is considered going against the grain is already very significant. We observe the trends and find that, although it may not seem so, religion is still present and we aim to analyse it from different perspectives. European cultural identity is not without religion, even though it may be vague, less institutionalized or blurrier.
After the presentation of this project at the VII International Conference on Communication and Reality, what are the next stages? What do you think the other collaborating entities can contribute? What criteria have been considered in order to set up such an interdisciplinary working group?
The interesting thing about all of this is precisely to network with other European organisations having different immediate contexts and with an interdisciplinary approach. Religion, as Mauss would say, is a ‘ total social phenomenon’, meaning multidimensional and multifaceted. We do not want to fit religion into a box or take it from a single viewpoint but rather, what is of interest to us is to put it into dialogue with science, economics, law, psychology, art, humour.
The engaging thing about this project is that it not only involves universities or research centers, but also different organisations such as a museum, for example, or a cultural foundation , a university department, our Observatory itself… the criteria that we have set are, above all, the solvency of the institutions, their local-global focus, their level of excellence and internationality. The intention is to open and extend the research and dissemination of everything we do, so that the activities reach beyond each country and catch on in the others.
We will next be meeting in Edinburgh with our partners from Sweden, Slovenia and Scotland to talk about ‘peace and religion’. Afterwards, we have prepared several conferences in Barcelona on narrative and atheism, blasphemy and a tech-religious laboratory. And in May 2015 we will host the European week in Barcelona, where we will be able to see many of the things that have been done locally.
What does the RISECI project mean for the URL? Is this another example of its interest in the topic of religion in the modern world?
The URL is a university which is open to international, interdisciplinary contributions the provide value to European culture and therefore, RISECI is a natural partnership. The attention to religion from our university is evident in many areas and certainly RISECI is not only valued, but also takes on a major trans-European dimension. Leading a European project of this nature from Barcelona puts our university and our country on the map of European research on this issue.