Cross-National Study of Interreligious Tolerance

Tolerance Project

The Tolerance Project combines a global perspective on inter-religious dialogue with social scientific research on tolerance and a pluralistic approach to pedagogic practice. The guiding principle of the project is simple: arguments for tolerance and pluralism must be developed from within religious traditions and not simply from secular, Enlightenment principles of citizenship and of the polity. The Tolerance Project is designed to identify and explore the resources for tolerance and pluralism intrinsic in the three revealed religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-in a global context, with a particular emphasis on the relevance of these resources to educational practice.

In the modern world, most ideas of tolerance rest on liberal and secular ideas of self and society. These ideas can be briefly summarized as: a) the establishment of a secular public sphere, b) the privatization of religion, c) a politics of rights rather than a politics of the good, and d) a secular, post-Protestant idea of the individual as a self-regulating moral agent. However, the relevance of these ideas of tolerance to most of the modern world is questionable. A review of the contemporary global landscape reveals that the public sphere is not secularized, religion remains a public and not a private matter, politics are articulated along visions of a truth community, and the self is seen as constituted by collective definitions and desiderata rather than by purely individual pursuits and interests. Indeed, the contradictions between liberal and secular ideas of self and society on the one hand, and existing empirical realities on the other, are striking across a wide range of geographic contexts-in Southeast Asia and the Indian sub-continent; in Southeastern Europe, Ireland, and in fact, in the most conventionally secular of enclaves, Western Europe; and in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey.

Given the continued, if not renewed, salience of religious identities on a worldwide scale, as well as their potential to form either a focus for conflict or to function as a legitimation principle for existing conflicts, there is an urgent theoretical and empirical need for systematic examination of the potential for religion to provide resources for tolerance and mutual acceptance. This is the goal of the Tolerance Project: rather than seeking to export a particular, Western (and secular) vision of self and society to other parts of the globe, the Tolerance Project is designed to enhance the development of arguments for tolerance from within religious contexts and traditions and, most importantly, within religious pedagogic institutions.

The project is currently being implemented in three sites: Berlin, Sarajevo, and Jerusalem. All three sites represent areas where the confluence of the world’s revealed religious traditions has been part of a continuing reality of intolerance and hate. A three-year project is under way in each site to develop curricula handbooks to be used in religious schools to teach tolerance from within a religious context. Each handbook draws on the relevant religious traditions with different emphases as needed. Thus, for example, in Sarajevo, the Christian Orthodox tradition plays a salient role, as do Islam and the Franciscan Catholic tradition, whereas in Jerusalem the Jewish/Islamic matrix is more centrally emphasized.

The project coordinators in all three sites are as follows: Dr. Dorothee von Tippelskirch, an Affiliate of the Protestant Academy of Berlin, coordinates the Berlin site study; Professor Rusmir Mahmutcehajic, President of International Forum Bosnia, directs the Sarajevo site project; and the Jerusalem site project is coordinated by Mr. Shlomo Fischer, founder and President of Yesodot-Center for the Study of Torah and Democracy. In all three sites, the curriculum handbook project is well under way, and inter-religious steering committees have been established to oversee the redaction and compilation of the handbook.

The Tolerance Project is not limited to educational initiatives. With the financial assistance from a variety of donors-the AVICHAI Foundation, the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Berlin, the Ford Foundation, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and the Van Leer Jerusalem Foundation-conferences have been held (Berlin 1998, Vienna 1999, Jerusalem 2001) on the subject of religion and tolerance. Conference proceedings have appeared in Bosnian, in Tolerancija I Tradicija, edited by Adam B. Seligman and Rusmir Mahmutcehajic, Sarajevo, 2001. They was also a publication in Hebrew in a edited by Shlomo Fischer and Adam B. Seligman, and supported by The Van Leer Jerusalem Foundation/Kibbutz Ha’Meucad. A German edition of the conference proceedings will be published under the editorship of Dorothee von Tippleskirch, with support from the Herrenhausen Foundation. Finally, the English version, Essays on the Religious Roots of Tolerance, edited by Adam B. Seligman, was published by Syracuse University Press in 2003.