Content-Type: multipart/related; start=; boundary=----------qLv3qgioXnEzGBFeQZNsej Content-Location: Subject: =?utf-8?Q?Philosophy=20and=20Religion:=20The=20=E2=80=9Cbackbone=E2=80=9D=20of=20intercultural=20dialogue=20-=20Marietta=20Stepanyants=20|=20Reset=20Dialogues=20on=20Civilizations?= MIME-Version: 1.0 ------------qLv3qgioXnEzGBFeQZNsej Content-Disposition: inline; filename=00000000326.htm Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8; name=00000000326.htm Content-ID: Content-Location: Content-Transfer-Encoding: Quoted-Printable = Philosophy and Religion: The =E2=80=9Cbackbone=E2=80=9D of inte= rcultural dialogue - Marietta Stepanyants | Reset Dialogues on Civilizat= ions = = = = =
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Philosophy a= nd Religion
= = Wednesday, 21 February 2007 =

The =E2=80=9Cbackbone=E2=80=9D of intercultura= l dialogue

Marietta Stepanyants = 3D""=

Every act of understanding, as the necessary con= dition of its possibility, presupposes in the individual an analogue of = what is to be later understood. In other words, understanding is impossi= ble without having at least something in common. Starting a dialogue, it= is not realistic to aim at the uniformity in understanding the meaning = of human existence and the norms of human behaviour. In the meantime it = is imperative to exert efforts in order to work out common approaches to= the issues of world order, the issues which determine the fate of manki= nd. There is a tradition from the prophet of Islam that says: “We = are all travelers on a ship; if one person pokes a hole in it, all of us= drown”.

It is not enough just to express willing= ness to carry on the dialogue. We need to be capable to understand the c= ultures which are different from our own. The difficulties are not so mu= ch in overcoming the lexical differences as in grasping the meaning of t= he notions, in particular those that make up the “back-bone”= of the culture.
Every act of understanding, as the necessary cond= ition of its possibility, presupposes in the individual, in he who under= stands, an analogue of what is to be later understood: that is the initi= ally posed comparability between the subject and the object (Wilhelm von= Humboldt ). In other words, understanding is impossible without having = at least something in common, some commonality between the two sides.
Some people reject altogether such commonality. Thus Richard Ro= rty asserts: “There is nothing deep inside each of us, no common n= ature, no built-in human solidarity”. Others, on the contrary, con= sider, as David Hume did that: “There is a great uniformity among = the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remai= ns still the same, in its principles and operations. Mankind are so much= the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing n= ew or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the = constant and universal principles of human nature”. The Humean uni= versalism is partly shared by some of our contemporaries. Thus, for inst= ance, the distinguished Indian philosopher Daya Krishna writes: “I= f philosophy is an enterprise of the human reason, it is bound to show s= imilarities across cultures to some extent and, similarly, as a human en= terprise it is bound to be concerned with what man, in a particular cult= ure, regards as the summum bonum for mankind”.

Commona= lity, but also differences: the example of justice

But it may= be supposed that Daya Krishna, while acknowledging the commonality of t= he human nature, is fully aware of the significance of differences betwe= en various cultures. Universals common for all peoples exist but nominal= ly. They do not have meanings which are the same for all and everybody. = A dialogue is possible only when and if its participants are capable of = understanding those different cultural contexts which loom behind seemin= gly uniform universals. Let us take for example a notion of justice. Tho= se who consider justice to belong to the set of universal human values i= n fact ignore existing differences in the interpretations of justice, an= d thus succumb to illusions about the essential sameness of manners of i= ts realization (democracy). The notion of justice, however, is always en= closed within the framework of a particular value system. The traditiona= l society differs in its approach toward the ideal of justice in at leas= t four respects from the approach taken by the posttraditional society. =

1) The source of justice and the ultimate judge, ruling it, = is not the people itself, represented by the elected members of parliame= nt and the courts, but the system of ethical norms prescribed by the Tra= dition that is by a corresponding religious belief (Islam, Hinduism) or = by the local authoritarian moral system (China).
2) The realization= of justice in traditional societies usually refers not to the present b= ut to the future, by which is meant the life after death.
3)Justice= is related to a certain “collective” to which an individual= belongs. That could be a caste, a community, a class or a social stratu= m, a religious confession. While in the West it is expected that everyon= e should have an equal right to justice in full accordance with his or h= er own deeds.
4) Justice is regarded rather in terms of duty than o= f law.

The universals of Weltanschauung

Along wit= h nominally all-human universals, each and every culture has a set of it= s own universals which form its “spine” (or “backbone&= rdquo;). In a culture, which is an intricately structured set of extra-b= iological programmes of human behaviour, there are, among other things, = the universals of Weltanschauung. They accumulate historically formed so= cial experience, and it is in the framework of their system that the per= son of a particular culture evaluates, makes sense of and experiences th= e world, organises in a totality all the phenomena of the reality that i= s encompassed by his or her activity. For Hindus the universals of this = kind are the notions of Brahman, Atman, dharma, moksha, karma etc. The &= ldquo;backbone” of Chinese culture is formed, in the first place, = by such categories as Tao and Te, in-yang, Da tong, ren and li. No dialo= gue with Indians and the Chinese would be possible, if the “other&= rdquo; side do not have at least elementary knowledge about the key conc= epts of their cultures, if it is not open to perceiving and interpreting= these concepts.

Tensions or even conflicts between different= cultures are often caused by ignoring the impact of time on a culture. = In fact, time has always left its imprints even on what is habitually ta= ken as dogmas. This statement is particularly true and topical when we t= alk about the time of radical transformation of Oriental societies, of t= heir “joining” modern post-industrial world. The destroying = of traditional socio-economical and political structures in countries of= the East brings about not just some “corrections”, not exte= rior modernization, but basically new interpretation of accepted and est= ablished ideas. But such an interpretation of the processes of change th= at takes place in today's East, that is seeing in this process a potenti= al towards reformation, arouses criticism both within the countries of t= his region itself and outside it as well.

In the former case = the criticism is voiced mainly by those who think that their culture, be= ing based on a particular religious faith (for instance, Islam or Hindui= sm), does not need any reforming, because any reforming threatens to des= troy the culture in question and to bring about the loss of national ide= ntity. Any reorientation guided by human understanding would mean the ac= knowledgment of the supremacy of human reason over the omniscience of Go= d. According to the Iranian philosopher S.H. Nasr, “in Islamic civ= ilisation there is no interest in changes and adaptation”. This ci= vilisation is symbolised not by a flowing river, but by “the cube = of the Qa'aba, the stability, embodying the stable and immutable nature = of Islam”. In the latter case, the potential for reformation in th= e East is denied by those who share the conviction of Max Weber that tra= ditional religions in Asia in principle do not contain any motives for r= ational ethical modelling of the world, that these religions accept this= world as given for the eternity, as the best of all possible worlds, wh= ich belief is the insurmountable obstacle for the development of the cou= ntries of the East.

Conservative and reformers

St= atements along these lines, asserting, for instance, that a dialogue bet= ween the mullahs of the “Islamic world” and the West is impo= ssible, underrate dimensions of history. The history of Islam shows that= from the very beginning in this religious tradition there were no perso= ns like officially consecrated priests in Christianity. Nor was there an= y single, and accepted by all believers, religious centre and organisati= on. Mullahs have always been and remain the servicemen of the “cul= t” who are not appointed from above, but are elected by a communit= y of believers. Mullahs very often combine their religious service with = mundane occupations, like trade, handicraft, agriculture etc. That way m= ullahs are much closer to the masses of their coreligionists than Christ= ian priests, Hindu Brahman-priests etc. It also means that mullahs are f= ar from being homogenous in their social status and are capable of shari= ng the feelings of Muslims belonging to different social groups. Mullahs= are susceptible to the influences of time.

There are many ex= amples of this. One of the most remarkable examples is the activity of M= uhammad Abduh, called “a prophet of a new day for Egypt and Isalam= ”. When he was the mufti of Egypt (1898 - 1904), he interpreted th= e dicta of the Shari a in the light of “the demands of the day&rdq= uo;, issuing appropriate fatwa (for instance, a fatwa which admitted put= ting money into a bank and getting interest on a capital). Muhammad Abdu= h criticised dogmatically thinking Muslims, saying that they believe and= then demand proof, but “only on condition that the proof shall ag= ree with their belief”. The mufti himself thought the contrary way= true and righteous: first prove and then believe. He rejected faith bas= ed on blindly obeying an authority and urged the believers to base their= belief on strong convictions in the truth of religious teachings.
It is not only possible, but indeed necessary to conduct dialogues with= mullahs (as well as with the functionaries of other oriental religions)= , taking into consideration their influence upon their coreligionists an= d upon public opinion. Starting a dialogue, one must soberly evaluate it= s prospects. It is not realistic (nor admissible) to aim at the uniformi= ty of Weltanschauung, the uniformity in understanding the meaning of hum= an existence and the norms of human behaviour. In the meantime it is imp= erative to exert efforts in order to work out common approaches to the i= ssues of world order, the issues which determine the fate of mankind. T= he advisability and hopefulness of conducting dialogues in such a vein i= s acknowledged and proclaimed both in the West and in the East. For exam= ple, this position has been eloquently substantiated in the writings of = Abdolkarim Soroush (b. 1945) from Iran. He is often called “Luther= in Islam”, as he is the most remarkable representative of that re= forming trend in Islam which was founded by the poet-philosopher Muhamma= d Iqbal, the author of “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in= Islam”. The ideas of Sorush are evaluated as having a “univ= ersal significance” transcending the limits of Islamic world.

Having started his public career as one of the top ideologists o= f the Islamic revolution, Abdolkarim Soroush in ten years became an enfa= nt terrible of the ruling regime. He criticises the political elite and = particularly the Iranian clergy: “There is no question that cleric= al government is meaningless have argued that no clergy, qua clergy, sho= uld have worldly privileges, whether political or economic, over other c= itizens”. As a result, Soroush is fired from the Academy of Philos= ophy, deprived the right to teach, limited in his public pronouncements = and in publications.
Today Soroush ardently supports the idea of in= tercultural dialogue, being convinced that “There is a certain cat= egory of phenomena that require universal participation. There is a trad= ition from the prophet of Islam that says: We are all travelers on a shi= p; if one person pokes a hole in it, all of us drown.” This is an = excellent allegory, to see all the inhabitants of the globe as co-travel= ers on a ship. We Moslems have two kinds of problem, local problems and = universal problems that are the problems of humanity as a whole. In my v= iew, right now, problems such as peace, human rights, and women's rights= have turned into global problems”. To the list of such global pro= blems should be added those which are connected with ecology and new tec= hnologies. All such problems demand, for their solutions, collective eff= orts, which can be undertaken only as a result of intercultural dialogue= s.

Philosophy as a self-consciousness of culture

= Philosophers can and should play an especially significant role in overc= oming the above mentioned difficulties since more than anybody else from= the humanities they are capable of bringing understanding between the r= epresentatives of different cultures. When I say philosophers, I mean fo= remost those of them who are involved in comparative philosophy studies.= Genuine learning (free from any ideological burden and political purpos= es as it happened so often in the past) about the philosophical traditio= ns of the “other” culture opens a way to a better understand= ing of its essentials taken into consideration that philosophy as such i= s in some way the “self-consciousness of culture”. However t= he achievements of the scholarly researches if they are shared just betw= een the academics will not be truly helpful. They can bring changes in t= he minds only by the means of the education which should become multicul= tural. Knowledge and understanding have been always the best remedies ag= ainst prejudices and stereotypes which feed tension and hostility.
Marietta Stepanyants is a member of the Russian Academy of Science= s

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