Come and See – Hospitality as a Basic Requirement of Interreligious Dialogue

From 26th to 29th November 2019 an alumni conference took place at the University Congress Centre of Ohrid/North Macedonia. Besides KAAD alumni from Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary and members of the expert group “Religion in Dialogue” from China, Colombia and Iran, General Secretary Dr Hermann Weber and the Head of the Eastern Europe Department, Markus Leimbach, took part in the conference. The conference was prepared by Fr Prof Dr Milan Dordevic from the Faculty of Theology in Skopje.
In his introductory lecture, Dr Hermann Weber explained conceptual approaches to the foreign. Based on psychoanalytical and theological approaches, he critically discussed the postmodern concept formation and imagery (“rootlessness” etc.) and drew conclusions for the work of KAAD in the context of international educational migration.

In his lecture, the Serbian scientist Davor Dzalto dealt in more detail with the topic of refugees in the context of hospitality. Starting with the question of why refugees leave their country, he pointed out that this was a natural process which had continuously taken place since the last centuries. However, nowadays that process is perceived too much as a threat, Dzalto continued. According to the scientist, some church representatives also jumped on the populist bandwagon and thus, further reinforced fear of refugees whereas other groups, especially individual citizens, often helped refugees. He noted an overall prevailing fear of the foreign and made clear that help for refugees should be realistic about possible hazards. Not only unconditioned reception was of great importance, but also taking action to tackle the root causes of migration or rather refugee flows.

The distinguished Byzantine researcher Professor Georgi Kapriev from the University in Sofia (Bulgaria) began his lecture with the historical dialogue constellation of the theologian Anselm von Havelberg in Constantinople of the 12th century. The theologian defines tolerance as a virtue (of both dialogue partners) so that according to him, hospitality and tolerance are approaches to an interreligious dialogue.
The Hellenistic approach of hospitality can also be found in Judaism as the Hungarian scholar of Jewish studies, Ilona Urban, pointed out. Actively looking for guests and not waiting for them, being prepared to receive guests, all that honours the host, Urban continued. What matter is not who comes as a guest but the fact that a guest comes, she explained. The praxis of invitation, of welcoming guests to the Shabbat meal, continues to this day.

The Islamic theologian Dr Heydar Shadi further outlined the topic of hospitality in Islam and – following Heidegger – focused on the concept of ontological living or ontological homelessness and included the tradition of Sufism. He stated that only those who have a home (both physical and psychological) could be hosts themselves and thus, true hospitality could ultimately only become possible through a religious experience which is often lacking today.
Lingchang Gui began his discourse about hospitality in the Asian context with Jacques Derrida’s statement that the guest is at first stranger to hospitality himself. Hospitality in East Asia is not a unilateral decision, but part of the moral order and the historical tradition.  Since the concept of the “stranger” does not exist in East Asian culture both sides have to practice the rituals. Especially in the Chinese tradition, predestination or destiny forms part of hospitality. The term “Yuanfen” (affirmative destiny) describes this traditional behaviour which is still accepted today by around 70% of all students in China.

Professor Dr Carlos Gómez (Bogotá, Universidad del Rosario) presented in his lecture the shamanism of the indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. Shamans are not only doctors but also political leaders and spiritual counsellors. The spiritual counselling of this researched group is also based on a Christian faith. Hospitality in this context is a fundamental and natural element of interaction with one another. The intercultural hermeneutics constitutes an important element for the researcher in order to understand the shaman and his position in the social structure of relationships.
Finally, the conference’s host, Professor Milan Dordevic, also took a critical look at the behaviour of the Orthodox Church as part of a historical analysis of interreligious dialogue practice in North Macedonia. He noticed that the Church is always only a guest at events as it hardly organises anything itself or invites people to events. However, in these present times of change, there is a need for religious organisations, especially for the church, to prepare the ground for a fruitful dialogue, each being intrinsically motivated by mutual hospitality, stated Dordevic.

All in all, the meeting of the expert group showed that hospitality plays an important role for social relations in all religions and cultures. The partially controversial discussions mainly revolved around a religiously justified (“absolute”) hospitality in tension with (ethically responsible) regulations and limitations, e.g. of migration flows. The rootedness in God turned out to be the deepest reason for overcoming delimitative identity building. Unlike a “colourful” coexistence (“diversity”), this leads to the attempt of a radical dialogue-based understanding of the other which also acknowledges the claim to truth of the other and which is preceded by the hospitable reception and welcoming based on the traditions of the religions involved.

In addition to the discussions of the expert group, there was also opportunity for conversations with the Orthodox Archbishop Stephen in Skopje (see picture), the Orthodox Bishop of Ohrid and the Catholic Priests of these two cities as well as with the Faculty of Theology in Skopje. The diversity and at the same time abundance of the Orthodox churches was impressive; a special experience was the visit to the Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje.