A decade of turmoil

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  September 7, 2011

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SANDRA KEATING
WAKING TO RELIGION

Keating, a professor of theology at Providence College, specializes in Muslim-Catholic relations and advises the Vatican through the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.

WHAT IMPACT HAS 9/11 HAD ON RELIGIOUS THOUGHT IN THE WEST? From my perspective, what 9/11 did, in a lot of ways, was it drew attention — especially in Europe and the United States — to the fact that most of the world is not post-religious. Most of the world takes religion very seriously. And one of the things that bin Laden was fighting against was secularization — this movement that seeks to repress or corral religious sentiment. And as a consequence, a lot of Muslim leaders have been very uninterested in engaging with Western leaders in conversations about some of these things — for instance, religious freedom. Because in the past, secular movements have tended to — well, I'll use an example, in France religion is kept under control. And so most Muslim leaders are not interested in having a conversation with French leaders.

What [9/11] has done is to open the door for a kind of conversation that a lot of Muslim leaders have not wanted to have.

SO ARE YOU SAYING MUSLIM LEADERS DIDN'T WANT TO SPEAK WITH WESTERNERS ABOUT THIS QUESTION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT "RELIGIOUS FREEDOM" INEVITABLY MEANT "SECULARIZATION"? Exactly. That's a very good way of putting it.

BUT NOW THEY'RE FORCED TO TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE OF 9/11 AND THE PRESS OF WORLD EVENTS. They're forced to talk about it. But I would also say that there's a way in which it drew people who would be their allies out of the woodwork. After 9/11, what one finds is the religious question being given more of a hearing.

When I went to study in graduate school, what I wanted to study was Islamic theology in relationship to Christian theology and I could find no university in the United States where one could do that. And I ended up going to Europe to study. What we're finding now, in a lot of places: within the last five years every major university has been trying to hire an Islamicist.

There was an assumption, before 9/11, that religion would kind of disappear. And now, what we see with the impact of Islam, is a rethinking: how does one live as a religious person in the modern world, in a pluralistic society?

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