Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission on the Move for Justice and Peace: The Case of the European Project for Interreligious Learning (EPIL)

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission on the Move for Justice and Peace: The Case of the European Project for Interreligious Learning (EPIL)

Article excerpt

Mission on the move: Toward witnessing in religiously plural societies

"Mission on the Move" means mission still moving out of traditional perceptions of what mission is; and if "witness" is a new word for mission, it means re-conceptualizing what "witness" means in multi-faith/ religiously plural societies. This is a difficult process as the concept of "mission" carries with it a long history and biblical authority. Further, it has often been aligned with political powers and misused for non-religious purposes. Its practice has focused on converting the other into one's own religious likeness rather than sharing (in a variety of ways) the transformative power of the gospel in one's own life.

The European Project for Interreligious Learning (EPIL) is an educational project for Christian and Muslim women from five countries in Europe and the Middle East. It is a two-year intensive learning process that was originally developed and launched as a cooperation by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Protestant Academy Boldern, Switzerland. It owes much to concepts of ecumenical learning and "Learning in Community" and to the liberation pedagogy of Paulo Freire.

The first phase of this project (comprising three cycles) took place 2000-2013. In the course of each two-year cycle, participants spent five weeks in live-in situations where they had to deal with cultural and religious differences and explore how these might be harnessed to live more peacefully and fairly.

"Interreligious dialogue and engagement should be the way for religions to relate to one another." This statement from the Birmingham Pluralist Summit (September 2003) (1) was the basis of the learning process. There would be no proselytizing and no attempt at missionization on either side.

For the Christian participants in EPIL, this marked a relational shift from "mission" (as a hierarchical relationship) to witnessing in the form of presence to and with "the other." Learnings about religion became narratives and conversation--telling each other what religion meant concretely in the lives of participants. It was a work of "translation" that taught students more and at a deeper level about their own faiths than about the faith of the respective other. At the same time it heightened the students' sense of respect, even awe at the richness of religious experiences. And in the course of time it developed into something close to "the communication of love in action," (2) an attentiveness to the needs of the other woman, her limitations, her potential, and the realization of her humanness.

If the classical response to "the other" used to be fear of difference (with all the consequences, including suppression and even elimination of the other) there has occurred a shift to valuing diversity, to perceiving it as enriching and helpful in solving the many problems of daily living together.

In the discourse developing on a pluralist "theology of religions"/ "interreligious theology" we observe a shift from holding one's own religious truths as only truths (exclusivist approach) to acknowledging that "the great world religions with their diverse teachings and practices constitute authentic paths to the supreme Good." (3)

To be "on the move" then could refer in a sense to a concept of living together in complex societies with a multitude of cultural expressions and religious beliefs. A concept that allows us to be attentive to insights and ideas emerging in many locations and that preserves a certain fluidity and openness to different ways of life and different approaches to problem solving. This works on the assumption that cooperation, respect, and acceptance of the different religious perspectives can produce results that draw all into the process of building life together within a culture of justice and peace.

Being "on the move": EPIL's pedagogical concept

In the educational process of EPIL, being on the move has been the most decisive factor. …

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