This week the P.C. in Rome program hosted the second academic colloquium of the Spring semester. Our topic was “Muslims in Europe: Immigration and Integration”. Academic colloquia are important events which enhance the academic conversation in our program and provide opportunities to focus on issues of contemporary culture and society. Typically, local experts are invited to speak about their field, their recent research, and implications for current events.
Our distinguished speaker was Dr. Mustafa Cenap Aydin, director of the Tevere Institute for Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue here in Rome. The title of his hour long presentation was “The Youngest Son of Abraham and/ of/ to Europe: Muslims in Europe between Immigration, Violence, and Dialogue”.
Currently he is a visiting fellow at the Institute for the Study of Philosophy, Politics, and Religion at the Wolfson College, in Cambridge, England. His remarks were the result of his current scholarship. He began with a discussion of the relationship between majority and minority religions in the history of Europe, tracing the emergence of Christianity and later Islam in Europe.
Dr. Aydin then unpacked the notions of citizenship and religion as well as how secularism has been defined in European history. He also stressed the definitions of “Islam(s) and Islamism(s)” suggesting that Islam is not monolithic either in its history or in its current manifestations.
Perhaps the most challenging part of his talk was about the growth of the modern nation state and realities of secular citizenship. That is, a model of citizenship wherein religion is not and cannot be expressed in the public sphere.
Through the use of historical and contemporary examples, Dr. Aydin outlined citizenship and religious identity issues facing Muslims in Europe. The discussion was helpful in giving our students a wider perspective, a cultural sensitivity, and a religious appreciation of what the European Union is facing in the re-emergence of Islam in its member states. “Identity politics” is a very hot topic, and one which the students can now understand, perhaps, on a much deeper level.
This week’s academic colloquium helped to raise the level of academic engagement among students and faculty. It’s experiences like this that help to ensure that our time here is not spent simply in “study tourism” but in “study abroad” – learning in the context of a culture and society that is different from our own.