Austria: A Symposium at the Innsbruck University

As a part of the project: “Focus on Religion and the State“, the Catholic Theological Faculty of Innsbruck University invited speakers from 15 religious and confessional groups to a symposium held in the magnificent deanery conference room in Karl – Rah- ner Place. The Jewish faith and Orthodox Churches were the oldest of the religions to be represented; the Unification Church was by far the youngest.


By Johannes Stampf, Peter Zoehrer & Walter Waldhäusl

Representatives of Registered Churches were invited to present their papers in Innsbruck, Tirol, On May 22 to 23, 2017


This was already the third symposium of its kind. The first was held with recognized churches and denominations. Registered confessions were invited to the second, and this third symposium was attended by recognized religions as well as registered confessional groups…

The symposium (under the theme Fundamentalism: Its Significance, Characteristics and How to Deal with it) began on Monday May 22 at 14:00 and continued until Tuesday evening. Due to a misunderstanding about the registration deadline, the “Unification Church of Austria“was not listed in the program. We however, encouraged by the organizers, were quite sure that we would have an opportunity to give our presentation. At least we were able to hand in a written statement on the to- pic (see the attached). On our arrival, we learnt that due to the cancellation of the representative of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Bishop Vicar, we  would be able to present our contribution on Tuesday at 11:25. This resulted in great rejoicing amongst our small delegation (Walter W., Peter Z. & Johannes S.).

The symposium began with an intellectually challenging opening presentation by Prof. Dr. Karl-Christoph Kuhn (Catholic Theological Faculty, Tübingen University) followed by contributions from the churches and faith communities. Each speaker was given 35 minutes for his presentation and any ensuing discussion.

The topic of fundamentalism was a challenge for each one of the speakers for varying reasons. Why? The representative had to first deal with the fundamentalism in his own church as well as what the church does or could contribute to peaceful cooperation in society.

Thus we focused on these two points in our presentation. We had previously discussed the content in an internet conference and agreed on six distinguishing features of fundamentalism, with reference to the teaching and practices of our church.

In the second part, we presented three projects which serve to dismantle fundamentalism and encourage peaceful cooperation: the project „World Scripture“, the idea of establishing an “Interreligious Peace Council in the UNO“ (which is still being developed and is not yet completed) and the World Peace Blessing.

On the second day, all the speakers and representatives were invited out for a meal in the city center by the two organizers, professors Dr. Rees and Dr. Bair. We  dined in a historic restaurant right next to the Golden Roof (a famous Innsbruck tourist attraction). The meal was excellent, and both of the professors urged us to disregard the prices when we ordered. After all, we were celebrating a unique and historical event! We had long discussions and it was a wonderful opportunity to grow closer and to informally build interreligious bridges. Or to use modern terminology: it was a super opportunity for interreligious networking.

At the end of the symposium, we presented the organizers with a copy of World Scripture. They were very grateful to receive this comprehensive book with excerpts from the holy scriptures of different religions. They requested permission to place it in their faculty library, at the disposal of the students and teaching staff.

What else may we expect in the future from this conference? There will be a printed transcript of the conference proceedings containing the contributions of each individual faith groups. This book will be sent to all the participants, to be distributed to the host faculty as a book of reference and to be made available for public access in the library.

To my query as to whether this type of symposium could be held in other universities, one professor responded that he would certainly consult with his colleagues nationwide. He and his colleagues were very proud of the fact that that this event could be held with recognized churches (16 in Austria) and registered confessional groups (8). „The important role of scientists in organizing a dialogue between representatives of extremely differing religious persuasions is unique and is worthy of emulation. We scholars are concerned with objectivity and the underlying issue. We attempt to keep emotions in the background. “

Dr. Rees and Dr. Bair were truly excellent moderators, even when at times emotions ran high in the audience. Our delegation agreed unanimously that what took place there in the center of Innsbruck was of historical significance. It definitely sets the tone for and can serve as a model as to how dialogue could be conducted between different religious groups in the future. The intention is for similar symposia with various topics to be an annual event in Innsbruck University. We eagerly anticipate the next topic.

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