What is the public role of faith in today’s globalised world?
Samuele Sangalli 18 February 2016

The first section of “Religion and Politics” contains five lectures given by qualified experts between October and December 2014. They provide a complex analysis of the presence of religion in the public forum and its relationship with political power. The question is treated from the point of view of theology, interreligious dialogue, political science, international relationships and diplomacy.

In opening the series, I have underlined some considerations about the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on “Religion and Politics”. Its teaching is a living example of how religions can cope with the challenges of a modern liberal, pluralistic and democratic society. My intention is to summarize what has become the new approach to this matter since the Second Vatican Council and to offer some useful suggestions dealing with the different areas and religions of the world.

Reflecting upon civil coexistence in our globalized world, Prof. Ambrogio Bongiovanni, who teaches Interreligious Dialogue at the Urbaniana Pontifical University in Rome, has stressed that “social dialogue” and interreligious dialogue have to be the paths on which to build and promote future generations, but that this will require a radical cultural change. In fact, despite the good intentions and the progress of the Human Rights Declaration, he demonstrates how religious liberty is still far from being implemented all over the world and how urgent the need is for fostering initiatives that encourage it.

In his paper, Dr. Domenico Melidoro, from the Department of Political Science at LUISS – Guido Carli University in Rome, addresses the issue of the role of liberal states in dealing with religious pluralism. After clarifying what is meant by liberalism, he focuses on two ways of facing religious diversity in a liberal state: when religion is subordinated to the liberal state and, on the contrary, when the latter is the guarantee of peace and toleration among different religious groups. With reference to the social context in India, Dr. Melidoro shows the importance of promoting the second model and how it can positively regulate matters of intragroup and inter-group domination.

Addressing the present changing international scene, Ambassador Guido Lenzi, who has held important positions in the Italian Diplomatic Corps, offers an analysis on the role of religious organizations in International Relations and Institutions. He thinks that the particular nature of faith-based diplomacy is an ancient idea that has newly re-emerged. Religious organizations are called to play a central role in the much-needed reintegration and consolidation of the system of international relations in order to promote the “common good” and the pursuit of a “comprehensive human development”. With especial reference to the historic contribution of the Holy See in fostering peace in many places, the author suggests that there are ample opportunities to re-establish the Catholic Church as a key moral protagonist of political debate at both the national and international levels.

Following these proposals, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, one of the closest collaborators in the Vatican Secretariat of State during the long pontificate of Saint John Paul II, writes about the specific nature of Papal Diplomacy within the International Community. In this connection, he stresses the fact that the diplomacy of the Holy See has the purpose of defending the rights not only of the Holy See and of the Church but also the rights of every person, and of fighting for the great causes of humanity, which, because of their moral and humanitarian nature and implications, enter within the competence of the Holy See.

The second part of this collection gathers what could be called the results of a shared and intensive debate. According to the unique methodology experienced in the Sinderesi School during recent years, the students, supported by qualified experts, have first prepared and then discussed in various workshops the results of their research now presented here.

The first group, led by Francesco Nicotri, Edoardo Antonio De Luca and Daniel Funaro (with Dr. Sandro Di Castro, President of the Italian Section of B”nai B”rith as valued advisor) and using the “art of conversation”, deals with the unique link between the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Their contribution is structured in two parts: the first is devoted to the specific mission of the people of Israel in the history of humankind, while the second is dedicated to the particular and complex relationship between religion and politics in the State of Israel today. Paradoxically, Israeli democracy looks like a true “laboratory of globalisation” with respect to its Jewish roots and its pluralistic conditions in a highly problematic area of the world. The article shows in detail an example of how an institutional religion can play an important and decisive role in a modern society.

With the assistance of Mr. Nigel Baker (British Ambassador to the Holy See) and Ms. Annette Schavan (German Ambassador to the Holy See), the second group, led by Antonella Piccinin and Giacomo Alfiero, under the supervision of Prof. Markus Krienke from the Theology Faculty of Lugano, treats the relationship between Christianity and secular States like Germany and the United Kingdom as examples of what are called “qualified neutralities”. In fact, both of these late modern societies, although marked by an increasing pluralism and secularism and despite the most influential claims of “strict separation”, offer two different interesting models of the collaboration of the institutional relationship between politics and religion. Because of that, this chapter is a clear example of the typical European approach to the relationship between religion and the State which implies a kind of institutional recognition of churches and religious communities and their mutual cooperation for the common good. The authors suggest how these two models,  which seem to paint an old-fashioned Constantinian picture of the relationship between religion and politics and present an institutionally privileged Church, surprisingly exemplify the virtue of affirming religious plurality and coexistence in a modern secular society.

Dealing instead with the Muslim world, a third group led by Antonino Cordopatri, Emanuele Ciancio and Antonio Aventaggiato, is trying to describe the relationship between politics and Islam according to its own principles, under the supervision of Dr. Abdellah Redouane, General Secretary of the Islamic Centre in Rome and the Ambassadors of Turkey and Morocco. After a useful introduction to the features and evolution of Islam, the chapter offers an analysis of the relationship between the State and religion, faith and reason in the Islamic world, with a final overview, in this connection, of significant Islamic democratic countries (Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and Iran) and of Islamic communities in Europe where the presence of Muslims is growing. The authors point out that Islam’s attempt to find its path to democracy according to its own cultural tradition and classical political thought is a huge contemporary challenge for Islam, which lives in a crisis of identity, one that can lead either to rebirth, fruitful for all of humanity, or marginalization.

Focusing on some countries in the Far East (especially democracy in Sri Lanka), an analysis of the relations between Buddhism and politics is made by the fourth group, led by Rosaria Gimmelli, Paola Perinu and Giovanni Saracino, under the supervision of Dr. Maria Angela Falà, President of the Italian Buddhist Union and the Embassy of Sri Lanka to the Holy See. As a first step they manage to define and explain the complex Buddhist “phenomenon,” which was born in Asia where the vast majority of all Buddhists still live, but is now widespread throughout the entire world, especially North America and Europe. Then there is a description of the relationship between religion and democracy in China, Taiwan, Thailand and Myanmar, where Buddhism has played an important role in shaping their culture and civilisation. Finally, an articulate insight into Sri Lanka, the oldest continually Buddhist country, highlights how Buddhism and politics are integrated, the relation that exists between them and how the aesthesis influences political and democratic development.

The last chapter concerns the relationship between the State and Hinduism in India. A group, led by Lucia Cosmano, Marilena Pisani and Fabio Massimo Silvetti Fabio under the supervision of Prof. Bruno Lo Turco from the Department of Oriental Studies at “La Sapienza” University in Rome, investigates how the world’s largest democracy is shaped by these ancient religious traditions, and how the idea of dharma in particular has influenced the politics, law and economics of contemporary India. In fact, dharma is a core concept of Hinduism, and it implies both self-control and adhesion to the cosmic order that also regulates human society in all its aspects as the place where all can follow their own dharma. The essay is an attempt to show how the Indian State seems to have found a new pattern of pluralist secularism, seemingly with no equivalent in the West. It looks with a flexible approach at the question of the inclusion / exclusion of religion and the engagement / disengagement of the State, useful for the coexistence between different identities, something which could be the common destiny of other parts of the world.

In conclusion, a synthesis of all the theses involved in each chapter is, understandably, practically impossible. However, this global overview of the situation regarding the relationship between states or political institutions in general and the main religious traditions of the world is aimed at sharing the desire of so many young people involved in this investigation to discover reasonable answers to the essential questions concerning the public role of religion in our contemporary society.

In the present global agenda, religion has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Since religious freedom is at the core of human rights, it is clear that its positive promotion by liberal democracies should be pursued, fostering a context of interreligious dialogue to transform conflicts and discrimination into sustainable peace and freedom.

This is certainly a duty not only for political and religious authorities, but also for all the citizens of the world, religious and non-religious, all of whom are called to avoid clashes of civilizations through the promotion of a culture of toleration, mutual learning, respect and cooperation for the global development of our life on earth.

This edition is possible thanks to the contribution of all the people mentioned above. Profound gratitude is also due to the Pontifical Gregorian University, especially the Rector, the Directors of “Alberto Hurtado” Centre and of the Gregorian University Press.

Special thanks too for the financial support of the “Konrad Adenauer Foundation”- Section of Rome. I must also express my deep gratitude to my colleagues at the Congregation for Bishops in the Roman Curia, Msgr. Thomas Powers and Msgr. John Cihak, for their valuable support.

Furthermore, as always, I acknowledge my profound appreciation for the work made by the two tireless secretaries of the Sinderesi School, Francesco Nicotri and Antonella Piccinin.

Published by courtesy of G&B Press 

The full program of the presentation can be found at



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