The paper was presented at the IPSA 25th World Congress of Political Science, July 21-25, 2018 | Brisbane, Australia. It formed part of the Panel on 'Religion and Global Institutions: Interactions and Outcomes'.
Since the late 1990s much has been said and written about the potential for a dialogue of cultures and civilisations. With the rise of Islamist terrorism and the ensuing 'war on terror', attention has rightly turned to the role that religion is playing and might play in such dialogue. Can religion help to establish the normative foundations for a peaceful and ecologically sustainable world order? Can it generate the wisdom and energy needed to find constructive pathways across geopolitical fault lines that pit one major centre of power against another, identity fault lines that polarise states, ethnic and faith communities, and civilisational fault lines, most dramatically between the Orient and Occident?
In examining this set of questions, the paper focuses on the role of Christianity and Islam. These two traditions, though far from monolithic, readily suggest themselves by virtue of their global presence, with the world’s Christians numbering some 2.17 billion and Muslims just under 1.6 billion. But considerations of scale aside, Christianity and Islam are central to the current geopolitical landscape, a position they will continue to occupy indefinitely into the future. Christianity and Islam have had a long, complex and at times difficult relationship that has historically oscillated between dialogue and cooperation on the one hand and profound mistrust and hostility on the other. It is a relationship that continues to underpin a number of conflicts in the Middle East and to a lesser extent in Africa and Southeast Asia. More recently it has emerged as central to Western Europe’s self-understanding and its social cohesion and political identity.