Preview: European Leadership Workshop 2023

Know your enemy: the entanglements between right-wing agents and religion in Europe

The next European Leadership Workshop is coming up soon!

Know your enemy! What sounds like a combative metaphor is – unfortunately – a necessity in the field of interreligious-/worldview dialogue in Europe today. For many years anti-pluralistic, anti-egalitarian and anti-liberal positions, arguments, codes and rhetoric are on the rise. They were and still are visible in the Brexit campaign, in Poland’s tightening of abortion laws, in Hungary’s anti-gay-propagan- da laws, in Italy’s declaration of a state of emergency when refugees are actually surviving the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, in countless news articles and social media posts.

Although academic, journalistic and activist approaches to the topic are diverse and broad, one key element often remains unconsidered: the factor of religion. The Euro- centric perspective, focusing primarily on institutionalized Christian religion, and the related perception of secularism as an inevitable, progressive phenomenon, has too easily overlooked the entanglements between right-wing and religious talking points, agents and rhetoric throughout Europe.

The intertwining of right-wing and religious motives and rhetoric has existed since the beginning of the modern era (and regarding Christian anti-Judaism it has even older roots), nevertheless the influence of religion still plays a secondary role in analyzing these contexts, even if anti-Muslim racism is increasingly prominent in representations of racism and anti-Semitism is recognized as an intrinsic component of right-wing extremism.

In recent decades however, right-wing policies have seen a significant rise and increasing influence on political decision-making. Driven by the success of the Christian radical right in the US and the rise of the global radical right, European conservative Christian protagonists are now increasingly seeking to gain political influence and actively shape national and EU law making and societies. This backfires especially with the latest rise of anti-trans discourses which are often not even recognized as right-wing narratives, with backward steps regarding Antisemitism, or in curtailing refugee rights on the basis of anti-Muslim racism.

Budapest, the chosen host for our 2023 European Leadership Workshop, holds a special place for many compelling reasons. In addition to its undeniable beauty, Budapest lies at the heart of Europe, where history, culture and diversity seamlessly converge. This dynamic city embodies the rich tapestry of European life, making it an ideal setting for our meeting. But it’s also a place where political dynamics have raised crucial questions about democracy and media freedom. Hungary, under the leadership of Viktor Orbán, has witnessed significant changes in its political and legal systems, raising concerns about the erosion of democratic institutions and the rule of law. This backdrop adds depth to our discussions as we explore the importance of pluralism and dialogue in contemporary Europe.

Moreover, Hungary’s steadfast stance on immigration and border control during the European migration crisis has amplified the broader challenges and debates that resonate across the continent. In this dynamic context, Budapest provides a meaningful setting for us to engage in dialogue and cultivate leadership to address these complex issues. It serves as the perfect backdrop for us to explore the art of interfaith and intercultural dialogue and, regrettably, to delve into the intertwining of right-wing influences and religion in Europe.

In the struggle for the protection and strengthening of a pluralistic, democratic and inclusive society based on solidarity we need to understand anti-pluralistic, anti-egalitarian and anti-liberal positions, arguments, codes and rhetoric. What are ideological foundations of right-wing thinking? Who are agents within European right-wing networks? What are the main topics? How they are connected to religion and world- view? How they are framed and why are they framed this way? These are the questions we will be discussing with young people from all over Europe at this year’s European Leadership Workshop. This workshop is about strengthening the European network and enables its  participants to become European multipliers.

Complementary to the regular DialoguePerspectives seminar programme, each year one European Leadership Workshop takes place in a different European metropole with a special meaning for religious and worldview dialogue. The European Leadership Workshop is open to participants and alumni*ae of Dialogue- Perspectives who either have previous experience in interfaith dialogue, are engaged in their congregations, communities, or universities, or who have founded initiatives in the field.

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˝The programme makes possible something that is all too rare in our society these days: speaking and having discussions across borders, not about each other, but with each other. That can be a hard slog at times, but at the same time the format makes space for follow-up questions and deeper conversations that are only possible through trust on all sides.

Felix, DialoguePerspectives alumnus

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