Professor Dr. Miltiadis Konstantinou, Dean of the School of Theology of AUTH
Over the last decade of the 20th century, developments in economic, social and political level interacted with each other and brought a tremendous change in the cultural level of the whole Europe. Migration of people for different reasons (refugees, workers, etc) have modified the map of the continent and transformed the European national societies to multicultural societies. Parallel to this development, and maybe in relation to it, a reinforcement of fundamentalistic trends and practices of introversion in different social levels are observed. Religions are expected to play an important role to the above changes. Today, the increase of non-Christian populations in Europe and specifically of Muslims places Islam second in numbers after Christianity, a fact with obvious consequences in specific cultural and social sectors of life. Therefore, it is obvious that a multicultural society can hardly exist or even hope to survive, without the support of religion. From another point of view, a confrontation of people in a religious level might be proved catastrophic for the coherence of the society, especially if it is accompanied by religious fanaticism.
Today, all governments of European countries are making serious efforts both towards implementing a model of a neutral state at all levels of government, education, etc., and towards respecting religious freedoms and human rights in general. It is obvious that Europe is today afraid of religions and probably not unfairly. Under these conditions the Christian Churches in Europe are today facing a dilemma; they will either reinforce the religious elements by exploiting the fears and insecurities of their flock in an effort to regroup them, or they will try to emphasize the most authentic elements of Christian faith in order to increase their prestige in society, risking, of course, the absolutesity of their hierarchical organization.
However, in order to religions to proceed to the second option, the exit from the impasse of the socio-economic crisis must precede, which is largely a consequence of the inability or failure to give real meaning to life. Because there is no doubt that securing a dignified life and providing proper education is the best treatment against racism and extremism.
To the extent it is accepted that religious beliefs and perceptions affect the public and private spheres and affect the function of institutions, the forming of identities and the meeting with the Other, it is obvious that the study of the religious phenomenon and the relationship of religion with culture and politics in the new globalized environment requires the collaboration of scientists from different disciplines.
As the modern society experiences times where the enemies of reconciliation do not cease to cultivate isolating and divisive tendencies by highlighting the contradictions, and while the degradation and depreciation of human beings as a consequence of globalization is rendered a world phenomenon, such a project is certainly a big challenge that is expected to give only good results both for the society and the religious communities.
Believing that this conference wants to serve these goals, I welcome you as Dean of the School of Theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and I congratulate the members of the Scientific Committee for their initiative and wish great success to its works!