Religion at the University – a Contradiction?

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Photo: Salome Mayer

How can religious people act out their beliefs at a German University? In how far can – and should –this ideologically and religiously neutral institution support its students and employees in their free exercise of religion? Apart from others, this question was discussed by Professors of different disciplines, students and university chaplains during the FAU-symposium “Religion as part of University Culture”, organised by the Catholic and Evangelic Student committees KHG and ESG and by pastor Isolde Meinhard from the chaplain of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU). Considering the religious diversity at FAU, a high demand for clarifying the University’s viewpoint on religious issues became clear during the conference. Peter Bubmann, who is Professor for practical theology at FAU, stated that the Uni had just discovered this subject and that a clear position on important issues was still missing. Hence, the importance of the symposium cannot be denied.

Outer characteristics for Islamic Beliefs at the University

During short inputs and group discussions, the positions of the panel members of the symposium became clear.  Jörn Thielmann, managing director for Erlangen Centre for Islam and Law in Europe (EZIRE), also participated. He pointed out the unsatisfying spatial conditions that were compulsorily used by Muslim students for prayer. “This is a matter of dignity”, he said. Furthermore, German washrooms were not suitable for Islamic washing instructions: “If 10 or 15 people are washing themselves in a German University bathroom, we can call the cleaning crew, otherwise people might slip. So this will cause conflicts”, Thielmann stated.  Prof. Dr. Maha El-Kaisy Friemuth from the department for Islamic-religious Theology (DIRS) knows firsthand about these problems: “Our department is just beginning to orient itself together with our students on how to deal with the external features of our religion”, she explained to her mainly Christian dialogue partners.

Aim: a University sensitive to different religions and world views

During group talks, the participants discussed and formulated concrete steps to archive a more religiously-sensitive University. They came to the conclusion that religion – similarly to questions of gender – should be discussed within the academic discourse. The dialogue between religious student committees should hence be improved. Also, the multireligious character of the FAU University should be understood as a task for the society as a whole. Maybe one day, the wish of Prof. Pirner, Professor of Religious Education at FAU, will become true: A certificate to testify the FAU’s sensitivity to different religions and world views.

Further information:  FAU-Blogbeitrag ( blog entry) by Salome Mayer