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Interview Eva Maria Hinterhuber

You have written about the Abrahamic trialogue. What do you mean by that?

To begin with, the term “Abrahamic trialogue” refers to the interreligious dialogue between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In my study I focused on the integrative potential of this interreligious dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Germany’s civil society (Hinterhuber 2009). My hypothesis was that interreligious initiatives have good preconditions to contribute to societal integration, thus to provide opportunities for participation. People of different religions and convictions enter into dialogue, thus the initiatives are per se prone to bridge cultural and religious differences and to open up new ways of participation. Identity, though, may play an ambivalent role in this process: By addressing the other as Muslim, Christian or Jew, complex identities are reduced to one single part of them – to religion. This may have negative consequences. Religious identity can be strengthened in a way that reinforces boundaries between the different groups, which is likely to cause conflict. This is even more relevant in a political context, where questions of societal integration are often subsumed under “culture and religion”, and where social and political problems are frequently reduced to cultural and/or religious factors.

The subjects of research were civil society organizations dedicating themselves to the trilateral dialogue between the three monotheistic religions. The study came to the conclusion, that the trialogue was mainly led at the grassroot level, different religious and even non-confessional groups are involved, class, gender and age were not hindering factors – these facts lead to the conclusion, that this kind of interreligious dialogue is participatory. It opens up ways of participation even for societal groups that tend to be underrepresented in civil society. In addition, the trialogue initiatives obviously did not force conflict-laden reductionisms. Indeed, they choose a religious access and communicate also on a theological level, but they frequently broaden their perspective by taking socio-political and other topics into account. By this way, identities were perceived as complex entities, and were not reduced to a single element like religion. Instead, they act in a complex and pluralistic societal reality.

To sum up: Interreligious initiatives in the trilateral dialogue in Germany do have an integrative potential. On the contrary, it is problematic, if political actors subsume questions of integration or social policy under the aspect of religion. This can be seen as instrumentalization or even exploitation of the interreligious dialogue. In a democracy, the solution of problems of integration is still a question of social, political and economic chances as equal as possible.

What is the connection between gender and peace studies?

According to my opinion, the connection between gender and peace studies is an inextricable one. Due to the limits of the interview, I can mention only a few aspects, though: A gender perspective in Peace Studies is able to enrich conceptual instruments, for instance by suggesting broad and substantive definitions of peace which call for the absence of gender specific and gender based violence (e.g. Brock-Utne 1989, Clemens/Wasmuht 1991, Batscheider 1993) or by emphasizing the necessity "to liberate all categories of difference from their function as an usher in a hierarchical social order" (Harders/Clasen 2011, 330) as a central condition for peace; thus excluding these categories of difference as immaterial resources for future conflicts and their violent trajectory (cf. Clasen et al., 2011). Moreover, a gender perspective identifies the different roles that are assigned to men and women in conflictual systems. Gender specific consequences of conflicts are made visible, and claims to meet them in adequate ways are raised (as an example the topic of sexualized violence can be mentioned).

The contribution of both genders to the maintenance of conflictual systems, although in different roles and with different power of influence, is carved out. Furthermore, the necessity of the participation of women in peace negotiations is emphasized. Peace activism is another topic where a gender lens opens up new insights, both theoretically and practically. Gender Studies are no monolithic block and comprise various theoretical approaches – e.g. stressing equality or difference, deconstructing and thus challenging basic assumptions, theorizing masculinity or applying a postcolonial perspective. Each of the distinct theoretical approaches is able to highlight different aspects in peace studies, albeit sometimes in mutually contradictory ways. Last but not least, gender and peace studies share the analytical and emancipatory claim of critical science.

Are masculinity and femininity social constructions?

Yes, they are! Scott’s definition of gender is still valuable in this context: Gender „means knowledge about sexual difference […] Such knowledge is not absolute or true, but always relative. It is produced in complex ways […]. Its uses and meanings become contested politically and are the means by which relationships of power – of domination and subordination – are constructed. […] It follows then that gender is the social organization of sexual difference. But this does not mean that gender reflects or implements fixed and natural physical differences between women and men; rather gender is the knowledge that establishes meanings for bodily differences. These meanings vary across cultures, social groups, and time since nothing about the body […] determines univocally how social divisions will be shaped. We cannot see sexual difference except as a function of our knowledge about the body and that knowledge is not “pure,” cannot be isolated from its implication in a broad range of discursive contexts. Sexual difference is not, then, the originary cause from which social organization ultimately can be derived. It is instead a variable social organization that itself must be explained” (Scott 1988: 2).

What is the role of civil society in the new Russia?

The attitude of the Russian state towards civil society can be described as paternalist, if not authoritarian. Increasingly, civil society groups are marginalized and perceived as ‘dissidents’ (Evans, 2006: 155). A number of contradictory laws dealing with civil society severely hamper civic activities. Despite these circumstances, Russian civil society experienced a new spring in the wake of the allegedly forged presidential and Duma elections in 2011/2012. The following mass protests in the capital, as well as in dozens of other cities were said to be the biggest demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union and relied on new segments of the population (for instance the middle class) that had not been active before (Siegert, 2012: 6).

Additionally, new, unconventional forms of political participation developed (such as flashmobs or mobilisation via the Russian version of facebook, vkontakte), not least using new social media. The state reacted with an iron fist, though, with high numbers of arrests and long prison sentences. Yet under increasing pressure, the organised and the informal parts of Russian civil society are still active. Nowadays it is civil society organizations that are the most independent actors in Russian politics; some even see them as substitutes for strong and autonomous parties (Siegert, 2010: 183).

What is your opinion on interdisciplinary research?

I highly appreciate interdisciplinary research as a promising and fruitful approach and, moreover, as a necessity – without negating the challenges that it poses in its realization.

More about peace studies: Interview-Werner-Wintersteiner

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