Germany's ambassador to the Vatican, Annette Schavan, still sees religion as a peacemaker, despite wars and terrorism. In an interview with DW, she calls for more interfaith dialogue and respect between all religions.
Deutsche Welle: After the New Year's Eve harassment incidents in Cologne, a highly charged atmosphere with regard to migrants has developed in Germany. How do people in Rome assess the events in Germany?
Annette Schavan: The Vatican knows about all the new attempts to exploit religion as a justification for violence. Germany is viewed as a country that does a lot for refugees. The pope has explicitly commended this in his New Year's speech.
Can religion today still serve as a peacemaker or has it already become a driving force behind wars?
There are warmongers who embrace religion. But that does not mean that religion promotes war. Religion has the great power to bring peace. People are upset by the numerous attacks and wonder, "Should we equate these images of violence with Islam?" One gets the impression that Islam is part of the problem. But that's not true. It must become clear that it is part of the solution.
The pope has called on all Christians to take in refugees. In the current situation, does that sound like utopian neighborly love?
Germany has set an excellent example with its "culture of welcome," which is still not a thing of the past. Of course, many people are anxious. That is exactly what the terrorists want. They do not want a culture of welcome for refugees. One of the things the refugees are fleeing is the terrorists. If we consider integration and welcoming culture to be utopian, then the terrorists have achieved a great deal.
Annette Schavan (c.) together with the Islamic theologians Mouhanad Khorchide (r.) and Bulent Ucar (l.) opening the Center for Islamic Theology at Munster University
In your term as Germany's minister of education, you established the first chairs of Islamic theology at German universities. Does a dialogue of religions take place there now?
I founded Islamic theological faculties because theological education is needed in order to establish dialogue. This is significant, as criticism is also involved here. Using a historical-critical method to interpret the scriptures is important. Germany has the potential to be the country that brings advances in theology. Even in Christianity, critical bible studies have only existed for a little over 100 years. The four institutes of Islamic theology that we now have in Germany are just the beginning for me.
Do we need a theological confrontation with radical Islamists? Must their theories be refuted with arguments from the Koran?
That debate is already taking place among Islamic theologians. It is crucial that representatives of a contemporary theology that can last into the future find acceptance and are not seen as outsiders. Such approaches can be developed at the German university faculties.
The Vatican seeks dialogue with Jews, Orthodox Christians, Protestant Christians and Muslims. Could it also mediate between Shiites and Sunnis?
The pope is a great moral authority whose sphere of influence reaches beyond the Catholic world. Because he acts as a peacemaker and reconciler, people from all cultures feel he is the voice of conscience, and they yearn for religion in the 21st century to unite and not divide.
Not only Muslims are fleeing war and oppression from their homeland. Christians are also being persecuted in many Muslim countries. Is their suffering at the hands of Islamist terrorists at risk of being pushed into the background?
Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group. That must be said clearly. But Muslims are also persecuted for their faith. Freedom of religion is for everyone. That must also be said clearly. It is the political responsibility of every society to protect this freedom.
DW's Astrid Prange conducted the interview
Annette Schavan has been the German ambassador to the Vatican since 2014. When she served as Germany's minister for education and research (2005 to 2013), the Catholic and Christian Democrat politician established the first chairs of Islamic theology at the universities of Tübingen, Münster, Osnabrück and Erlangen.