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“Religions as equal partners”

Committed to peace: why religions have influence and what political benefits this can have is explained by Father Nikodemus, an adviser at the Federal Foreign Office.

Interview: Sarah Kanning, 15.08.2019
Father Nikodemus, an adviser at the Federal Foreign Office
Father Nikodemus, an adviser at the Federal Foreign Office © dpa

Father Nikodemus, since 2018 you have advised the Federal Foreign Office in the Religion and Foreign Policy section. Normally you live as a monk in a Benedictine abbey in Jerusalem. What brought you to Berlin?
The precursor to the department was the Task Force on the Responsibility of the Religions for Peace. In 2017 and 2018, it organised large-scale network meetings of religious actors that I also had the chance to attend. I was therefore familiar with the work of the Federal Foreign Office, and the Federal Foreign Office – and in particular the Directorate-General for Culture and Communication – was aware of my expertise.

Even when at work, you wear your Benedictine garb, your habit?
Yes – and as a result I often end up in conversation with diplomats. They are curious to learn what a monk is doing at the Federal Foreign Office and how the new section works. This also raises awareness about the subject of religion as a factor of relevance to foreign policy.

Religious representatives are perhaps even the greatest transnational actors of our time.
Father Nikodemus

At first glance it seems surprising that foreign policy would occupy itself with religion…
Ever since the terror attacks on 11 September 2001, there has been heightened awareness of the subject of religion – though with the general tenor being that “religion is a driver of conflict”. Later, it was often the case that religion would be addressed within the context of victims, for example persecuted Yazidis, Rohingya, or Christians in the Middle East, or of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. For a long time, the words “religion” and “problem” tended to be cited in the same breath. The Task Force on the Responsibility of the Religions for Peace focused awareness of the great potential that religions have for peace. The objective was and still is to take religious actors seriously as equal partners in the areas of peace education, mediation and media impact. In the meantime, we have taken another step forward: the section seeks dialogue with religious representatives on all socially relevant topics that concern the future of humankind and our planet, because religious representatives play an important role as information disseminators.

Why are religious actors such important points of contact?
In Germany, the subject of religion tends to be viewed critically. The situation worldwide is rather different: 84 percent of the world’s population belong to a religion. In many countries, people have more trust in religious representatives than they do in politicians. In Zimbabwe, for example, only one in five claim to trust politicians, whereas the church is greatly trusted by the majority Christian population. Religious representatives are perhaps even the greatest transnational actors of our time. Religion does not stop at any national border.

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The Federal Foreign Office is supporting the preparations for the World Assembly of the “Religions for Peace” organisation in Lindau. What are your hopes for the meeting?
The meeting in itself already makes a strong statement. More than 900 religious representatives from over 100 countries will be coming together in Lindau from 19 to 23 August. Roughly a third of the guests will be women and young believers. As well as meeting at a preliminary conference, they will also speak on the panels, ensuring that their voices are clearly heard. Women and young people have a different view of the world and of religion, but are often marginalised in debates. Much needs to be done to address this.

Father Dr Nikodemus Schnabel, born in 1978, comes from a family of artists and encountered different cultures and religions at an early age. Born in Stuttgart, he studied in Fulda, Jerusalem, Munich, Münster and Vienna. In 2003 he entered Dormitio Abbey in Jerusalem, a German-speaking Benedictine abbey on Mount Zion, which he headed from 2016 to 2018.


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