Xenosophia and Religion
Biographical and Statistical Paths for a Culture of Welcome
- ISBN: 9783319745633
- Published By: Palgrave Macmillan
- Published: July 2018
In an era during which “xenophobia” emerged as one of the most frequently searched terms on the Internet, Heinz Streib and Constantin Klein introduce a timely new word in empirical research to the lexicon of religious studies and its subdisciplines: xenosophia. Drawing from the Greek xenos (meaning stranger, foreigner, or guest) and sophia (meaning wisdom), the authors position this neologism as the “positive antonym” to xenophobia, describing it as “the wisdom, creativity and inspiration that emerges from the encounter with the strange and the strange religion” (Cover copy; 6). Their edited volume Xenosophia and Religion: Biographical and Statistical Paths for a Culture of Welcome is a rich contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on diversity, discrimination, racism, prejudice reduction, and pluralism.
True to its title, the book offers a plethora of quantitative (statistical) and qualitative (biographical) data and analysis from the Bielefield Study on Xenosophia and Religion, a project based in Germany that aimed at understanding “the relationship between religiosity and attitudes toward the ‘strange’” (107). A sudden influx of asylum seekers escaping middle eastern conflicts during 2015 and 2016 thrust Germany into a “refugee crisis,” prompting the researchers and their collaborators to explore the complex dynamics of prejudice and religious “othering” (107). Drawing upon previous philosophical work on “alienness,” and informed by psychologist Gordon Allport’s well-known contention “that religion can both ‘make’ and ‘unmake’ prejudice,” their mixed-methods study suggests new directions for understanding political tensions and social cohesion in religiously diverse societies (ix).
In their essay “Design, Methods, and Sample Characteristics of the Bielefeld Study on Xenosophia and Religion,” Streib and Klein assert that the large corpus of literature on religion and prejudice published over the past five decades has centered the “negative, ‘pathogenic’” roots of discrimination (132). This approach connects ethnocentrism, fundamentalism, and authoritarianism to higher rates of xenophobia and other prejudicial attitudes toward race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation (4). This emphasis on how religion “makes” prejudice, they argue, dominates the research and has resulted in less attention being given to investigating the “salutogenic” conditions, or “positive developments,” that support the dismantling of prejudice (3). The primary goals of their study were to explore the conditions, attitudes, and characteristics which advance a xenophilic “culture of welcome,” one that is defined by “positive attitudes” and openness towards difference (369). Their ambitious volume quite successfully brings together both theoretical considerations and empirical evidence to support their objectives.
Scholarly and political conversations about religious diversity in plural democracies invariably involve debate about tolerance and accommodation. Streib and Klein attend to these themes early in the introduction, parsing various meanings of both concepts from the literature. They make the case that the constitutive elements of tolerance, such as “fairness,” “acceptance” and “coexistence,” fall short of the aspirational openness of xenosophia (9). “While the tolerant relation may lead to and include respect and eventually esteem for the other’s world view and the other’s cultural and religious practices,” they contend, “it leaves the category system of the observer unchanged” (10). They position tolerance as merely a stepping stone towards xenosophia, using the midway phases in James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development in order to explain their reasoning. They assert that advancement to Fowler’s later-stage concept of “universalizing faith” is a more likely indicator of progress towards potential perspective changing, xenosophic encounters with the religious “other” (10).
Both their critique of the hierarchical underpinnings of tolerance, and their attention to the positive influences and personal dispositions that support xensophia, offer compelling connections to the work of legal scholar Lori G. Beaman. In her framework of deep equality, she too posits that overattention to negative headlines (or what Streib and Klein would refer to as “pathogenic” views) obscures the ordinary, quotidian success stories (or the “salutogenic” moments) of diverse people navigating difference. Streib and Klein’s injection of the word xensophia into broader conversations about pluralism—as they are “probably the first to introduce this term in empirical research,”—will surely resonate with many other contemporary thinkers who study the intersections of religious diversity, governance, law, and public policy (ix).
By every measure, this is a dense volume. Readers from numerous scholarly disciplines and methodological traditions will find much to consider throughout its nearly 400 pages. Empiricists and theorists alike will be drawn in by the breadth of its approaches. It is an innovative and timely work, published during an era of increasing global enmity towards the religious “other.” The editors’ objectives are unequivocal: “we need to know what makes people ‘diseased’ with prejudice…. But we also want to know how people regain their ‘health;’ research should aim at identifying the healing powers for the xenophobic epidemic” (x). Perhaps the book’s most significant contribution is also its most straightforward plea to readers: to shift focus from the negative paradigm of xenophobia to the postitive perspective of xenosophia (x). In this volume, Streib, Klein, and their colleagues have contributed the persuasive (and promising) new vocabulary of xenosophia to scholarly thinking about a world in need of repair through creativity, connection, and wisdom.
Christine L. Cusack earned her PhD in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa and works in the field of higher-education communications.Christine L. CusackDate Of Review:January 28, 2023