Details of the meeting

Date:   21 - 22 Sep 2017

Address: Corso Vannucci, 96 - Perugia

How and Whys of the Interreligious Dialogue

21 – 22 September 2017
Palazzo Donini – Sala Fiume


1. The session held in Perugia on 21/22 September focused on the question of if and how, in the six EU countries participating at the Project, it was guaranteed the recognition and respect of each ethnic component in its cultural and religious diversity – an aspect to be seen as a key factor for an effective integration process. Although previous project meetings have shown that satisfactory welfare systems have been implemented everywhere, it does not seem that they lead to a real equality between immigrants and the natives.
This gap, which is at the same time cultural and social, at least partly explains the disquiet of so many young people from the Second/Third/Fourth Generation. Their unfulfilled expectations bring them to look for an oppositional identity (and some of them towards a dangerous radicalization) able to fill the double absence of not feeling as belonging to the society in which they live nor to that of their parents.
Moreover, it is in such disquiet that it is possible to find the problems raised by the failed acknowledgement of religious identities. This lack of recognition seems to underestimate the role played by religion in contemporary societies and it does not take into account that the recognition and respect of each religion affiliation can contribute significantly to improve the relations between persons, the creation of a path of mutual discovery, the collaboration between cultures and religions, and, last but not least, to share the centrality of citizenship’s rights and duties. In fact, favouring the structural dimensions of the integration processes over the cultural ones did not allow the development of policies and practices able to enhance spaces and channels of dialogue capable of neutralising the rise of conflicts apt to undermine the common good that is social cohesion. And this is happening in a moment in which the progression and consolidation of a dialogue between nonreligious persons, believers, immigrant and autochthons, is revealing its potential to creatie a common ground and therefore a path to integration.
This is a brief summary of the opening remarks of Carla Barbarella (Aliseicoop), followed by the welcome to the participants by Alessandro Vestrelli representing Regione Umbria and Cristina Papa for the University of Perugia.
2. “Why and How Interreligious Dialogue” was the opening theme of the September 21 meeting, presented by Alex Koensler, who introduced the framework of the work done in collaboration between Aliseicoop, the University of Perugia and Regione Umbria within three EIF (European Integration Funds – EU 2008-13) projects. Objective of the projects were the creation of a practice of interreligious dialogue in the territory aimed to promote the improvement of interethnic relations, social cohesion and the effective integration of the migrant in the territory.
With a brief analysis of the context in which the projects took place, the rapporteur illustrated the growing mosaic of religions in Umbrian territory and highlighted the strong aggregative value that religion has for many immigrants. More specifically, he delineated the importance of religious affiliation in the migratory path; the different forms religiosity take on in host countries; the possibilities it give to create spaces for positive relationships between believers of different religious communities, including the autochthonous. He then underlined that the analysis of the context clearly showed the need to incite through confrontation and exchange between Italian and immigrant believers a greater attention to listening, to the openness to the Other, to the transition from prejudice to respect, and socialization.
Attention has then been drawn to the driving force behind the Practice, which is to consider religious affiliation not as an enclosed and private space, but rather as an open field (or a field of forces) in which converge objective and subjective factors, both structural and personal. It was in fact emphasised how religious and cultural knowledge should not be considered as a “value in itself” but – on the contrary – it is necessary to view institutional representatives, individual practitioners (both believers and ministers), and public and private bodies as socio-political actors who move within a field of forces, where cultural and religious knowledge, political opportunities and structural limits are interwoven. In short, identity and religious dynamics were not seen as a “mosaic of communities” but as a dynamic network of constantly evolving relationships, which are crossed by multiple forms of belonging and sense of identity. In this network, the recognition of the Other is essential to create an effective process of integration.
Drawing from this perspective, the rapporteur went on presenting the methodology used in the Practice, consisting in 5 key factors: a. the relational approach, which apply fluid concepts to identity categories that seems to freeze and mask the plurality within the different social or cultural groups; b. the abstraction from the conceptual framework of each to overcome prejudices against different forms of sociality or belonging; c. the construction of common spaces and horizontal networks to strengthen common values and shared interests between different actors (religious communities, believers, institutions, administrations); d. the promotion of personal relationships and active listening to face issues that concern everyone, not just the single community or the single believer; and e. forms of solidarity not only between individuals but with different subjects and communities.
Initiatives, events, meetings, seminars, exchanges/discussions on highly controversial issues as well as forms of non-traditional debates (i.e. use of the open space technology) were carried out with this methodological approach. By way of example, the rapporteur recalled: meetings with the ministers of cult of different religious communities on general and specific issues to activate relations and contacts between long time communities and other recent presences; encounters with the believers at the various places of worship aimed at mutual knowledge of ritual aspects, modes of worship and socialization (often strongly ethicized); participation in religious festivals of the various communities as a privileged means of developing mutual knowledge and respect; deepening initiatives aimed at community representatives and religious leaders for a reflection on the way in which different communities have come to a path of guidance of immigrant believers to the exercise of citizenship’s rights/duties; round tables specifically addressed to Second/Third Generations aimed at an in-depth analysis/debate on how they relate with the confessions of their parents; discussion forums on the phenomenon of radicalisation; analysis and debates on the specific issue of the so-called Italian Islam; regular initiatives with schools of every level and grades on the specifically Italian issue of religion teaching at school.
These activities are still continuing with the constant involvement of religious guides, believers of different communities, representatives of associations, private and public entities, and institutions and continue to make the ethnic groups present in the territory emerge from “invisibility”. Furthermore, it should be emphasized the active involvement of Second/Third Generation youths – in particular Muslim – but more in general of individuals or families who often live in a state of semi invisibility, as well as the strong involvement of many lay people, or people who would have ever met without the stimulus of some of the activities implemented.
The debate that follow, moderated by Maria Teresa Terreri, chairwoman of Cidis Onlus (Project Partner), raised many requests for in-depth analysis, questions of long-lasting impact and actual results of the work undertaken, and doubts about the possibility of transferring the specific experience of the Practice in other contexts with different migratory backgrounds. It was agreed upon that although the migration contexts of the countries involved in the project are very different, more data on the activities developed in the Practice and the results obtained could allow a more in-depth assessment of the possibilities of make a model of it. Aliseicoop, for its part, will provide further data in relation to the indicators of implementation and impact regularly acquired for each of the three EIF projects reported to the European Union and the Italian Ministry of Interior. Moreover, discussions and exchanges between and with the Foreign Partners continued during the convivial dinner at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Perugia, where a large number of Muslims (of different nationalities), believers of other confessions of the territory, representatives of institutions, associations and entities of the Third Sector were present.
3. In close association with the Best Practice of Interreligious Dialogue, the 22nd of September meeting opened with the presentation of the draft legislation approved in July by the House of Representatives of Italy aimed at the prevention of Jihadist radicalization. How to prevent and counteract it is the challenge posed by the draft legislation, which aims to respond to the phenomenon through cultural prevention initiatives (complementary to the existing intelligence and control services), following the stimulus of the European Union (Resolution of 25/11/2015). It has been stressed that Italy seems to have been spared terrorist attacks. Motivations for this peculiarity has been provided, including the presence of security and intelligence services that exercise a strong control over the phenomenon. However, a sort of “Italian delay” has been highlighted in comparison with the current dynamics of countries such as France, Great Britain and Spain. In fact, there is still not a large number of people belonging to the Second/Third Generations, the most problematic ones for what concern the radicalization phenomenon.
The draft legislation is based upon the idea that the phenomenon of radicalization can be also fought on the ground of ideas, that is to say with initiatives of “cultural prevention” as detailed in the articles of the law (cfr. note attached to the programme), believing that it may allow to contain the phenomenon.
The basic idea is to prevent radicalization by other means than repressive instruments, to resort to soft rather than hard power, in other words to disseminate the knowledge of the actual cultural and religious reality of Islam. If recourse to law enforcement and intelligence action has to have as objective the already radicalized persons, prevention should instead cover those segments of the population considered potentially at risk, such as young people or prisoners in jails. With this line of action, the legislation identifies as privileged fields of cultural prevention schools, prisons and mass-media. It is important to spread in school a “counter-narrative” which will allow young persons (especially Muslims) to perceive the nature and the characters of jihadist propaganda, as well as to intervene also with experienced practitioners in prisons to counteract and demystify the theological distortions fed by the false message disseminated by radicalists. The law, in fact, places great emphasis on students and young persons – as well as vulnerable persons such as prisoners, and provides substantial funding and training in the field of intercultural knowledge and teaching, urging schools and public institutions to use trained personals educated in this matters.
The driving force behind all this legislative apparatus will be a unit, which will launch a National Prevention Plan to be implemented on a local level.
The following debate has allowed participants to deepen the knowledge of the draft legislation presented, but also to come to know the situation of the different countries represented in the Project; on the absence – in most cases – of a national legislation; and to express the many questions and doubts regarding such delicate and complex interventions.
4. During the opening of each session, it was summarised the work of the previous meetings, so that the thread of the Project is not lost.
At the end of the meeting, it was confirmed the appointment of Marseille on November 30 and December 1st.



How and Whys of the Interreligious Dialogue

  1. As decided at the planning stage and confirmed at the Brussels meeting, the session to be held in Perugia on 21-22 September will cover the fostering of interreligious dialogue as an important factor in the integration process of the immigrant population.

The role undertaken by religion in contemporary society as a component of identity, as a place to keep the memories of Cultures, as a space for prevention and management of conflicts, makes it a significant channel to improve the relationship between different communities, in order to obtain and keep social cohesion. The recognition and respect of each religious affiliation can indeed contribute to the effective interaction between different ethnicities, cultures and religions, only if the actors involved (immigrants and natives) recognize each other as interlocutors with equal status.

As shown by the critical issues or lacunae in the integration process of the immigrant populations in many EU countries, it was not enough to facilitate the process through housing, work, school and training, or to simplify the process of family reunification, in order to activate a real immigration/natives equalisation and, consequently, to build the premises of a shared identity within a plural society, maker of active citizenship.

In fact, favouring the structural dimension of the integration processes did not allow the development of policies and practices to enhance spaces and channels of dialogue able to neutralise the emergence of conflicts apt to undermine the common good that is social cohesion. Many consider this deficiency as the main reason for the disquiet of so many members of the Second/Third Generations, whose neglected expectations laid the foundation for the search of a religious identity able to fill a double gap: that is, the feeling of not fully belonging either to the society in which they live nor to that of theirs parents.

Moreover, these same loose ends can be considered the cause of the phenomenon of radicalization and extremism, particularly within fringes of young Muslims, as the latest Spanish case shows.

  1. In light of these premises and as a logical continuation of the issues addressed in the previous meetings (existing integration processes, welfare system, Second/Third Generations), we propose for the meeting of 21/22 September a reflection on a Best Practice implemented in Umbria on interreligious dialogue within three EU Projects, which Aliseicoop realized in collaboration with the University of Perugia and Regione Umbria.

This Practice does not aim to enhance religious and cultural knowledge as “value in itself”, but to consider institutional representatives, individual practitioners (both believers and ministers), and public and private bodies as socio-political actors who move within a field of forces, where cultural and religious knowledge, political opportunities and structural limits are interwoven.

In short, the structural approach of this Best Practice focused on the perception of identity and religious dynamics not as a “mosaic of communities” but as a dynamic network of constantly evolving relationships, which are crossed by multiple forms of belonging and sense of identity.

  1. In close connection with the discussion about the Best Practice of Interreligious Dialogue, it is proposed a debate/workshop on the contents of a draft legislation approved by the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Italian Parliament) aimed at neutralising the jihadist radicalization processes through initiatives of cultural prevention (along with existing intelligence service and territorial controls). The focus of the draft law essentially lies in the fact that the phenomenon of radicalization is fought on the ground of ideas. Thus, the purposes of this proposal is to: propagate (in schools, prisons, media and within families) the appreciation of the cultural and religious realities of a society that aims towards plurality; enhance a counter-narrative that allows young Muslims to comprehend the nature and the characters of jihadist propaganda; and demystify the theological distortions fed by radical messages.
  2. For the meeting, it is therefore proposed:
  3. Presentation of the Best Practice regarding the Interreligious Dialogue. Will follow a workshop with the subject who participated to the implementation of the Best Practice.
  4. Presentation of the draft legislation on cultural prevention of the phenomenon of jihadist radicalization.

How and Whys of the Interreligious Dialogue

21-22 September 2017

Sala Fiume

Corso Vannucci, 96, Perugia




21 September 2017

2.30 – 3.30 p.m.

Partner’s meeting

3.30 – 4.00 p.m.

The Best Practice of Interreligious Dialogue

Introduce Alex Koensler for the University of Perugia

4.00 – 5.30 p.m.

Workshop with representatives involved in the path of the Interreligious Dialogue

5.30 – 6.00 p.m.


8.30 p.m.

Dinner at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Perugia

22 September 2017

9.00 – 10.00 a.m.

Partner’s meeting

10.00 – 10.30 a.m.

Mesaures for preventing radicalization – draft legislation

Introduce a representatives of the House of Deputies

10.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m.

Debate to collect evaluation and suggestions

12.30 p.m.

Closure of the meeting


1.00 p.m.



In collaborazione con


Dipartimento di Filosofia, Scienze Sociali,
Umane e della Formazione


Agenda_How and Whys of the Interreligious Dialogue