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Cosmopolitanism and Religion

Cosmopolitanism is usually conceived in opposition to locality and aligned with the abstract notion of universal humanity. Political discussions of cosmopolitanism have consequently encountered considerable difficulty in balancing the value recognised in communal belonging with the loyalty claimed by humanity as a whole (Benhabib 2006; Cheah, Robbins, and Social Text Collective 1998; Vertovec and Cohen 2002).

‘Cosmopolitanism’ as a term also is complicit with various forms of imperialism and global violence (Derrida 2001). Meanwhile, contemporary usages of the term have linked it with multiplicity and hybridity. For instance, cosmopolitanism has been perceived as the ability to stand outside one’s situatedness and to be able to draw selectively on discursive meanings so as to fashion one’s self according to one’s choice. Meanwhile, globalisation has invited reconsiderations of the meaning of cosmopoli- tics and the effect that expanding markets have on modern constructions of the ‘human’ (Cheah 2007). While the meaning of cosmopolitanism remains open-ended and is open to revision, increasing recognition of the important role of religion in international politics poses new challenges for those interested in world citizenship, both as an ideal and as practice.

As discussed in the ‘Introduction’ to this volume, many voices have recently argued against the classification of religion as an essentially private matter (Asad 2003; Connolly 1999). Unreflective secularism is being challenged for the distorted liberal understanding of the world it has been producing over the past centuries in the West (Calhoun 2011). The question of whether or not a “religious cosmopolitanism” could be forged has been discussed by theorists like Justin Neuman (2011). Neuman has recently observed that ‘cosmopolitanism, conceived and theorized in opposition to political boundaries, has come to conceive religion—religious practices, convictions and communities—as its theopolitical limit while becoming increasingly compatible with nationalism’ (143). In other words, according to most people’s understanding of the claims of interconnectedness and cosmopolitan belonging, while a person need not abandon allegiance to his/her national origins in order to develop a cosmopolitan engagement with the world, a person must, ‘in the dominant account, be willing to shed the parochial trappings of religion’ (144) in order to perform as a citizen of the world. However, as the alleged secularisation of the west is being challenged by waves of immigrants from the east, religious identification and its significance as a source of meaning-creation, and as a motivating factor, is becoming the focus of sociological and political studies alike.

The ‘functional’ approach to religion is thus gaining ground. Such an approach highlights the roles that religion fulfils within communities, such as providing members with sources of identity, morality and a sense of belonging. Scholars such as Scott Thomas (2005) emphasize the importance of shared values and commitment within religious communities. Thomas argues that this experiential level is perhaps more important that the cognitive dimension of faith as a system of beliefs. This present collection of essays has highlighted the many ways in which religion, as a source of moral values but also as an institution that produces networks of supports, inflects peoples’ choice to migrate and the destinations that are preferred, as well as shapes migration as a gendered experience. When cosmopolitanism is envisioned as an underlying possibility by the writers brought together in this book, it is at not seen as an attempt to create universal consensus about values and behaviour, a cosmopolitan community among diverse communities. Much like Kwame Anthony Appiah’s position in his study Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers., the implicit argument here is against a conception that treats cosmopolitanism as the ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’ caused by increased mobility and deter- ritorialisation today. Rather, for Appiah and for the current authors the reality of cosmopolitanism—in other words, the fact people who draw on different religious, cultural and value systems are called to make a life together within the confines of a fixed territorial boundary—sets the problem and asks the questions.

In his essay ‘Political Belonging in a World of Multiple Identities’, Stuart Hall (2002) examines the contradictions that attend attempts to articulate the meaning of communal identity as it is being shaped by new mobilities and transnational connections in the twenty-first century. Hall proposes what he calls a ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’. The latter postulates an approach to belonging that is pragmatic as it draws on the complexity of familial relationships. Hall argues:

For most of us cosmopolitanism has involved and has a continued relationship to our family cultures. You think they are tremendously important, you would not dream of being bound by them any longer, you prize the moment when you left them but you know that as you leave them they continue to support you. They continue to be what you are. You could not be what you are without that struggle both to defend them and to exit from them. So, though this is not a logical political position, it is actually

an existential political position we all perfectly well understand. (Ibid., 30)

Hall’s concept of ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ seeks to articulate the political significance of conflicting emotions and loyalties in arguments about cosmopolitan belonging. The question of belonging is taken up by more or less all of the authors in this collection, for it becomes apparent that belonging is more important than believing as far as the cultural and political role of religion in diasporic and transnational contexts is concerned.

The affective dimension of communal belonging and its relation to generational differences and divides has been treated by most chapters of this collection. Indeed, one conclusion that can safely be drawn is that religious identities are constantly under revision, a process that involves different generations negotiating their interpretations of sacred scriptures, rituals, communal claims and norm-setting institutions. For instance, Eleni Sideri’s chapter on the Greeks of Tsalka discusses communal belonging in terms of a historical vernacular cosmopolitanism which has been rooted in the religious, linguistic and cultural diversity of the region, and which is currently being refigured and diversified by transnational and post-national connections. Niki Papageorgiou’s study of the Armenian community of Thessaloniki offers a nuanced appreciation of the intersecting axes of memory, faith and generational differences and their influence on renegotiations of belonging. The chapter takes a closer look at the way the internal divide that characterizes the community (between the descendants of the first-wave refugees who arrived in Thessaloniki after the end of the First World War and the new immigrants who arrived after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union) signifies for contemporary constructions of belonging. Alexandra Deliu’s chapter, among other things, looks at the affective and conceptual shifts that are caused when Orthodox Romanian populations emigrate to a Catholic country, thus showing that cosmopolitan coexistence is a process that entails self-transformation. Magdalena Elchinova’s study also sheds light to the ways affective belonging is severely destabilized by the way identities signify differently in different contexts. Elena Tudor’s contribution points to the fact that migration is not unidirectional, but often is circular in pattern or interrupted, or even followed by subsequent migrations to other destinations, something that complicates the loyalties and affective dimensions of vernacular cosmopolitanism. Finally, Babak Rezvani’s chapter emphasizes the role of narrative memory, and the emotions invested in the act of remembering, creating and recreating coherent interpretations of the hybrid histories that have come to shape the Fereydani Georgian community of Iran.

The Black Sea as a site of cross-cultural encounter has invited approaches that have foregrounded cosmopolitanism as a contentious, albeit productive, prism through which one may reflect on the current repercussions of globalisation and transnationalism. For instance research on ‘Cosmopolitan cities of Eurasia’ (2008) led by Cambridge Professor Dame Caroline Humphrey has focused on the changing social dynamics of three Black Sea ports: the two great ports of the Black Sea, Odessa and Istanbul, and the trading and religious centre of Bukhara in Uzbekistan. These cities, formerly famous for their cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic spirit, are becoming hosts to new kinds of ‘trans-locality’. The latter signifies a connectedness between specific places that crosses nation-state boundaries, yet is not necessarily global in scope. Trans-locality is brought about not only by new mobile groups of people (refugees, domestic workers, builders, illegal migrants), but also by tourism, human trafficking and the new forms of transnational interaction facilitated by the Internet. In PostCosmopolitan Cities: Explorations of Urban Coexistence (2012) Caroline Humphrey and Vera Skvirskaja offer further insights into the sources of modern identity politics and the conditions under which communities interact creatively, or swing violently from cohabitation to conflict. PostCosmopolitan Cities includes chapters on Black Sea cities, such as Odessa and Tbilisi, yet takes a wider geographical approach that examines urban cosmopolitan settings ranging from Venice and Warsaw to local cosmopolitanism in Tajikistan.

In the aforementioned studies, the legacies of imperial and socialist regimes are treated within the context of changes brought about by migration, economic transformation and religious revival among other factors, and critical questions are raised regarding cosmopolitanism as an ideal and as practice. The present collection of essays has sought to extend current research on religion and migration by locating scholarly interest in the Black Sea area, yet adopting a broad approach to regional boundaries and resists the tendency to focus attention on big urban settings and trade centres. Research presented in this volume studies the everyday experiences of people in the periphery of cities traditionally viewed as the heart of the Black Sea’s cultural and religious crossroads. What the preceding chapters have shown is that the new mobilities that are shaping contemporary vernacular cosmopolitanism are far from democratic—not all can travel, and issues such as economic status, gender and educational background matter. Religious affiliation emerges as a parameter that is often overlooked by outsiders, but which nevertheless plays a quintessential role in how migrants negotiate their position vis-a-vis support networks, the claims of community in diaspora and assimilation projects within the host country.

While the present volume does not deal directly with cosmopolitanism as a discourse, it provides historicized and contextualized insight on the intersections of religion and migration within a specific geographical area and links these concepts to global changes at a macro level. More precisely, at a micro level migration and religion are shown to be imbricated in migrants’ lives through social networks and communal narratives of memory and identity, while at a macro-level changes brought about by migration and religion are also an inextricable part of the contemporary world’s social transformation. One conclusion that emerges is that globalisation and migration have intensified the possibilities for religions to imagine and actively reproduce a sense of community among co-believers. And they have facilitated cosmopolitan encounters with ‘others’ of the same faith tradition. Such encounters challenge the hold of ethnicity, broaden awareness of global religious identities and encourage subjects’ self-conscious negotiations of the claims of faith and religious belonging.

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