The Culture of Encounter: An Imperative for a Divided World

In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis has 2020 pointedly described the fragility revealed by the COVID-19 crisis. “For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.” He called for us to fully recognize our shared humanity and engage one another with humility, generosity, realism, and patience – from the local to the international level – in order to be able to address global challenges together.

Johannes Wallacher with Fr. General Arturo Sosa SJ in Rome at the Culture-of-Encounter-Conference Copyright Evelyn Monteiro

Against this background, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University has in collaboration with three Vatican partners — the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue — initiated the Culture of Encounter and the Global Agenda project in November 2021. The project convenes a global network of 30 scholars and practitioners to explore Pope Francis’ concept of a “culture of encounter” and its practical relevance across three different areas: global governance, interfaith collaboration, and digital connectivity. Munich School of Philosophy is strongly involved in this high-level network with Prof. Dr. Michael Reder, Prof. Dr. Barbara Schellhammer and Prof. Dr. Dr. Johannes Wallacher.

The ongoing war against Ukraine underscores the importance of a culture of encounter as the most appropriate and legitimate means to address international conflicts. At this critical global moment Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs in partnership with La Civiltà Cattolica conducted the conference The Culture of Encounter: An Imperative for a Divided World on May 27th and 28th 2022 at Villa Malta in Rome. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, and Fr. Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, gave keynote addresses.

„In our group of scholars and practitioners from all over the globe, we were able to engage in intensive debates and small group discussions about how human relations and social cohesion can succeed in increasingly polarized societies, locally, nationally and globally - and how this can be used for the necessary structural reforms on all levels”, says Prof. Dr. Dr. Johannes Wallacher, President of Munich School of Philosophy. “This was challenging and enriching at the same time, as the debates surrounding current wars in Ukraine in particular, but also elsewhere in the world, have shown. It allowed us to experience how important it is to be moved by other perspectives and, in some places, persuasive arguments. I am looking forward to deepening this process of learning from each other and making this encounter useful for solving concrete problems and addressing further stakeholders. Many thanks to Dr. Tom Banchoff, Vice President for Global Engagement at Georgetown University and Director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs for initiating this project and important conference in Rome.”

For Prof. Dr. Barbara Schellhammer, Professor of Intercultural Social Transformation at Munich School of Philosophy, “the development of a culture of encounter is so urgent - and yet also so difficult. This was made clear to us once again during our discussions in Rome. What structures are needed at the global level? What role does digitalization play and how can interreligious dialog succeed? In intensive exchange with colleagues from all over the world, we experienced the power of the culture of encounter and realized how important it is to also create opportunities for our students that make intercultural exchange possible in order to confront our divided world together.”