Soltes focuses on Georgia, Ukraine to pose larger questions



Georgia and Ukraine are somewhat “off the beaten track” of American familiarity, but Ori Soltes will use the countries to illuminate larger questions of what kind of role religion plays in society, what role it can play and if religion is a force of unity or disunity.

Soltes, who teaches theology, philosophy and art history at Georgetown University, will give a lecture at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. Week Eight’s Interfaith Lecture theme is “The Global Religious Public Square.”

Soltes will present a series of observations and statements with respect to religion, addressing what religion is all about and how it is largely an instrument of survival — both physical and spiritual. He also will examine how one arrives at conclusions about what he or she should do to survive in that sense.

“Every religious tradition, at a certain point, undergoes a transformation from an age of revelation to an age of interpretation,” he said. “It’s problematic because interpretation is, by definition, up to interpretation.”

Soltes will then examine the interwoven nature of religion and politics, which becomes complicated when interpretation comes into play.

“In a more personal sense, politics means ego,” he said. “It is easy for us humans to forget, or rather to fail to distinguish, God’s will from my ego, in that my interpretation of God’s will becomes important because it’s mine, and I forget, what is God’s? But it becomes mine and ego intrudes in what God wants.”

Religion has been and can be a source of enormous creativity and beauty, Soltes said, but it is also a source of destructive behavior. He cited the Crusades, between Christians and Muslims, and religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, “in another instance of enormously vehement and violent behavior that is a function of the way in which religion and politics and religion and ego has interwoven each other.”

Soltes will focus on historical and contemporary issues in Georgia, which — in spite of bordering the Christian and Muslim worlds, defining itself as a Christian nation and, at various times, being dominated by Muslim political powers — does not harbor an anti-Muslim attitude.

“The attitude never became anti-Muslim in the religious sense, interestingly enough, in spite of the political back-and-forth,” Soltes said.

Georgia, which is “emphatically Christian in its own ways,” Soltes said, has a remarkable interfaith history, but it also harbors an intense intra-Christian rivalry. While the country shows openness toward Muslims and Jews, it is hostile toward Christian denominations that are outside of the majority Eastern Orthodox population.

Soltes will also discuss Ukraine, which has a complicated religious history that incorporates the political history of the past and present.

“There’s just a lot of complexity that reflects on the interweave of politics and religion and the intrusion of ego into the discussion,” he said.

Although the resources to create a more interconnected global religious community exist, Soltes sees an unfortunate trend toward greater fractionalization on religious grounds.

“I’m not inclined to be overly happy about our interconnectedness,” he said. “[But] the light within the darkness is that religion can be and has proven itself also to be a source of bringing people together.”