Bennett to explore Europe’s opposing trends: religiosity, secularization



Georgette Bennett has worked with the International Rescue Committee for 23 years, but when that committee issued a report on the Syrian crisis in 2013, it sat on her desk, unread, for five months.

When she finally read it, she remembered the words of Leviticus 19:16, “Thou shalt not stand by idly while the blood of your brother cries out from the Earth.”

This moment led to the founding of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, an organization that brings groups together to raise awareness and funds for victims of the Syrian Crisis. Under the auspices of the Multifaith Alliance, Israeli and Syrian groups have found ways to work together toward peace.

Bennett, who also serves as president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, will discuss the possibility for similar cooperation in Europe in a talk titled “Swords and Ploughshares: The Religious Landscape of Post-Secular Europe” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

In addition to her work at Tanenbaum and the International Rescue Committee, Bennett has served as a faculty member at City University of New York, a broadcast journalist, a marketing specialist, and an organizational development consultant.

Bennett is also the author of 50 articles and four books, the most recent of which, Crimewarps: The Future of Crime in America, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Though Bennett’s talk will not focus on Syria or the Multifaith Alliance, she called her organization’s work “a perfect case study of how swords of conflict are being turned into ploughshares with positive engagement.”

Various Israeli NGOs that operate throughout the region to deliver humanitarian aid have applied to the Multifaith Alliance for allocations, she said.

“[They are] obviously at great risk because, in most places in the region, if people find out you’re Israeli, the odds are high that something bad will happen to you,” Bennett said.

An increasing number of Israelis and Syrians are now working together to break down their deep-seated suspicions and trust each other, she said. Syrians are challenging everything they’ve been taught as they meet more and more Israelis who want to help them.

Bennett sees a similar need for understanding in Europe, where she perceives two “simultaneous but opposite trends” toward both increased secularization and increased religiosity.

“How is it that, in an increasingly secular Europe, religious hatred still holds so much sway?” Bennett said. “As we know, there are two ways religion-based hatred [is] surging in Europe, one being anti-Semitism, and the other being Islamophobia.”

Bennett hopes her examination of these trends and the “glimmers of hope” that they will eventually be reversed will help people to develop a deeper understanding of perception versus reality of the issues faced in Europe and around the world.

“My hope is that [a] more nuanced view will open up minds, so people will be able to embrace each other,” she said.