Friday, July 19, 2019

“Ready for Discussion”

Johann Evangelist Hafner is the new member of the House of One’s foundation council. The 56-year-old Catholic was unanimously appointed and is taking the seat of Dirk Pilz, who died last November. Hafner studied Theology and Philosophy in Augsburg, Munich, as well as in the Philippines, and has held a professorship in religious studies at the University of Potsdam since 2004. Additionally he has been active since 2005 as the ordained deacon in the archdiocese of Berlin.


Mr. Hafner, how did you, as a Catholic, come to have the name Evangelist?

Yes, it is confusing. Many think that I am a missionary or come from the evangelical tradition. But this has to do with a tradition only practiced in Bavaria, specifying the patron saint in whose name you were baptized. Besides Johann Baptist, there is also Johann Evangelist.


Why is a peace initiative like the House of One necessary in our society?

The trend in Central Europe is towards a disbelieving society or a society lacking in religion. Many churches and places of worship, especially in smaller towns, are being abandoned. It is important to send a message that congregations can be interreligiously and inter-denominationally bundled together, and in this way make the presence of the religious in the secular environment more visible.


Religions are often spoken of as negative and extreme. Against this background, how do you see the House of One’s role?

At the House of One, the branches of the various religions that are concerned with isolation are naturally not involved. It is and can still be a crystallization point for those currents that are ready for discussion, as well as believe in and live the rule of law.


In What Way?

The German public essentially learned only in the past decade that there is not just the ISLAM, but instead different Sunni branches, as well as Shi’ites and others enfolded under this term. This is a great success in learning. Today almost everyone knows that within Islam there is a similarly wide spectrum as in Christianity or in Judaism. At the same time, we must learn–not only in Germany– that extreme branches and statements receive the most attention because they supposedly present a true teaching. The House of One counters this by making the representatives of religions that are willing to come to the table visible.


You yourself seem to be cosmopolitan and curious. After all, your studies to you as far as the Philippines…

Back then I was in seminary. I stopped that and went to the Philippines for a year as a missionary for the Steyler Order. During this time, I also got to know Luis Antonio Tagle who incidentally was the director of a seminary and is now Cardinal of Manila. We both love music: he sings well, and I play violin. Back then we even recorded a cassette with songs. That connects us to this day.


What are you currently working on?

I have just published an 850-page book about “Belief in Potsdam” (Glaube in Potsdam, Ergon Verlag), an overview of all religious communities and initiatives in the regional capital of Brandenburg. Right now I am working on a study on Muslim communities in Brandenburg, including a list and survey of all mosques and prayer rooms. How close to or far from Berlin are these communities? Are they united communities or do they differentiate themselves by country of origin, such as the Chechens? And naturally it is also a question of how strong Muslim religious activity actually is? Is every person who calls themselves a Muslim taking part in Ramadan or present at Friday prayers? Nobody knows the degree of secularization among Muslims, as there has not be an effect to differentiate between practicing and more secularized Muslims. Perhaps we can change that with this work.