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Professor Jack Miles speaks on Religion and Nationalism (December 8, 2012)

On December 8, 2012, Professor Jack Miles, who teaches English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine gave a lecture on the reflections on religion and nationalism in the series of interfaith dialogue at Pacifica Institute.

He began his speech by remarking on his belief of a peaceful future. “Let me express…my warm interest, my deep respect and long-term optimism that the course Pacifica Institute is charging here in Southern California, and through the Gulen Movement in Turkey and around the world is indeed, the best and wisest path for the world in the 21st century,” said Professor Miles. “The path ahead must combine on the one hand liberal patriotism and liberal intellectualism and on the other hand, religious tradition.” He expressed that by integrating these two without suppressing either of the two, ensures the necessary mix of creativity and continuity. He voiced that the path forward must lead neither away from Islam nor from the west but only through Islam and beyond the west to a new way of life in which these countries would be united.

Religion and nationalism constitute more than mere religious and national identity. He explained that the answer to the question “Who am I?” is composed of gender, sexual orientation, education, wealth, occupation and much more, but that religion and nationalism play a big part in the identity of a nation.

The lecture also traced the path of the word ‘identity’ from the Latin identitas, meaning sameness, and the word ‘crisis’ from the Greek krinein, which means ‘to choose.’

“The moment of crisis always proves to be the moment of a significant choice,” said Professor Miles. Just as identity crises can take place in individual lives, it can also occur on a grand scale, such as that of a nation. He explained that during such a crisis, people begin to ask the question, “Who are we?” He advocated creativity and courage to change what must be changed is an important component, but a nation must also maintain the humility and the creativity to preserve what must remain the untouched.

The lecture introduced the question of the strength of a coalition between religious tradition and liberal intellectualism. Prof. Miles expressed that the combination of the two, the capacity to change while remaining the same, would yield to the success of an institution. “Religion has great capacity to remain same over time because it’s ancient,” he explained. “A national religion thus can be powerfully stabilizing in the life of a nation, whether legally established or merely widely embraced.”

“You’ll see by this argument, why I am encouraged by the promise of the Pacifica institute and the school of thought from which it emerges,” said Prof. Miles. He underlined the significance of one of Albert Einstein’s ideas, that once the world’s religions embrace the salvation of the world habitat, as a sacred cause, they would be unstoppable. The only concern is whether it will happen in time.

He highlighted the situation in Turkey when he said, “I see the answer to the identity question emerging in Turkey, thanks in part to the thought of Fetullah Gulen.” He then invited the audience to express their thoughts and opinions on the subject.

He concluded the lecture with the importance of this plan’s success in providing a very bright prospect for a common cause. “I think that the Turkish model of tolerance of many religions within society is a very good one for other Muslim countries,” Saboohi Currim said. Another listener, Joan Kaye said, “He seemed very positive about what’s going on in Turkey. And I know that there has been a lot of fear that Islam party is coming in won’t maintain that freedom for other religions. He seemed to think that the identity can be Islamist as well as nationalist, just very positive that this party was more about tolerance and acceptance of other religions.”

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