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Creating a Culture of Encounter

Leaders: Thomas Banchoff José Casanova Paul Elie Amelia Uelmen

Two decades into the new century and emerging from a global pandemic, we face a new challenge: an increasingly fractured world divided along political, social, and religious lines. Over the course of his pontificate, Pope Francis has proposed a way forward out of this global crisis: the creation of "a culture of encounter" in which "we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith." Over the course of the 2021-2022 academic year the program will convene dialogues that explore and develop the idea of the culture of encounter and its implications for the global agenda.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic Pope Francis pointedly described the global fragmentation and fragility revealed by the crisis. “For all our hyper-connectivity,” he wrote in 2020 in Fratelli Tutti, “we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.” The world has been drifting apart, the pope lamented. “Ancient conflicts thought long buried are breaking out anew, while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise.” 

Pope Francis has not only diagnosed the global crisis. He has also proposed a way forward: the creation of "a culture of encounter" in which "we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith." Encounter, for Francis, goes beyond dialogue to engaging difference with a stance of humility, generosity, and patience towards those who think and live differently, drawing on the fundamental human unity that lies behind our political, social, and religious divisions. In Fratelli Tutti he calls on people to dream and act as “as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

A culture of encounter is not a utopian or a specifically Catholic project. It is realistic in that it begins with the fact of human plurality: the encounters of different peoples, cultures, nations, religions often sharply at odds, that characterize the world throughout history and especially today. No single prescription for our global moment, whether liberal, democratic, nationalist, conservative, or authoritarian, can command universal assent–or ought to. A culture of encounter, however difficult to sustain, may represent the only viable way to negotiate and bridge differences for the global common good on issues from climate change to social and economic development and peace. 

In order to explore and develop the idea of the culture of encounter at a critical juncture, the program will sponsor a series of events over the 2021-2022 academic year. Key questions include: 

  1. What are the sources and substance of the idea of a culture of encounter, as developed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio–as a Jesuit priest, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and now as pope?
  2. How might the idea be developed systematically through theological, anthropological, and historical analysis and reflection on our contemporary situation, with the culture of encounter, rooted in humility, as a check on the absolutizing of any one culture or outlook? 
  3. Where and how can we recognize the culture of encounter in literature and the arts? 
  4. What are the implications of a culture of encounter for engagement across divides within the Church (Catholicism in its plurality), with other religious traditions, and with the wider world?

Insights from the conversations will be folded into a concept paper that may serve as an outline for an edited volume, to be pursued over the 2022-2023 academic year.

Diverse people walking in front of a red double-decker London bus

Project Leaders

Thomas Banchoff headshot

Thomas Banchoff

Director
Department of Government and Walsh School of Foreign Service, Vice President for Global Engagement

José Casanova headshot

José Casanova

Senior Fellow
Professor Emeritus

Paul Elie headshot

Paul Elie

Senior Fellow

Amelia Uelmen headshot

Amelia Uelmen

Senior Research Fellow
Georgetown Law