Background

_ The project’s narrative begins with the heart of Europe at the 17th century, where the cornerstones of present conflicts were sown. The 17th century is famous for the religious reformation that led to the sovereign state, democracy, citizenship and constitute human rights in response to decades of religious wars. This century was accompanied by outbursts of messianic and scientific development, economic and cultural progress — signs that the world was expected to change for the better. Today, however, it would seem that we are heading backwards and progressing towards a state of internal war; the democratic sovereign is under attack, citizenship is replaced by consumerism and human rights are fully disrespected.’

We are currently witnessing a paradigm shift: eschatology is at the center of political, environmental and religious movements. Democracy is constantly under attack, while ‘state of emergency’ declarations have become a part of daily life. Waves of refugees are escaping devastating situations in the Middle East and North Africa, trying to find a liveable place in Europe, while xenophobia, Islamophobia, and prejudice are part of their welcome reception.

The systematic weakening of the state’s democratic structure is happening in parallel to a remarkable resurgence of interest in religion, which has become one of the defining global issues of our time and has an inescapable hold over us. The intersection of political and theological thought is gaining global momentum, meanwhile the nature of human sovereignty and its propensity to generate catastrophic violence is escalating. The escalation of acts of violence and political manoeuvres force us to take a position and to choose sides. Nationalism, religion, gender, and race are manipulated by the political elite to divide society and turn people against each other. Schism, conflicts, and displacement are more prevalent now than in the last 70 years, while food, information, and goods are produced in larger quantities than at any other moment in human history.

The present paradigm shift also presents a moment of possibilities: the destruction that leads us to face the crises also opens doors to re-imagine a future where equality, dignity, wealth, justice, mobility, and education are equally shared among each one of us. In order to accomplish this, we have to know how to look back, to see what was imagined for us.

The 17th century has been formative for our contemporary reality in many ways: Europe’s religious wars ended with the Peace Treaty of Westphalia, which exiled religion from the supreme power. Secular sovereignty inverted the monarchical paradigm: the people appropriated the king’s power, turning the sources of political authority upside-down. Tolerance “as a government-sanctioned practice” in Europe’s Christian countries was institutionalized at this time. The sovereign ruler and the (national) territorial state became the “administrators of tolerance” in the early modern era, and promised to secure peace religious tolerance and freedom. However, it also sowed the seeds for the modern grand myth of nationalism and its authoritarian suppression of heterodox movements and accounts.

A second fundamental development was the creation of international relations through international law, with the primary objective to regulate trade. Obscured by the celebration of peace within Europe, the Westphalian treaty marked the beginning of Europe’s systemic slave trade, which could prosper as an institute protected under international law. International law proved to be a means for the protection of sovereignty as much as a neutralized tool for the systemic oppression of the designated Other. Hence, the myth of Westphalian peace is now a challenge to overcome.

Two 17th century protagonists, the ‘messiah’ Sabbatai Zevi and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, constitute a time tunnel in the project, establishing links between past and present, creating a perspective for insights into contemporary events. Both protagonists were excommunicated from the Jewish community; Sabbatai converted to Islam, creating grounds for a clandestine religious community — the Dönme — while Spinoza abandoned Judaism and became the first man in Europa without religion. Both protagonists represent reformation in which various religions, cultures and heritages overlap and coalesce. Rather than in spite of, but perhaps because of these pluralistic encounters, both protagonists offered a revolutionary worldview and were ahead of their time in their attempts to redefine the intertwinement and hierarchy between God, man and society (state). We retrace and depart from this historical past because it is through this reinvigoration that we may find new angles to rethink present conflicts.