“This is exactly like talking to my father”
A glimpse of the conference Religion and Political Thought, Copenhagen 24 – 25 September 2010.

By Kristian Mejrup

Late at night in a smoke-filled pub in the inner city of Copenhagen, between jazz and White-Russians a debate starts again. The Italian sociologist and the Croatian philosopher engage in the dispute. Is one to render homage to Karl Marx as a political thinker or not? Other urgent questions occur and amplify their disagreement: what about gender equality, what about religious symbols in public space, integration etc? Every word is spoken in the Babel-language: English. Political, sociological and philosophical terms are tossed at one another. It all reaches its climax when the young, Italian career woman exclaims: “this is exactly like talking to my father”.

The late night events followed a conference on religion and political thought, held at The University of Copenhagen. 25 people from 15 different countries were gathered.

The conference begins Friday morning. There is a smell of coffee around the oval-shaped table where all the participants sit. In a debate over Marxism and religion a professor from Beijing confesses to be a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He prefers a secular background for religion and political thought. “To hide one’s capacity” is, according to the professor, an adequate expression for this. The detailed information about his membership of the Communist Party makes people smile. Only the Croatian philosopher has a critical remark.

After the morning program the participants are off to lunch in one of the old cellars of the University. Meat hocks hang down from the low, vaulted ceiling, a relic from the time when the room was used as a storeroom for food. The conference starts again. A debate among bible scholars over the political significance of St. Paul prolongs the first day of the conference.

The French professor from Paris is elegantly dressed. His lecture on Prometheus, Christ and democracy is the only one not in English – it is in French. It takes time to translate back and forth. The participants take the debate with them to lunch. Debate turns to discussion and the question concerns Marxism and religion. Is Marx’s critique of religion relevant for us today? The answer of a younger Italian sociologist is “yes”. The answer of the middle-aged Croatian philosopher is “no”. And this was the beginning of the debate which continued long after the conference ended – and eventually found its way to a Pub in Copenhagen called – “Det hvide lam”, The White Lamb.

A nice piece summing up the Religion and Political Thought conference in Copenhagen, 24-5 September.

“Du lyder nøjagtig som min far”
Konference  “Religion and Political Thought”
Af Kristian Mejrup

Ud på natten, på et værtshus i indre København mellem røg, jazz og white-russians, genopstår diskussionen. Det er især en italienske sociolog og en kroatiske filosof som, stadig opflammet af spørgsmålet om Marx som religiøs tænker, diskuterer delikate emner som ligestilling, religiøse symboler i det offentlige rum og integration. Alt foregår på babelsproget engelsk med stærk accent. Politiske, sociologiske og filosofiske fagudtryk ryger gennem luften. Og alting kulminerer, da den unge italienske karrierekvinde resigneret udbryder: “this is exactly like talking to my father”.

De sene begivenheder lå i forlængelse af en konference om religion og politik, som blev afholdt ved Københavns Universitet. 25 deltagere fra 15 forskellige lande. Fredag formiddag startede konferencen.  Det dufter af kaffe omkring det ovale bord, som konferencedeltagerne sidder omkring. I en diskussion om marxisme og religion bekender en professor fra Beijing sig som medlem af det kinesiske kommunistparti. Han foretrækker et sekulært udgangspunkt for religion frem for et religiøst. “To hide one’s capacity” er et udtryk som ifølge professoren er et godt udgangspunkt for religion og politisk tænkning. Folk trækker lidt på smilebåndet, og kun en filosofiprofessor fra Kroatien kommer med en kritisk kommentar.

Efter formiddagens program går deltagerne til frokost i et af universitetets gamle lokaler. Fra rummets lave, hvælvede lofter hænger der kødkroge. Et levn fra den tid rummet blev brugt til forrådskammer – en historie som mange af deltagerne morer sig over. Konferencen starter igen, men bliver forsinket, fordi en diskussion om Paulus opstår mellem bibelforskere.

Professor Jean-Michel Rey fra Paris er nydeligt klædt. Hans forelæsning om den græske figur Prometheus, Kristus og demokrati foregår som den eneste ikke på engelsk, men på fransk. Derfor går tiden med at oversætte alle spørgsmål og svar. Debatten tages med til frokosten, og udvikler sig til en diskussion om marxisme og religion. Er Karl Marx’ kritik af religion relevant i dag? En yngre italiensk sociolog mener “ja”, men modsiges af den midaldrende kroatiske professor i filosofi. Og det var denne debat, som fortsatte selv efter konferencens afslutning ud i Københavns natteliv.

(text by Kristian Mejrup)

First up, Jean-Michel Rey in action (in French with the multi-talented Janell Watson interpreting):

Among sixteen books, he is the author of Paul ou les ambiguïtés (2008) and simply should be translated and read. Ward Blanton and I are going to see that it happens.

The four stooges were giving Jean-Michel undivided attention, even though he was letting rip in French:

Later, over dinner, Jean-Michel discovered that Sara Farris is Italian, and since Jean-Michel speaks fluent Italian, they were off:

As the evening wore on and we retired to a drinking hole, two rabble-rousers turned up:

At which point things became a little blurry:

Many, many juicy stories from the Religion and Politics Conference last weekend in Copenhagen, one concerning the bed of a well-known professor and its surprising uses, another concerning the stunned look on the face of our Croatian rep at finding one Marxist left in the world, and another the discovery of a small group of scholars, deep in the cold reaches of Scandinavia, who believe that we can actually find the one true meaning of the Apostle Paul.

But for now, a telling moment in a Copenhagen pub. I have always been struck by the fact that intellectuals tend to be default idealists. Because we work with ideas and words, most of us believe they have power to make things happen in and of themselves. You know the lines – literature changes people, or the pen is mightier than the sword, and so forth. A case in point: at the pub half a dozen of us sat down at a table in the corner. After a few minutes the drinks did not appear magically before us on the table, so a discussion began.

‘Do you think they have table service here?’ said one.

‘I’m not sure’, said another. ‘Maybe you need to order at the bar’.

‘I suspect they have table service’, said a third.

After a full ten minutes, the discussion was still raging, but – strangely – the drinks had still not appeared.

Finally, it came upon one of us to go to bar and ask.

Coming up this weekend and I can’t wait for this one:

RELIGION AND POLITICAL THOUGHT

COPENHAGEN 24-25 September 2010

PROGRAM

Friday September 24, 2010

0900-1030:      Keynote: Yang Huilin (Renmin University, China)

Break

1100-1230:       Reports: 20 minutes each

China: Philip Chia and Kenpa Chin (Chinese University of Hong King and Chung Yuan Christian University)

Finland: Mika Ojakangas (University of Helsinki)

Sweden: Hanna Stenström (Church of Sweden Research Unit, Oslo)

USA: Brian Britt and Janell Watson (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA)

1230-1330:       Lunch

1330-1500:       Paper session: 20 minutes each

Tatiana Senyushkina (Taurida National University, Sevastopol, Ukraine)

Jorunn Økland (Centre for Gender Research, University of Oslo)

Mislav Kukoč (University of Split, Croatia)

Carsten Pallesen (University of Copenhagen)

Break

1530-1700:       Paper session: 20 minutes each

James Crossley (University of Sheffield)

Yvonne Sherwood (University of Glasgow)

Milena Kirova (University of Sofia)

Sara Farris (University of Amsterdam)

1800:                  Dinner for workshop participants

Saturday September 25, 2010

0930-1030:      Public lecture:

Jean-Michel Rey (University of Paris VIII – in French)

Break

1100-1230:       Paper session: 20 minutes each

Troels Engberg-Pedersen (University of Copenhagen)

Roland Boer (University of Newcastle, Australia)

Ward Blanton (University of Glasgow)

Philip Goodchild (University of Nottingham)

1230-1400:       Lunch

1400-1530:       Future plans: conferences, publications, local research projects.

Dinner

Although I am going to be writing regular pieces for Aussie Travel Advice, which will soon turn up on my links list and therefore be the best travel website in the world, until then the best website for the kind of travel I like is The Man in Seat 61. Forget about planes and shit like that – especially since the Ice Dragon has made it clear she doesn’t like planes very much – for The Man has all the information you could possibly need on trains and ships, anywhere in the world.

For example, I am planning a trip from Sofia (Bulgaria) to Yalta (Ukraine) and then to Oslo via Warsaw. I could take the crap way and fly, or I could go by ship and rail. Instead of useless websites without vital information, the man in seat 61 lets me know:

a) I can take a ship on the Black Sea from Varna or Istanbul to Odessa, and then on to Yalta.

b) From there it is the longest tram in the world to Simferopol and then train to Kiev, Warsaw and the Baltic port of Swinoujscie.

c) Last leg is a ship from Swinoujscie to Copenhagen and then train, ship and train to Oslo.

And what’s so damn good about it is the legend of how it began: one day back in 2001 The Man bought a discount book on how-to-html – as something read on the train. Now he’s had millions of visitors, has won awards, written a book, is making a TV series, and … can help me get around.

I am dreaming again of a seriously long bicycle ride – like, around Australia. The Sprung Chickens have reached Ballarat after crossing the Nullarbor. A slightly boring couple, I must admit (wouldn’t want to spend a weekend with them, for instance), but to take a year off and just peddle seems like heaven. 2011, I reckon, but before then, it will be Groningen to Copenhagen through the former Greater Frisia. At the least, I might have a few more pieces for the book of travel stories that is beginning to build up.

Gotta love the Vulgar Marxist, especially on Nopenhagen.

Ah. Goodwill. It’s like minor-level eco-bureaucrats from Norway and Nepal glancing at eachother across urinals. I admire your goodwill sir. In the spirit of Hopenhagen, I admire your goodwill.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that all those world leaders might just have once, even for a moment, glanced outside to see all what can happen in what is one of the best bicycle cities in the world. If those sexy Danes can do it, anyone can.