An American comedian likes to refer to his wife as a “Shiite Catholic.” If I understand the term correctly, I think I could apply it to myself given my religious self-understanding (not to mention my theory of the relation of religion and politics).
But this post is about a conference involving both Shi’a and Catholic scholars that I participated in last week. The conference was organized by a friend of mine as a follow up for a conference in Qom, the holy city of the Shi’a in Iran, two years ago. I had been planning to attend that conference, but it didn’t work out in the end. As I put it over on Owen White’s blog at the time:
I was actually hoping to go to a conference [in Qom] earlier this month, but sadly I wasn’t able to make it in the end. A friend of mine was there, however, and read my paper. Now my friend is back, and is quite euphoric about the Islamic Republic, and its resistance to the hedonism, secularism and other evils. He says that Shi’ite clerics there were very learned, and had not only read Plato, but could actually claim to have implemented some Platonic thinking in real politics—the dream of all anti-liberal philosophers.
Now having attended last week’s conference I can confirm at least some of what my friend said. I was deeply impressed by the four Shi’a scholars who took part in our conference. They were men of deep piety and learning. I was especially struck by their emphasis on the harmony of reason and revelation. They often spoke of the Iranian philosopher Mullā Ṣadrā (c. 1571/2 – 1640), who apparently made a sythesis of Avicennan philosophy with neo-Platonism, Islamic law, and Islamic mysticism that I would like to learn more about. Googling him afterwards I found that Fr. Dave Burrell (whom I know of old) has written on him (eg. here and here), and that Peter Adamson has devoted multiple podcasts on him (starting here).
I gave a talk on freedom, contrasting the notion of freedom in the Christian tradition with that of secular liberalism. Our Iranian guests seemed to agree with my main points. The papers are to be published in a German-Farsi Tagungsband. Some of them will also be online on our new website viqocircle.org. The idea for the name “ViQo Circle” (short for “ViennaQom Circle”) came after the conference when we were giving a little tour of Austria to our guests. We went up the Kahlenberg to show them where Jan Sobieski saved Europe from the Sunnis (to put it diplomatically). And it was there that we decided to give our group a name. We are planning to have a conference in Iran again in two years time, and I very much hope that I will be able to make it.