Deinstrumentalizing religion, re-humanizing migrants and with them creating a public space. These are the key concepts of the multidisciplinary research Migrations and Religious Beliefs that has involved about thirty researchers – including sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, jurists, political scientists, theologians – over a three-year period. This work intends to reestablish the right emphasis onthe spiritual dimension in the understanding and governance of human mobility and interethnic coexistence. The results are collected in a volume of more than 800 pages published in English by Brill (Migrants and Religion: Paths, Issues, and Lenses) and available in open access: a choice that intendsto promote the reading of this work beyond the borders of our country and that comes at a crucial moment in the debate on the governance of human mobility and the right of asylum, just as the reform of the Dublin Agreement is being discussed in the EU Commission. The research was presented on Friday, the 25th of September during the conference “The religion of the migrant as a challenge for society and the church”, promoted by Università Cattolica together with the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI).

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Migrants and the Positive Potential of Religion, a Summary of the Research

«Migration flows force us to deal with the intricate religious geography of many countries and the involution processes that have compromised a tradition of coexistence between religious groups”, said Laura Zanfrini, professor of Sociology of Migration and Interethnic Coexistence at Università Cattolica and Scientific Director of the research “Migrants and Religious Belongings”. Thus, “religious pluralism” represents an “unexpected effect of the European migration scheme».

However, through speculative analysis and empirical evidence, the research documents how religion – often represented as an obstacle to integration and a marker of social distance – can instead be a resource of resilience and identity support for migrants, and also a vehicle for integration and social cohesion, thanks in particular to the mediation of the family, religiously inspired organisations and schools. Starting from the testimonies of migrants who have left behind experiences of persecution and conflicts on a religious basis, the research offers valuable insights to reflect on the increasingly discussed border between forced and voluntary migration, a keyissuein the agenda of the European countries; but also to strengthen awareness of the principles of religious freedom and religious pluralism, now under attack in many European countries.

There are three elements through which an ethic of hospitality and cohabitation can be built: «De-instrumentalizing religion, often reduced to an identity banner or evoked in the framework of a sweetened narrative that neglects the conflictual dimension inevitably present in every pluralistic society; re-humanizing migrants, giving them back their subjectivity and right to speak; creating a public space with the contribution of migrants and religion through four key words: identity; religious freedom; citizenship; common good», Professor Zanfrini said.

In order to develop the positive potential of religion, the researchers identify certain conditions that call into question the responsibility of the government authorities, the reception system, the school and the religious organisations themselves. Among these: the willingness to listen to migrants and their stories, which make them living witnesses of the importance of religious rights and their inseparable link with personal freedom; the recognition of the religious and spiritual dimension within the paths of reception and integration; respect for religious rights (of the minorities as well as the “majority”), education on religious pluralism and the principle of State secularity; the creation of solid networks of collaboration between government authorities and leaders of the various religious denominations; the rethinking of the concept of citizenship beyond nationalistic encrustations, in the direction of activeand participated citizenship; the ability to transform the religious pluralism present in schools and everyday life into a “training ground for citizenship”; the religious “re-alphabetisation” of our societies, which is essential to establish a genuine confrontation with those who come from other religious traditions and require that these are recognised in the public space; the recognition that religion is not only a private good, but also a public good that makes a valuable contribution to the collective well-being; the integration of religion in the government and governance of migration and interethnic cohabitation; the promotion of the interreligious dialogue also for the identification of shared principles that can form the basis of a “global ethic”.

The religion of migrants is a challenge for the heterogeneous and globalized contemporary society. According to this study by Università Cattolica, it is the way through which Italy and Europe can rediscover and revitalize the essence of their Christian roots, as opposed to the tendency to reduce them to an identity banner: it is necessary to refocus attention on values (often shared also by the other main religious traditions) and on the need to inscribe them in society, in its main institutions, in the choices through which – as it happens with the governance policies of human mobility – these values find their expression.