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Otherness and Seafarers’ Religion

Xenosophia in Switzerland and Religion/s at Sea as Empirical Resources for the Transcendence-Immanence-Distinction Debate

The two projects – dealing with otherness in interreligious encounters and with religion in maritime cultures – represent distinct ends of a continuum concerning the distinction between immanence and transcendence. For Christianity, Judaism and Islam and their encounter in terms of “xenosophia”, transcendence can be associated with otherness coming from outside. In contrast, religion of the seafarers might be constructed via searching for the transcendence-immanence distinction inside of the maritime culture.

The Xenosophia project deals with the encounter between so-called Abrahamic religions from a social psychological perspective including variables from the religious and the non-religious field, the sociological and psychological level, and also interreligious prejudices and xenosophia as outcome variables. It deals with the experience of otherness and philosophical constructs as introduced by Berhard Waldenfels or Yoshiro Nakamura. This otherness approach challenges the traditional approach of the self-evolution of transcendence in terms of externalization as it requires a kind of internalization process during the encounter with the other from outside.

Religion/s of the seafarers will be constructed as a religion specific for the maritime cultures in the world which is and was a hybrid of land cultures from different times and regions as well as of different religious coping strategies at sea. Despite studies about some seafaring cultures by historians and social anthropologists, no systematic approach dealing with religion in this space has been undertaken, yet. Since the living conditions on ships are comparable all over the world (loneliness, little space and hard work in a hierarchical system, threatened life in storms and calms as well as monotony in good winds), the cultural influences of the regions can be compared on the base of this common background.

Furthermore, this field of research also questions the axiom that the transcendence-immanence-distinction is the tertium comparationis for the study of religion. Here, it rather serves as the research subject that needs a tertium comparationis which is less abstract, more material and less dependent from a definition of religion. However, there is still a need for definition of which cultural aspects can be interpreted as building blocks of religion. How can the distinction between transcendence and immanence inside of this culture help to indicate religion?