Religion and War Culture Discussed in Vienna

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The “Religious Communities in World War I” Symposium, jointly organized as part of the “1914-Peace-2014” series by the Vienna-based Friede-Institut für Dialog, JWF, and the Austrian Katholische Militaerseelsorge, took place at the Vienna Military Academy on October 16, 2014, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I.

War cannot be waged in the name of God; this is what we should dogmatize.

Pope Francis

The event was attended by cadets from the Vienna Military High School and the representatives of more than 30 international religious groups working in the armies of many European countries, such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain, as well as transoceanic countries, such as the US and Ecuador.

Delivering the opening speech, Episcopal Vicar Werner Freistetter, the head of the Institut für Religion und Frieden (Institute for Religion and Peace), greeted the guests and thanked the Friede-Institut für Dialog for its cooperation. Then the floor went to Patrick J. Houlihan, lecturer from the Department of History at the University of Chicago, who discussed the history of the war and its impact on various countries in his presentation, titled “Religion and War Culture: 100 Years after the Great War.”

The second presentation came from Wilhelm Achleitner, Education Director of Puchberg Palace in Wels, Austria. Titled “War Theology of Austrian Bishops in the World War,” Achleitner’s presentation quoted Pope Francis as saying, “War cannot be waged in the name of God; this is what we should dogmatize.”

Journalist and writer Mustafa Akyol looked at the war from a different perspective in his presentation, titled “The Place of Religious Communities in the Ottoman Empire during World War I: A Historical Inquiry into Religious Diversity in Contemporary Turkey.” Akyol argued that contemporary conflicts date back to the post-World War I era, which served as a hotbed for today’s radical Islamist and marginal groups.

Claudia Reichl-Ham from the Museum of Military History delivered a speech about the religious services during the Great War. Reichl-Ham’s presentation was accompanied by a rich repository of photos about the multi-religious composition of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s army and the religious ceremonies of these communities. She noted that the Austrian state’s decision to recognize Islam as an official religion dated back to 1912.

Julia Walleczek-Fritz, a representative from the Platform for Research into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, treated the issue of religious freedoms with a focus on the prisoners of war in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She indicated that 8 to 9 million prisoners of war and their religious freedoms constituted a major agenda item in the empire at that time. Walleczek-Fritz added that while there were glitches in translating theory into practice, the rights granted for general religious rites – provided that military rules were not breached – should be considered as freedoms.

The symposium concluded with a question and answer session.