Cross-Cultural Dialogue on the Virtues: The Contribution of Fethullah Gulen

Trudy Conway talked about the virtues based approach of Fethullah Gulen in dialogue on February 4, 2015. Professor Conway presented her book “Cross-cultural Dialogue on the Virtues: The Contribution of Fethullah Gulen” at the Rumi Forum offices

The book explores the development of the influential worldwide Hizmet movement inspired by the Turkish scholar Fethullah Gülen, known for his moderate Islamic emphasis on peaceful relations among diverse people. It provides a detailed study of Gülen’s account of the virtues and argues that they provide the key to understanding this thinker and the movement he inspired, from its initial establishment of hospitality houses through the growth of worldwide schools, hospitals, media outlets, charitable associations and dialogue centers.

In addition, the book analyzes the distinctive virtues that shaped the Hizmet movement’s ethos as well as continue to sustain its expansive energy, from the core virtues of tolerance, hospitality, compassion and charity to a host of related virtues, including wisdom, humility, mildness, patience, mercy, integrity and hope. It also examines the Islamic and Sufi roots of Gülen’s understanding of the virtues as well as presents a comparative study of Gülen’s account of the virtues in dialogue with prominent thinkers of the Western philosophical tradition and the religious traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

The Hizmet movement provides living witness to the power and efficacy of tolerance, dialogue and peaceful relations among diverse people. This book offers an insightful portrait of the core virtues of this movement and the scholar who fully explored them within his writing. It will appeal to readers interested in virtue ethics, character education, cross-cultural studies, interfaith dialogue and the role of moderate Islam today.

Event Summary:

Trudy Conway, a Professor of Philosophy takes a very different approach to the analysis of Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen movement. Her recent book uses her philosophical lens of inquiry to explore the fundamental virtue orientation, which she finds to be “central to the Gulen Movement”. In Conway’s opinion, this focus on virtues is the best way to understand the key foundation of the movement and thus understand its ultimate goal.

Conway is convinced that understanding the “fundamental orientation of the movement” will give the best insights into the group. Furthermore, the source of this foundation is virtues. There is the fundamental question as to how virtues play out across different cultures, and one of especial importance, in pertinence to the Gulen movement, is the virtue of hospitality. Conway’s interest in this particular virtue was peaked while she lived and traveled in the Middle East. All of her exposure “convinced [her] that what is really central to the Islamic culture is the virtue of hospitality”, which transcends all Islamic groups. In Gulen movement’s literature, there is an emphasis on tolerance, however “what we [western societies] mean by tolerance is not what Islamic cultures are emphasizing”. According to Conway, tolerance is mistranslated.

When tolerance is discussed in Western Society it is often used to describe the modern era, however the word itself has a negative origin. Tolerance is discussed as “forbearance”, “putting up with people” etc. However in the Islamic world, tolerance has a much more “positive, robust, richer [meaning], than just putting up with somebody.” This association with tolerance led Conway to question whether or not the main virtue was actually hospitality instead of tolerance. “The virtue [hospitality] is the condition, which enables the possibility of understanding in dialogue.” Conway read this quote on hospitality, which greatly emphasizes why hospitality is the key virtue of the movement; “hospitality involves the creation of a free space, where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

This emphasis on virtues was key in Conway’s’ realization that the Gulen movement was not a political one. It is an inclusive movement that is cross-cultural in nature because “all societies value these basic, fundamental human goods… and virtues are manifestations of these preoccupations with these goods.” Conway believes the virtue of hospitality is the most integral of these because it “keeps you rooted with your own community while still being open to diversity of others”. This is not a political endeavor because “Gulen is calling us to a deepened understanding… he recognizes the importance of policies and laws… but political solutions are not sufficient, the possibilities of enduring peaceful interactions among persons depend on the far more demanding and substantial task of cultivating virtues within our individual selves, within our families, our societies.”

The Gulen movement should be understood as a “grass-roots, organic movement that’s locally based” with a focus on creating deeper solutions. These solutions will endure overtime “through the fostering and cultivation of virtues”. This movement is applicable on a personal level, with the idea that “happiness and virtueness are linked”. The Gulen movement and Gulen’s ideas are crucial in the present global environment, in order to provide a different face to Islam. One that is much more moderate than the “superficial face” that is disseminated by the media. The ultimate goal of the Gulen movement that Conway was able to discover by studying the foundation of values is “the goal to create hospitable spaces to foster these virtues”. The Gulen movement creates a space for hospitality through education, and human development. This also fits into the Gulen’s ideas that suggest that to solve terrorism and violence, you need nonviolence and a furthering of education and human development, as well as a reduction of injustices that create initial human sufferings. The Gulen movement inspires Muslims to commit themselves to the goal of Peace and creates face-to-face encounters with the religion. The central idea and point of the movement and religion Conway identifies is virtue.

Conway-Trudy Trudy Conway began teaching at Mount Saint Mary’s in 1979. Prior to that she taught at Shiraz  University in Iran. She works in the area of contemporary philosophy and has published a book and  articles on the works of Wittgenstein and Gadamer. She has published on the topic of intercultural  understanding and dialogue and the hermeneutical issues and virtues associated with them. She has  also written on, and is actively involved in the issue of the death penalty. She regularly teaches  courses in the Veritascurriculum and a non-west course focusing on intercultural dialogue. She has offered a wide range of electives on topics in contemporary philosophy, specific moral virtues, and perspectives on the death penalty.

You can find her book on Amazon at this link: http://amzn.com/B00QU668FE

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