Beyond Tolerance. Navigating the Landscapes of Beneficence in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

Public lecture by Dr. David Henig, University of Kent

The discourse on tolerance has framed many debates on Christianity-Islam relations in the post-imperial borderlands of southeast Europe, past and present. The tolerance discourse, however is a discourse with teeth. It is often employed as a self-explanatory proxy for attending to forms of religious coexistence, and thus reinforces preexisting fixed positions revolving around irreconcilable religious binaries. Drawing on my research on the landscapes of beneficence in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the numbers of soup kitchens and ‘empty bellies’ have been mushrooming since the end of the war (1992-1995), I ask: how could social intimacies and encounters within such a landscape be attended to without falling into the discursive trap of tolerance?

Following recent work on the ‘ethics of immediacy’ (Mittermaier 2014) this paper focuses on the grassroots moral vocabularies and practices regarding ethical traditions that influence the way that problems of social injustice, redistribution, and care, ‘here and now’ are imagined and addressed. I offer a case study of a Franciscan soup kitchen situated in a religiously ‘mixed’ town that feeds anyone who is hungry, living precariously, and relying in turn on the generosity of those able to give. This case study of the ethics of immediacy as an actually existing form and practice of attending to ‘those in front of us, those around us’ offers a fruitful way of exploring the grassroots forms of political imaginations and social intimacies that bypasses the trap of the tolerance discourse.