The Isreali historian and writer Fania Oz-Salzberger is a professor of history at the University of Haifa and the director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. At the upcoming Körber History Forum she will discuss whether Europe has reached the end of its secular era. For the Federal President’s History Competition, we have asked what religion means for her personally.
You are the new Director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, and together with your father Amos Oz you recently co-authored “jews and words”, examining the reasons for Jewish perseverance and prominence. Yet, you called yourself an “atheist of the book”. What role does religion play in your life?
Religion fascinates me as a basic form of human expression, feeling, ritual and intellectual effort. As a historian, I cannot possibly overlook it; as a member of civil society, I do not wish to underestimate it. Religiosity is evidently more ancient than history itself, and - outliving some modern theories of progress - it is likely to remain part of humanity's future. However, I am a secular person, a (critical) child of the European Enlightenment. “Secular”, unlike “atheist”, is a cultural stance, not merely a denial of God. It requires knowledge, comparison, conversation and choice.