Can RESILIENCE Improve Religious Knowledge? A Few Remarks on Hagia Sophia

05 August 2020

Recently, Hagia Sophia, the patrimony of humanity, was reconverted into a mosque. This formal decision triggered many reactions.

Religious-Oriented Contemporary Issues

From the media standpoint, relatively scarcely attention has been given to religious oriented contemporary issues. Even within the context of academia, Religious Studies mostly doesn’t seem to be a trending topic. But recently, Hagia Sophia, the patrimony of humanity, was reconverted into a mosque. This formal decision triggered many reactions, from the religious leaders, political and public persons, even from the architects and artists. Hagia Sophia suddenly became a trending topic provoking diverse public reaction and shaping opinions of many. Is it a religious issue or a political one? Should it be linked with the Islamic tradition only or is it a patrimony of entire humanity? Has Turkey lost its ties with secularism completely? Should sacred places in plural society be confined only to one religious traditions?

Tools for an Innovative Approach to Religious Studies

An average person needed something coming from the “academic community, and at the same time” something whose “impact extends significantly to the non-academic community”. We needed “the tools for an innovative approach to Religious Studies which can be used to build a European response to the challenge of religious diversity”. RESILIENCE was indeed needed. RESILIENCE as a common tool but resilience as a linguistical entity as well, seen as the capacity to recover quickly from complexities encountered.

Religion as a Tool

There is no novelty that during the history of mankind, religion was used as a soft tool of expansionist ideas, related often with some kind of hard, coercive power. A dangerous combination of coercive power entangled with the religious doctrine gave birth to the conversion of the sacred spaces in the newly conquered territories. Religious traditions  sometimes served as an ideological matrix, and the common scenario followed the logic which will later will be embedded in the famous dictum “whose realm, his religion”, especially from the external, spatiality perspective. The history can witness the affinity between logic underlying actions to convert the sacred space.


If we extract the common denominator of this spatial religious conversion, we can see that the very similar scenario was used when Churches were converted into Mosques, Mosques to Cathedrals, Temples to Mosques, Mosques to Temples. The similar pattern was used even during and after every social revolution, succinctly explained – you conquest, you define the spatial aspect of the territory. Jonathan Z. Smith asserted that “the political contexts in which space is (de)sacralized shows that the construction of religious spaces functions as a vital element in identity formation with respect to external groups and how the internal arrangement of space functions to designate hierarchy and power relationships among internal users of the space”.

Role of Space

Aside from the historical and contemporary policy-making issues, one thing can be asserted with certainty, the religion shapes its very these meanings across space and time, two fundamental human categories. The role of space is the constitutive component in the formation of religious meaning and experience. Let us think for a moment of a merely aesthetic power of almost any religious space enhancing our imagination and religious experience. As asserted earlier, thinking about religious space in contemporary Europe seems increasingly complex. It involves the first person experience, perception, exaltation, but at the same time it is constrained by the public sphere, political context and academic infrastructure.

Hagia Sophia

A global icon, patrimony of humanity, Hagia Sophia embody in itself a friction between various dimension of human history, political power, both interlinked with its particular religious destiny (first as a church, secondly as a mosque and thirdly as museum). In each of its three spatial historical aspects, Hagia Sophia was described only in superlatives. It was one of the biggest churches of all time, one of the most peculiar mosques of all time, and one of the most popular museums of all time. In its superlatives, Hagia Sophia, spatially and culturally embody the peaceful coexistence of diverse religious traditions, historically often antagonistic,  and showing the humanity its universal value.

The Importance of Religious Studies

Aside from the inevitable analysis of the political momentum to resacralize Hagia Sophia, Religious Studies can help us grasp the essential element of the spatiality of the sacred places. RESILIENCE’S  motto “Serving Research, Building Knowledge” is indispensable part of every future research related to the Religious Studies. It starts from the meticulous scientific research, involving multidisciplinary approach, and it shapes the future religious-based knowledge. As such, it transcends the abstract academic approach and is policy-oriented. The research infrasctructure RESILIENCE can enlarge interpretative horizons and can help shape contemporary policies towards resolving heating social issues.

Research Infrastructure Needed

We need the research infrastructure RESILIENCE and we need it soon. RESILIENCE will provide essential insights into the importance of religious studies and the complex interactions between religion and public sphere. As seen in Hagia Sophia’s recent case, both meticulous academic and policy-oriented approach is most needed.

– Pavle Mijovic, University of Sarajevo