Consultation on Religion and Civil Society

Plusbildung and Paulusakademie, Zurich April 29 – 30
From 29 to 30 April the Oikosnet member from Switzerland Plusbildung together with the Paulusakademie is inviting to a consultation in Zurich on “Religion and Civil Society”. The consultation is to be seen in the framework of a multi-annual project on “Strengthening Civil Society and People’s Participation in Central Europe”, in which Oikosnet is one of the stakeholders.

“The consultation in Zurich is to sharpen our eyes for the relation between religious and civil society actors. In many countries this is an issues. Often religion is seen as something suspicious in civil society. In many countries churches and religious actors do not see themselves as part of civil society and engage with it,” the organisers of the conference state. Therefore, this conference addresses these issues with Switzerland as the example to be studied. But the Swiss example is supposed to offer opportunities for participants to discuss the situation in Europe as a whole.

Invited are participants from Switzerland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Italy and Sweden, countries which will be involved in the multi-annual project. But others are also welcome! For further information please contact the Oikosnet Executive Secretary Rüdiger Noll. 

Help us rethink Europe together

By Walter Lüssi, president of Oikosnet Europe

Dear Colleagues, dear Members of Oikosnet Europe

Our Annual Conference took place in the Orthodoxe Academy of Crete which was founded fifty years ago. It was the right place to deal with our theme of the study day: “Europe with different eyes: The case of Greece for example”. Here Oikosnet Europe started to engage with Europe and its current problems in a new way. When I’m writing about this I’m very aware that we shall have to learn a lot in the next years. The social and political developments challenge us to make clear statements. But far beyond this: Given the fact that populism has become a new normal in Europe, we have to link our right to exist as a learning community with the question of whether we are able to find common positions based on our expertise and if we can make our voice heard.

Fifty years ago the Orthodox Academy of Crete played a pioneering role and stood from the very beginning for peace and reconciliation among churches and among people of different denominations and cultures. As a gift for the anniversary I was able to present the director of the Academy a special painting. It is a picture which says with colours and forms and with a few words only: Rethink! Rethink Europe. Help us to rethink Europe together – unlimited, making dreams true for us and for strangers. And let us create, as much as we can according to our faith, let us create not new walls, not a “Fortress Europe”, but a real community for all.

Crete was an important step towards a greater commitment which will not be one-dimensional but a joint European effort to develop a common democratic vision of our continent and to contribute to a Europe which needs again to become more human. Warmest thanks to all who has helped to make this step possible. We express our thanks to our host, the director and his staff of the Academy, to the invited experts, to the staff of Oikosnet Europe and to all participants.

Next year the Annual Conference will be held from September 11 till September 15 in the Agape Centro Ecumenico, Italy. We will have to deal again with “Europe with different eyes”, with the European civil societies and with the European dimension of other important issues like the increasing digitization of all areas of life or the field of artificial intelligence. Welcome to the two new Members of the Board of Okiosnet Europe, Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum, Norway, as Vice President, and Karolína Silná, Czech Republic, as Treasurer. The renewed Board will involve the members active in the subject area and continue developing and strengthening the network of Oikosnet Europe.

kostas & walter



The Annual Conference in Crete


The Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe was this year hosted by the Orthodox Academy of Crete, an academy that also celebrated it´s 50 year anniversary. As always, it was a wonderful mix of new acquaintances and reunion with old friends.

During the business meeting, two new members were elected to the board. Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum from the Church Academies in Norway, replaced Sören Lenz from Liebfrauenberg, France as new vice President, and Karolina Silna from the Ekumenická Akademie Praha in The Czech Republic, replaced Nicola Murray from Corrymeela UK.

Two auditors, were also elected, Sara Marta Rostagno from Agape, Italy and Birgit Weinbrenner from the Evangelische Akademie Villigst. Metropolitan Ioannes Sakellariou from Greece was elected as new memeber of the Nominations Comittee and he will share this responsibility with Aleksei Bodrov, from St Andrews Theological Institute, Russia.

A variety of perspectives during the study day
Learning more about the culture and society are for many one the most appreciated parts of the Annual Conferences of Oikosnet Europe. The theme this year was Europe with different eyes – The case of Greece for example, a theme that was exemplified by lectures and presentations with different aspects on the situation in Crete and Greece. Dr Kostas Filis, Director of Research at the Institute of International Relations of Panteion University ( Athens), gave a presentation on the topic “Challenges and opportunities for the EU and the role of Greece”, followed up by a presentation by Dr Kostas Melas, Professor of Economics at Panteion University in Athens, on the concept of “creative destruction”.

A concrete example on how deep crisis could be transformed in to opportunity was presented by Despoina Mathioudaki and Tini Damianaki, two entrepreneurs who succesfully had managed to rediscover old recepies of the traditional Crete cuisine and turn them into good business. Another project that came out of the economical crisis, was presented by Thanos Paraschos, Vasillios Kottas, Sarantis Kyritsis and Heinz Kabutz, students of science at University of Crete, As a learning process in high technology they are trying to send the first Crete astronaut to space. (Not a real one, one might have to add…)
Last but not least, Heinz Kabutz, PhD in computer science, shared his story about starting up a conference business on an island like Crete in the time of crisis. His idea of having conferences without agenda was something that appealed to some of the auditors. So who knows, maybe it will tried out and explored in some upcoming event of Oikosnet Europe.

27 participants, representing 16 member organisations, took part of the conference this year, a most enjoyable stay thanks to the beautiful location and the generous hospitality of director Konstantinor Zormpas and Katerina Karkala Zormpa, head of the Conference Organisations of the OAC. We look forward to meet upp again at the Annual Conference 2019 that will be hosted by the Academy of Agape. More information will be sent out in the newsletters to come.

Minutes from the Business Meeting






Civil Society and Democracy in Central Europe

By Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of Oikosnet Europe
The project on strengthening civil society and deliberative democracy in Central Europe enters into its final planning stage. It is a joint project of Oikosnet Europe, the Association of Protestant Academies in Germany and the Protestant Academy in Rostock and invites academies and church-related stakeholders from Central Europe to participate.

A first stakeholder meeting took place in April 2018 in Berlin with participants from the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Sweden. The meeting reviewed the latest project description and agreed with the aims, the general direction and the set-up of the project. The potential of the project to make a difference was recognised in increasingly difficult times for democracy and peoples´ participation in Europe. Most important, however, was a reality check: which concrete steps can be taken, when civil society is discredited in some countries and the relation between church-related organisations and civil society partners is not evident (from both sides). Therefore, the discussion on target groups and driving forces in the project was crucial. The results of the stakeholder meeting will be captured in a revised project description, which will be available from A first funding request for the project needs to be in place by June.”

Board meeting in Strasbourg

The board of Oikosnet Europe met March 19 in the beautiful city of Strasbourg (see the picture that I took as we were walking through the city for lunch). We were hosted by Union des Eglises protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine (UEPAL). One of the most important items on the agenda was of course to discuss various dimensions of the Annual Conference that will take place in the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

The board that was elected in Flehingen, with Walter Lüssi as the new president, is now working on several issues related to how Oikosnet Europe can be significant and fruitful for all its members. How can we inspire more collaboration projects with the community? What themes should be advanced at this point in time? We, as members, are of course of great importance for the development of the association. If you have creative ideas, please prepare to present them at the Annual Conference in Crete!

Alf Linderman, Director of the Sigtuna Foundation

Religious communities should realize their peace potential

Dear Colleagues, dear Members of Oikosnet Europe

In different contexts, our members, academies and educational institutions convince with their expertise. They take position in important social discourses and present their own argumentation. At the same time, they provide a platform for encounters and controversial discussions. That the latter can be important and exciting, we recently learned at an event in Zurich.

Religious communities should realize their peace potential and actively engage in peace as important actors. For this attitude, the podium guests recently voted in a debate on religious peace-keeping in Zurich. Plusbildung, the Swiss association of church educational organizations, had invited for the event.

“Religion can make conflict more difficult – religion is a successful peacemaker.” This ambiguity was presented by Silke Lechner, the deputy head of the working group on Peace Responsibility of Religions at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, in her keynote address with pointed theses. Wars usually have several causes, and little is said about the peace potential of churches, she said. Her team is therefore focusing on the peace policy potential of religious communities worldwide and strives to build a network of suitable religious representatives who actively promote peace. Because these are strongly networked, trustworthy key persons. And especially the participation of internationally networked religious actors is increasingly in demand from the political side, according to the former study director of the German Protestant Kirchentag.

For the first time in Switzerland representatives from politics and religious communities met and discussed on this topic. Among them were Jean-Nicolas Bitter, Senior Advisor to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and Rev. Thomas Wipf, President of the European Interreligious Council of Religious Leaders ECRL. On the one hand, the churches and religious communities have been encouraged to see themselves as “key players” in society, keeping an eye on the international perspective and networking. On the other hand, they were self-critical, since they still have to do their homework, that is, to break away from the ideological-embossing influence of religion and to discover the peace potential of the religions themselves.

I wish our members good luck with their efforts, be it as a “forum” or as a “factor”. And I am looking forward to meeting many delegates at our Annual Conference in September!

Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Walter Lüssi

Church-Related Academies support Civil Society and Deliberative Democracy


By Rüdiger Noll,
Executive secretary of Oikosnet Europe

On the day that this Editorial is written, the 27 Heads of State and Government of the European Union meet in Brussels for an Informal Leaders’ Meeting. On the agenda are institutional reforms in view of the forthcoming elections of the European Parliament in 2019. The contribution of the European Commission to this meeting is entitled: “A Europe that delivers: Institutional options for making the European Union´s work more efficient.” The text starts very promising by stating: “The European Union is both a Union of States and a Union of citizens.” One would have expected, therefore, the text not only to address as to how the EU Member States and the European Institutions are involved in the European agenda, but also how the citizens can make their voice heard and thereby shape European politics. But the next sentence of the European Commission´s paper already destroys this illusion: “Citizens are represented directly through the European Parliament and indirectly through their own governments, working together in the Council and in the European Council.” As transparent as the European Parliament might work and as accessible Members of the European Parliament might be, the representation of citizens is first and foremost seen as an indirect one, through a representative more or less democratically legitimized institutions.
And, therefore, the 27 “Leaders” will talk mainly about how to raise the interest of citizens in the European elections. The discussed measures, e.g. European lead candidates and partially European-wide lists of political parties, are important and a step forward, but they are not enough.

We need spaces for appropriate debate
As the Belgian author and writer together with many other intellectuals across Europe stated:” We need to urgently develop spaces in which citizens despite of their different convictions can come together online and offline, where they have appropriate information in order to debate appropriately, in which direction our society should develop.” And one might add, it needs ways by which these citizen´s deliberations can actually shape policies.

Civil society needs to be facilitated – not highjacked
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, in his recent speech at the Sorbonne on the future of Europe, suggested “national conventions” as a way forward. He proposed a stronger network of European Universities. In an article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Jeremy Adler opted for a European network of academies. It is evident: European issues need a European public and a European discourse. It needs formats for citizens’ discourses which go way beyond usual pseudo-dialogues. And it needs intermediate organisations, which facilitate, but do not attempt to highjack the civil society discourse.

Joint project in stregthening civil society – pilot projects in the months to come
It is in this sense, that Oikosnet Europe together with the Association of German Protestant Academies (EAD) and the Protestant Academy of Rostock are engaging in a joint project on strengthening civil society and deliberative democracy, especially designed for Central Europe. The implementation period will be 2019/20, but stakeholders are coming together already now in order to decide on the parameters of the projects. Three pilot projects are foreseen for the months to come on the relationship between national and European narratives (and Christian elements therein), on the role of political education and on the role of citizens in European energy politics.
But there are many more points of entry for a European network of church-related academies, like Oikosnet Europe. Just to mention two examples, which are already under discussion:

  • Oikosnet Europe just welcomed PlusBildung Schweiz as member of the Oikosnet family. May be the Swiss church-related educational institutions can help us to sharpen our understanding of peoples’ participation in democratic processes.
  • The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, suggested in his latest “State of the Union” speech at the European Parliament to hold a next Summit meeting in 2019, just after the “Brexit” and prior to the European elections. The Summit is supposed to take place in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Romania, where the churches held the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in 2007. A democratic Europe will be a key topic. How about organizing with the help of the Protestant Academy in Sibiu a congress just prior to the Summit with an emphasis on peoples’ participation in democracy?

All these ideas and issues are supposed to come together at the next Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe, which will take place at the Orthodox Academy in Crete, 6 to 9 September this year. Crete, Greece, Athens – a birthplace of European democracy. Walter Lüssi, the new President of Oikosnet Europe, is very keen on a more thematic orientation of Annual Conferences. May be democracy, peoples’ participation in the European project is one of the themes that should be highlighted at future Oikosnet Annual Assemblies. But input from Oikosnet members and friends as well as from other civil society actors is already sought before!

Let´s keep in touch!










“The Digital Revolution and its Children”


Report from the Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe
Flehingen (Germany), September 6 – 10, 2017

The Annual Conference (AC) of Oikosnet Europe brought together colleagues who work in academies and laity centers from all over Europe. This year, the meeting was scheduled in Flehingen, a cosy place of about 3,600 inhabitants close to Karlsruhe (Germany), not far from the borders to both France and Switzerland. The event was organized by Uta Engelmann and Dr Gernot Meier of the Protestant Academy Baden that in 2017 is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

The AC consisted of two parts: one dedicated to one of the key social issues of our time transforming lives, digitalization; and one business meeting focusing on administrative and organizational matters of Oikosnet Europe. Under the theme “The Digital Revolution and its Children”, members of Oikosnet Europe reflected on the impact of digitalization in peoples‘ everyday lifes, new ways of communication, changing opportunities, and challenges. After an intriguing visit to the Center of Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, the group of colleagues refleced on virtual realities and digital self-defence with IT-expert Wolfgang Schwach, and on living in a “digital society“ with Professor Axel Sikora. The political impact of digitalization was analyzed looking at “fake news“.

One of the outcomes of the business meeting was the election of a new president and a new board. After many meritorious  years in office, Jaap van der Sar passed the leadership over to Walter Lüssi, General Secretary of the Reformed Church Canton of Zürich and President of Plusbildung. In addition to Walter Lüssi, the Annual Conference elected Sören Lenz (Liebfrauenberg, France) as deputy chairman and Dr Julia Gerlach (Protestant Academy Meissen) as a new member of the Board. Nicola Murray (Corrymeela, Northern Ireland) and Dr Konstantinos Zormpas (Orthodox Academy of Crete) remained as members of the board according to the election in 2016.

The next Annual Conference will take place in the Orthodox Academy of Crete in September 2018, focusing on the nexus of crisis and innovation.

Jaap van der Sar passed the leadership over to Walter Lussi at the Annual Conference in Flehingen.

OEAC17Jaap and Walter

Report from the board meeting in Tützingen

EAT_restau_aussenOnce upon a time… So starts every fairy tale and the plot is often situated in an enchanted castle. The protestant academy of the Bavarian Lutheran church is situated in a castle, the surroundings are enchanted, and the lake of Starnberg is open to the marvellous scenery of the Bavarian Alps. But that was not the reason why the new board held its first meeting in this place. This strategic meeting allowed us to have a first contact with the new vice-director Judith Stumptner   of the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing and to present our European network.

This meeting showed that the Bavarian Academy is not only situated in a beautiful landscape but is as well an important place for seminaries and conferences concerning Church and society issues. ( It would be a great asset if the academy of Tutzing would joint our network in the near future.

Our board meeting took place in a very friendly and efficient atmosphere. Additionally to the board members, Walter Lüssi (president), Sören Lenz (vice-president), Nicola Murray (treasurer), Konstantinos Zormpas and Julia Gerlach, the director of the Sigtuna foundation Alf Linderman and Karin Sallander representing our secretariat, take part in our first board meeting after the AC in Flehingen. Following issues were discussed:

  • Evaluation of the AC in Flehingen

The number and the content of the returned evaluation sheets were encouraging. Maybe we could give more time to discussions and looking for more interactive forms of conferences.

  • The Gender and Justice Network

In the last years we realized difficulties to organise the preconference of the Gender and Justice Network when there is no person who coordinates the whole. Julia Gerlach from the Academy of Meissen proposed to draft a mission statement on this issue. She will as well work on a proposal how to implement gender and justice issues in OIKOSNET ACs in behalf of the annual theme. The board acknowledges the work of the Gender and Justice network over the last years and we are glad that Julia wants to continue working on the gender and justice topics with a broader approach concerning all sorts of diversity in our society.

  • Priorities of OIKOSNET

During the last years the mission and vision of OIKOSNET was a main issue in our ACs . We are aware that the outcome is important for our members. During the discussion in the board about aims and priorities of OIKOSNET, the idea emerged that the board could set a theme for a year and invite academies to contribute or to join in. The board could collect ideas and priorities of academies and try to find a common topic for the AC. That could be a first step to foster new common projects among our members.

Besides the awareness of the actual political situation in Europe, which concerns especially OIKOSNET as an European network we need bearing in mind the spiritual dimension of our ecumenical organisation.

After one day intense but fruitful work the agenda for the next year was fixed. We, the five board members and the staff of the OIKOSNET secretariat in Sigtuna? will meet again in march in Strasbourg to work on the details of the next Annual conference in the Orthodox academy Crete in September.

The enchanted atmosphere of Tutzing at the lake of Starnberg showed us that we need places which are enchanted and which propose the right distance to everyday life and to widen the horizon in many ways. The view on the distant mountains across the lake were a good reminder that there is a life beyond the walls of our own academies or better castles. Therefore, we need the exchange and the personal contact in our network? We do need OIKOSNET.

Sören Lenz


Preinvitation to the Arab-Europe Citizens´ dialogue


Gender, Media and Religion: Contemporary Challenges to Society and Democracy
1 to 4 May 2018 Sigtuna, Sweden

In recent years, we have seen the rise of many cultural tensions and conflicts, even violent terror and war, in many parts of the world. This has not least been the case in Europe and in the Arab region. Religion has been at the core in many of these contemporary conflicts.

If we wish is to see the development of healthy and well-functioning democracies in Europe and in the Arab region, we need to discuss the relation between religion and society. In doing so, we must, among other things, specifically focus on gender issues.

We hereby invite You to take part in this Arab-Europe Citizens’ Dialogue on religion and society! Whether you have been participating in any of the previous dialogue consultations or not, you are most welcome to take part in the next event. This is a pre-invitation. A more detailed invitation will follow.

The Sigtuna Consultation will start in the early evening of May 1st, 2018, and end in the morning of Friday 4 May. We will have speakers representing Politics, Faith-based Organizations and Civil Society Institutions from both the Arab and the European region. The Consultation will be open for interested participants from both regions. The process to seek appropriate speakers has just started, but we already know that two prominent individuals from Sweden, representing Europe and Sweden, will speak at the Consultation.

  • Anders Wejryd, World Council of Churches President for Europe, former Archbishop for Church of Sweden
  • Karin Wiborn, General Secretary, Christian Council of Sweden

A full program will be presented early February 2018. Preinvitation as PDF

The Arab-Europe Citizens’ Dialogue Consultation on Religion and Society in Sigtuna 2018 is organized jointly by the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), Oikosnet Europe, Church of Sweden and the Sigtuna Foundation. Feel free to contact any of the following persons if you have further questions:

For the Arab side: Samira Luka 
For the European side: Alf Linderman