Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Templeton prize in Paris

So after travelling round England, drinking champagne and lots of Earl Grey tea, spending a bit of time with family and friends I took train back Paris straight to the Maison du Protestantisme where the Eglise Réformée and the French Protestant Federation have their headquarters. Going there felt more like going "home" in many ways than going the the URC's Tavistock Place headquarters in London. For the first time in many years, though, I felt the pull of London, its energy and vitality, yet travelling back to France did really feel like coming home.
The serendipity of travelling by rail meant that I was coming through Paris on the evening when the John Templeton Award for the European Religion Writer of the Year was being made, so I offered my services as interpreter and had a very interesting evening.
Tom Heneghan was awarded the prize and gave an excellent short speech in which he spoke quite a bit about the difficulties of translation when writing about religion. He mentioned two key terms that I come across in my work very regularly and which are almost untranslateable. the first is the French term laicité - which as he explains, could mean separation of church and state, or secularism. But often laicité in France is a sort of mind set, which justifies excluding religion from the public arena. The other term he mentioned is ökumene der Profile which is a phrase coined by Bishop Wolfgang Huber. Together with the Brown-person I have come up with "profile-based ecumenism" for this (as opposed to consensus-based ecumenism) - but maybe an ecumenism of profiles is better and anyway you still need a good sized footnote to try and get the meaning across. Over supper later we wondered aloud whether ökumene der Profile is more about ecumenism or more about profile - that is confessional profile - I suspect it is just a way of making confessional profile seem ecumenical, but perhaps the point is that you can only be ecumenical if you're really clear where you're coming from.
The point Tom Heneghan is making is that the speaker knows what he's talking about but once you translate this into another language and context it becomes almost un-understandable.
Anyway I promised to link to Tom's blog which is really good and also to leave some comments there, maybe you should do the same.