Hope in times of a narrative of fear:

promoting human dignity through theology

On October 30th, the Scalabrini International Migration Institute co-organized the webinar Governing through fear: the populist narrative and human mobility in Europe. This was the second webinar in the international and ecumenical Migration, Ethics, and Theology webinar series, organized in cooperation with scholars in the research project Nordhost – Migration and Hospitality in a Nordic context. The webinar series aim at promoting dialogue on migration between theologians, migration scholars, church and civic leaders, activists, as well as refugees and migrants themselves. These conversations underline the protection of migrants’ and refugees’ rights.

This second webinar addressed the European discourse on immigration and refugees over the past ten years, and how Church communities and theologians could respond to this narrative. Kaia Rønsdal, one of the organizers of the series from the University of Oslo, Faculty of Theology, introduced the theme of the webinar. Afterwards, Julia Krebtan-Hörhager kicked off the presentations. Dr. Krebtan-Hörhager is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and focuses on inclusive multiculturalism in her work. She provided an overview on the discourse and discursive structures surrounding migration in Europe over the past ten years from different angles: looking at the media, politics, and cultural as well as religious actors. She demonstrated how international media and political framing are united by – sometimes violent – Othering. Still, she discussed how cultural and religious actors seem to resist this prevalent international discourse and stigmatization. By visualizing the migrant’s journey through movies and art, the voice of this perceived “Other” is better understood by the European public. In this part, she also particularly mentioned Pope Francis, who is known for criticizing the globalization of indifference.

Åsa Nausner built upon this, by sharing her experiences with working on migration within the Church of Sweden in Örebro. In times of a changing international public and political narrative, sometimes lacking a focus on human dignity, Nausner’s church is working together with other religious communities in Örebro to challenge this discourse. An example of this was a recent interreligious prayer for peace on the marketplace of the city: openly praying for peace together, in a time where religions are often portrayed as being opposed to one another. Among other things, this interreligious group also stimulates cooperation between youth from different religious backgrounds. By listening to each other’s voices, Nausner described how “God’s love works as a social agent” in her city, promoting dialogue, understanding, and interreligious cooperation.

Aldo Skoda – executive director of the SIMI Institute and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Human Mobility at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome – called upon attendants to change the internationally prevalent narrative of fear to a narrative of fraternity. Tying into the words of Dr. Krebtan-Hörhager, there is an increase of collective and individual insecurity and fear within European societies, guiding political, cultural, and/or pastoral decisions. At the center of this is the “stranger” or the “Other”. Still, we must remember that both the Bible as well as the history of Christianity are marked by migrants and migrations. Therefore, Skoda encouraged us to “move our perspective from ideologies that feed or justify fear of the other, to theology that promotes a welcoming and inclusive vision.” A Christian anthropological vision attentive of human dignity should be guiding this movement. This view should thus be inclusive, building a community through fraternity and solidarity.

Lastly, Trygve Wyller – professor emeritus of systematic theology and science of diaconia at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo – discussed the need to rethink the concept of “citizenship”. In the political sphere, citizenship is often interpreted as a label used to identify that aperson is qualified to be a citizen – either by birth or long stay in a certain country. Wyller discussed how professor Engin Isin challenged this legal/illegal binary, by arguing that when people move, act against, or suffer from injustices or life-threatening circumstances, they should be able to become citizens in the country of stay. Wyller connected this to the Christian faith. He argued that when we truly come close to the theological view of a person – created in the image of God -, we find that people are in fact already “citizens”. Particularly when they are performing resistance to life conditions that undermine their ability to live in dignity.

During the closing remarks, all speakers recognized the connectivity between the topics discussed. Theology can help us as political/public/cultural/pastoral actors when challenging the narrative of fear, prevalent in the international public, political, and religious sphere. This can offer hope in challenging the populist discourse present in Europe today, and enhance the promotion of human dignity and protection of migrants’ and refugees’ rights internationally.

By Annemarijn Cozijnsen

Recordings of the sessions can be seen at the following link:


Next webinars

 April 8, 2024 – Climate crisis and migration

 October 28, 2024 – Migration and development: a Christian perspective