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Keynote Abstracts

RETHINK the World: Graciously Given?

Prof. Dr. Niels Henrik Gregersen, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen - Rethinking Martin Luther’s Theology in a Postsecular Age

Luther’s theology never developed into a systematic form since his theology emerged in the context of Biblical studies informed by a Frömmigkeitstheologie, not least regarding his new understanding of the sacrament of the penance as a life-long struggle. Here, influences of German mysticism coalesced with Luther’s readings of Augustinian theology and the letters of Paul. In the twentieth century theology, however, the mystical and devotional Luther has been under-emphasized, whereas Luther’s emphasis on the external Word and binary distinctions between the worldly and the spiritual realm has been over-emphasized, hence leading to the one-sided view that Luther’s theology paved the way for unimpeded processes of secularization. The historical picture is far more complex, though. What is secular in one respect, may be spiritual in another, such as the life in the callings; likewise, the gospel is preached within institutions that are never purely evangelical but influenced by practical regulations and pedagogical concerns not derived from the gospel itself. This being the case, Luther’s theology may be termed postsecular in the sense of establishing porous borderlines between the spiritual and secular. In this sense Luther may be closer to a contemporary mentality than to binary contrasts often presented in textbooks. Still, what are the differences and connections between Luther’s emphasis on the pro me, and current spirituality asking, What’s in it for me? What is the role of the Lutheran doctrine of the three estates for the development of “third zones” of contemporary society, from family life to schools and civil society? And to what extent is the notion of the divine calling in the gospel intertwined with that of everyday life?

Claudia Welz, Professor (MSO), Section of Systematic Theology, University of Copenhagen - Freedom, Responsibility, and Religion in Public Life

At the beginning of the 21st century, we are, in a sense, thrown back to a pre-modern era. In view of terrorists’ claims of acting ‘in the name of God’ and allegedly ‘holy’ wars against those who do not share certain religious beliefs, the Reformation’s contribution to critical thinking, which paved the way for the Enlightenment and made possible civil disobedience against holders of power misusing their power, is more topical than ever.

This lecture will focus on three interrelated themes, which concern a person’s God-relationship, self-relation, and relations to others: (1) Commenting on Genesis 22, Luther points out that God contradicts Himself when commanding Abraham to ‘bind’ and sacrifice his only son. Kant and Levinas doubted whether the heavenly voice Abraham ‘heard’ was God’s voice at all. Here the question of distinguishing spirits becomes crucial: how can one know whether it is God Himself who speaks – in particular if His message is conveyed in human words? While Luther affirmed the believer’s freedom in relation to the world, he described the human being as unfree in relation to God from whom we receive everything and without whom we can achieve nothing good. The relation between autonomy and heteronomy will be reconsidered in the context of a phenomenology of listening: if faith comes from listening, ex auditu, and auditus is not a human capacity, but rather the effect of God’s Word that operates within the human being, how is our (un)freedom to be understood? (2) Further, if a human being’s self-relation is expressed by the ’voice’ of conscience, which can be ignored only at the cost of losing the unity with oneself, how is responsibility to be conceptualized in its connection to the responsiveness to a call that comes both from ’within’ and from ’without’? (3) Finally, what are the implications and consequences of this view of the person for the role of religion in public life and the way religious conflicts can be resolved?

Robert Stern, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield - Freedom from the Self: Luther and Løgstrup on Sin as ‘Incurvatus in se’

This paper will consider an important Lutheran strand in the thinking of K. E. Løgstrup. It will be shown how Løgstrup takes up Luther’s conception of sin as ‘incurvatus in se’, and treats this as fundamental to the wickedness of the self. However, while for Luther the theological conception of grace is required if this turning in on the self is to be overcome, it will be argued that Løgstrup seeks for an apparently more secular conception, whereby this in-turning is resolved by the ethical encounter with the other person. Thus, Løgstrup argues, ‘we can only be freed by our fellow man’. The paper will consider whether this secularised conception of grace can be made cogent, or whether something closer to Luther’s original picture is required.

RETHINK Modernity: Communities beyond Disenchantment?

Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, Professor Dr. Emeritus and former director of the Institut Technik-Theologie-Naturwissenschaften, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München - Protestantisms and Modern European Politics

Since the 17th Century political discourses in the German speaking countries were focussed on the political ethics of the different Christian confessions. Philosophers, Jurists and Theologians especially tried to analyze the "Political Ethics" of Calvinism and Lutheranism. In the early ninetennth century, after the American Revolution and the French Revolution, protestant theologians like Matthias Schneckenburger and Carl Friedrich Hundeshagen published influential books comparing the ethics of Calvinism with the ethics of Lutheranism. In my lecture I will analyze the ways in which the history of theological ideas has been written in the seventeenth to nineteenth century and will ask what one might learn from these fascinating old discourses.

John Milbank, Professor Emeritus, Centre of Theology and Philosophy, University of Nottingham - Is the Reformation to Blame for Modernity?

Brad Gregory has argued that the Reformation unintentionally led to the modern, disenchanted, desacralised world. He is substantially right, but one can qualify his thesis in two ways -- the one exacerbating, the other de-exacerbating. First, this may have been more intentional than he suggests -- arguably the essence of the Enlightenment, the American, French, Capitalist and Industrial revolutions remained a process of 'the long Reformation'. And a Protestant version of modernity remains alive in the USA. On the other hand, the crucial theological and ecclesial preconditions for modernity predated the Reformation and lay in Scotism, nominalism and the juridification of the Church. From the outset the Reformation was also in part a reaction against these tendencies, but because its theoretical diagnosis was incomplete, it ultimately fell victim to them. Gregory recognises all this, but fails to allow that a late medieval decadence of theology had its equivalent in the decadence of the Church. Thus if the reformers indeed saw biblical authority as too 'extrinsic' so already had the Catholic Church come to regard Papal authority. As so many Catholic scholars have now allowed, it had become too juridified and rigidly mechanical in its account of the operations of grace. Thus the late medieval crisis was both theoretical and practical and the calls for reform were many and various. Yet the reform that happened did not reform, just because doctrines of imputed, extrinsic grace are a despairing precisely of re-forming. The perhaps greatest mediaeval English poet and astonishing vernacular theologian, William Langland, in his Piers Plowman had already argued just this against the Wycliffites who had anticipated such a doctrine. However in the longer term the Protestant churches have sometimes produced more complete diagnoses, amongst thinkers and movements which also attempt to recover some Catholic features at first too hastily abandoned: Anglicanism, Pietism, and elements and thinkers within Scandinavian Lutheranism are all cases in point. Inversely, Counter-Reformation Catholicism has often sustained equally modernising inclinations. Thus a more ecumenical answer to this question is indicated.

RETHINK Europe: Violence, Memory, and Europe’s Others

Theodor Dieter, Prof. Dr., Director of Institute for Ecumenical Research, Strasbourg - Coming to Terms with the Reformation

“Reformation”, as the word is understood here, denotes a highly complex phenomenon in the 16th century that focuses on searching for true Christian identity but led to a conflict of authorities (Holy Scripture, tradition, reason) and challenged the traditional institutions that had to identify truth (ecclesial magisterium, universities). Thus the struggle for truth and salvation took place also as a power struggle for opinion leadership in the public using the new medium of letter press and appealing also to the lay people, it involved state authorities with their power means, challenged economic interests and had far-reaching cultural ramifications. The conflict could neither be overcome by dialogue nor by violent means; in the long run it led to a separation of church and state, and by establishing the basic right of religious freedom, violence was taken away from (most) religious conflicts in Europe. On this basis, churches–in the ecumenical movement–were able to take up again the doctrinal debates of the 16th century, taking the respective truth claims seriously, but searching for a new evaluation of their differences, attempting to arrive at a “unity in reconciled diversity”, affirming what they have in common while recognizing that this can be expressed in different ways. In different projects of “healing memories,” the churches have addressed the violence connected with the religious conflicts of the past and experienced that this has changed the relations between them. The challenges that the Western church has faced in the 16th century and since then resembles the challenges with which Western societies are confronted today by global migration: the separation of religion and state that needs to be affirmed from the inner of religions and not only imposed on them from outside, living together peacefully in spite of different truth claims, honoring differences and plurality with respect to what people have in common, finding a balance between one’s own identity and openness for the otherness of the other, addressing the prejudices and the wounds that members of a certain religion have inflicted upon members of another religion.

Norbert Frei, Professor Dr., Jena Center for 20th Century History, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena - Making Sense of the „Breach of Civilization“. The Holocaust in History and Memory

Dan Diner’s term Zivilisationsbruch (“Breach of Civilization”), was introduced in the wake of the German Historikerstreit (“Historians’ Controversy”) about the singularity of the Holocaust in the mid-1980s. While referring to earlier considerations of Hannah Arendt, Diner marked a caesura in our understanding of the Nazi politics of extermination of the European Jewry. His term influenced both the development of Holocaust historiography and the evolution of Holocaust memory. The lecture seeks to explore this impact by going back into the German and European history of research on and remembrance of the fate of the Jews in Europe during World War II – from its beginnings in the late 1940s up to the Stockholm Forum on the Holocaust in 2001 and to the years thereafter. The comprehensive assessment of efforts of making sense of the Final Solution demonstrates to what extent Holocaust memory and historiography have contributed to the rise of a new self-reflexive memory culture in the West, advanced the causes of postwar restitution and reconciliation, and could continue to play an important role as a touchstone of European politics and culture.

Aleida Assmann, Professor, Litteraturwissenschaft, Universität Konstanz - Learning from History? The Crisis and Future of the European Project

Can we learn from history? Paul Valéry said no: “History justifies whatever you like. It does not teach anything, because it contains all and provides examples for everything.“ Valéry died in 1945 and could not follow the development of the EU. The EU was invented and reshaped a couple of times - after the First World War, after the Second World War and after the collapse of Communism in 1990. Under the pressure of migration, the re-erection of borders and strong anti-democratic movements, it is now facing a severe crisis of its values and self-image. In order to assess the future potential of Europe, we must first gain a better understanding of its project, which has to do with learning from history.