What does Theology do, actually?

What does Theology do, actually? The question places emphasis on the present and thus invites analysis of the interface between theological modes of reflection and empirical research at transculutral sites of reflected religious communications.

Event Details

Date and Time

Friday, 24. May 2019
15:00 start

Saturday, 25. May 2019
16:30 end


Registration is no longer possible.


15:00-15:30 // Greeting // Observing the Transcultural

Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer-Blanck, Dean of the Faculty

Dr. Matthew Ryan Robinson 

15:30-16:30 // Panel 1. What Difference Does a Difference Make? Problematizing Theological Work in Context. 

Hadje Sadje – Oneness Pentecostalism in the Philippines

Nick Ahialey-Mawusi – “Doing Theology” in German Congregations of African Backgrounds

Sara Abdella Kedir – “Strange” Intellectual Traditions: Ethiopian and Analytic Theology

Che Wai – A Hong Kong Liberation Theology: The Case of the Umbrella Movement

16:30-16:45 // Break.

16:45-18:45 // Panel 2. Which Cultures? Whose Contextuality? Determining Theological Locations. 

Dr. Evan Kuehn – Reflexivity and the Ambiguities of Transcultural Communication 

Reflexivity, or self-consciousness about one’s own context, is an important methodological concept in social scientific research. Systematic theology can likewise benefit from considering how a reflexive stance conditions transcultural theological communication. A recognition of one’s own context is necessary for engaging in meaningful communication across cultural differences. Problematically, though, reflexivity is liable to the same dialectic that it originally provides for the researcher, and can itself create cultures of discourse that exclude local interpretations as non-reflexive, or that set problematically universalizing rules of communication. Postcolonial theory has identified similar problems in concepts like “criticism” and “reason” that are particularly relevant to transcultural communication. The risks and ambiguities of reflexivity, however, can become more pernicious insofar as reflexivity is not obviously exclusive or universalizing. In this paper I will offer examples of how reflexivity has presented itself in problematic ways within theological discourse, and discuss strategies for mitigating the sort of damage that is most characteristic of reflexive stances.

Dr. Martin Grassi – Theology, out forcontext: Making sense of our World

Theology is an archaeologicaldiscourse, a discourse that aims at the very foundations of the World in a normative and constructive fashion, for it builds meaning for the World out of the meaning of God. As such, Theology finds itself in a paradoxical position: on the one hand, Theology speaks “in the name of God” (theo-logy), and it loses its identify if it is considered just one more discourse among others; on the other hand, theology still speaks in the nameof God (theo-logy), and it also loses its identity if it claimed to speak without language. In this inner tension, Theology faces context. But Theology does not simply surrender to its context, but looks to appropriate it: theology will construct the Ultimate meaning of “our” (contextual) world, by making use and arranging its elements “in the name of God”, that is, in the name of the Ultimate Principle that holds the World together. Therefore, Theology will never be “out ofcontext”, but always “out forcontext”, making sense out of the World in which we are living.

Prof. Dr. Cornelia Richter – What Theology Does for Life: On Situated Dogmatic Theologies

Doing Systematic Theology in the heart of Europe means being part of an academic employing multiple forms of epistemological and methodological consensus. At the same, the majority of our students will work within the Protestant churches or teach religion in elementary and secondary schools, both of which require qualification for and being called by the churches. Hence, premises of methodological atheism and the needs and demands of ecclesial practice are both part of our daily routine – a context unique to the German speaking countries of Europe. The societal context of our theology is still to a huge extent determined by Western European Christianity, but the degree of feeling attached to the church as a particular community is currently losing intensity. Similar processes can be observed at the site of many instances of institutional bonding (e.g., Red Cross, fire brigades, music schools and sport clubs). For doing Systematic Theology, especially for dogmatic theology, this means that we have to focus on the existential meanings of Christian faith and present these in a clear way: What does the Christian faith have to say about life being given and taken, about nourishing body and soul, about losing one’s way, about fear, anxiety and hope, about aggression, violence and peace? Even though existential meanings might be considered to be anthropologically universal, they differ greatly not only by specific context and surrounding but also depending on the various situative experiences which shape perceptions of life and God. The paper will explore this situativeness, focusing on the issue of bread and wine.

18:45-19:00 // Break.

19:00-20:30 // Keynote.

Prof. Dr. Esther Reed – „What Does Theology Do?“

What does theology do in the face of transnational capital flows, speed-of-light transfers of vast amounts of money, corporations with power and wealth that exceed local, regional and national governments, etc? Part 1, "Responsibility", considers the modern concept of responsibility to be a "shattered concept" (Ricoeur) thinks with Dietrich Bonhoeffer to reframe an understanding of responsibility that originates in ‘you’, namely, in Christ and neighbour. Part 2, "Citizenship", follows Bonhoeffer in (re-)learning from Pentecost an approach to citizenship that is intensely local, refuses to submit to the order of the world as we know it, whilst advancing a new universalism. Part 3, "Ethics and Law", works again with Bonhoeffer to develop criteria for determining the educative purpose of good human law.

20:30-21:30 // Reception.

09:00-11:00 // Panel 3. Theology as Social Artefact: The Sociology and Anthropology of Reflected Religious Communications.

Prof. Dr. Giovanni Maltese – Politics and Theology of Prayer in the Philippines

Scholars of Religion and Theology regard Prosperity and Spiritual Warfare Theology as typical for Pentecostalism and one reasons for the movement’s success in the Global South. Understood as thePentecostal prayer theology received through US-Evangelical televangelists, it is said to offer simplistic solutions to problems of poverty and social insecurity, which may result either in an escapist attitude altogether or in the support of anti-democratic right-wing politics. Accordingly, Pentecostalism in the Philippines has been described as religious populism whose main features are indifference towards social injustice and an intolerance towards other beliefs, which escalates interreligious conflicts. A study of Pentecostal politics in the Philippines that investigates what prayer theology “actually does” offers a different picture. Contextualizing key-words that hint to the Prosperity and Spiritual Warfare discourse with an approach that analyzes both local hegemonic relations and global entanglements, I argue that the mentioned populism-thesis needs to be revisited.

Prof. Dr. Eva Youkhana – Migrants’ religious spaces and the power of Christian Saints – the Latin American Virgin of Cisne in Spain

Religious institutions such as the Catholic Church are gaining in importance again in the wake of the economic crisis in Spain. They act as reference points and meeting places that keep the faith community together. Tangible assistance is offered and transnational communication structures and family bonds are sustained. With its patron saints, the Catholic Church serves as a place of remembrance to produce and reproduce senses of belonging that date back to the early colonial era. Social relations of migrants are manifested in a space which symbolizes the power and glory of the former Colonial regime. Taking the example of the congregation of San Lorenzo in an immigrant neighbourhood in Madrid, I discuss the role and agency of religious artefacts in re-producing collective identities and allocating social and financial resources. By focusing on the object itself, the functions and cultural meanings of the figure in different historical contexts become apparent. The religious staging around the representation of the saint show spatially and historically comprehensive chains of interaction which reflect deep seated power relations between the immigrant and the host communities.

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Hauschildt – “Religious communications in transcultural contexts: theological developments in changingsocieties”

Working with the presupposition that communication among humans is intrinsic to being human and, indeed, unavoidable, one might further ask: What makes communication distinctively religious? But answering this question requires identification and analysis of specific contexts, highlighting the reality that “doing religion” in a constructive way is a “situated” phenomenon. “Situational” and “contextual” religious communications refer to and operate within established settings. Nevertheless, academic “practical theology” aims to detect implicit patterns in repeated and thus perhaps “typical” constellations. As taken up and used within religious practice, some such theory of practical theology is used by practitioners as a kind of art or artistry (or possibly “techne” [cf. Aristotle]), assisting them producing the situated, context-dependent as well as co-produced temporary artefactsamidst pluralizing and homogenizing global tendencies. Thus, the whole endeavorserves the purpose of an improved shared living by cultivating transculturalreligious formats.

11-11:30 // Break and “Academic Speed Dating”

11:30-13:30 // Panel 4. How Public is Theology? How is Theology Public? 

Dr. Florian Höhne – On Doing Public Theology: Reflections Towards a More Public Praxis

In 1975, the catholic theologian David Tracy suggested in a famous article to understand “theology as public discourse”. More than 40 years and a lot of work by and on Habermas later, it is worth asking how public systematic theology really is, has become and should be public. In my paper, I will suggest to understand theology as practice and “public” as a qualifier of a mode of practice as opposed to a sphere. That opens up for a reevaluation of theological understandings of theology’s own concrete public relevance. This shall give an idea about in what sense theology should be public theology – and in what sense it shouldn’t be public.

Dr. Constantin Plaul – The public sphere as a challange for theology

The socio-cultural development in 18th century Europe has been described as a "structural transformation of the public sphere" (Habermas). This process can also be observed with regard to religious culture: The result was a religious public sphere that asserts autonomy against requirements of the church. In different media formats it found manifold expression. Against this background theology should reflect the public sphere not only as opposite of the church, but at the same time as a special manifestation of living religious and Christian culture. However, the continuing increase in plurality and heterogeneity of modern societies poses considerable challenges.

Dr. Andrew DeCort – Public Crisis, Christian Theology, and the Neighbor-Love Movement in Ethiopia Today 

Religion pervades public life in Ethiopia. A recent Pew Forum survey found that 97% of Ethiopia’s fifty million Orthodox believers claim their religion is “very important” to them. Muslims and Pentecostals would likely claim a similar enthusiasm for their faith. Religious buildings, messages, rituals, symbols, and language saturate everyday life in Ethiopia. Simultaneously, Ethiopia is facing a dangerous national crisis. Years of government oppression, systemic injustice, and ethnic hatred have fueled an explosion of conflict that has resulted in massacres and the displacement of 3.19 million people. Some of the worst violence has taken place in the most “Christian” parts of Ethiopia. Christians have burned one another’s churches, driven each other from their homes, and shed blood.  In response, this paper investigates what theology is doing in Ethiopia today and argues that theology has a vital role to play in the healing and flourishing of Ethiopian public life. First, how have representatives of Ethiopian Christian theology responded to this public crisis? Second, what historical and theological factors may influence these limited responses? Third, how might a theological ethic of neighbor-love energize constructive Christian engagement with the most urgent issues in Ethiopian public life today? 

13:30-14:30 // Lunch.

14:30-16:30// Panel 5. “Possible Futures” – What does Theology do?From the Present to Possible Futures for Theology and the Study of Religion. 

Inja Inderst – What Does Practical Theology Do?

Practical theology observes and interprets society specifically via societal plurality and complexity, and it does this unavoidably. This paper will argue, in fact, that the modern discipline of practical theology emerged from diversity and is oriented toward diversity in its work. It works multi-perspectivally and multidimensionally using empirical methodologies, as well as methods drawn from systematic and historical theology in order to present religion in all its variety and comlpexity.  Accordingly, practical theology cannot be conducted using one theory, rather its hermeneutical orientation calls for the use of many, even competing or seemingly mutually incompatible theories.

Dogara Ishaya Manomi – What Does ‘African Biblical Exegethics’ Do, Actually? A Question of Method in Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Contexts

The two-dimensional forms and functions of Scripture as “script” (performative) and as “scripted” (analytic) (Varhey, 2007) poses a methodological question. In a world that is continually becoming transcultural, what methodologies would be appropriate for the analytic and performative functions of biblical exegesis and theology generally? While biblical exegesis is now gradually moving beyond a monolithic discipline into interdisciplinarity, this paper argues, nevertheless, that its future lies not in its interdisciplinary structure, but its transdisciplinary one. This implies that biblical exegetes, especially ethicists, need to move beyond historical-critical methodologies and begin to develop multi-dimensional methodologies that reflect the transdisciplinary and transcultural realities of our world today. Such transdisciplinary methodologies would be simultaneously sensitive to local contexts and global contexts. Towards concretizing this hypothesis with a narrowed focus on NT ethics, the paper describes and proposes the exegethicsmethodology as a viable approach to engaging Scripture as “script” and “scripted” in an African Christian context.

Gianna Zipp – Church History – Past, Present, and Context

Church history is a discipline invented in the fourth century A.D. by Lactantius and Eusebius - though arguably texts as early as Acts could be categorized as church history - and ever since is an important genre in theological discourse. In present times church history has a place next to History as well as other theological fields like new testament studies. In this paper I want to argue that church history nevertheless has its own merit. It analyzes historical questions, includes broad overviews and contexts, but still recognizes the inherent theological arguments specific to theological discourse. There are, however, several differences in international discourse, I’d like to address in this paper as well as possible future developments in the field of church history.

Chukwuemeka Anthony Atansi – Reconsidering Where and How Christology Relates to Social Transformation in Africa

Within the field of systematic theology, there has been much discussion about the social relevance of Christology. Particularly in the sub-Saharan African context, theologians are exploring the relationship between Christological belief and the transformation of society. The discussions, however, seem to be largely an exercise in hermeneutics and doctrinal re-presentation of the identity and work of Jesus Christ. As such, theologians have often taken for granted, and not paid sustained empathetic-critical attention to what could be considered as the primary context – namely, grassroots Christian communities. There, Christological faith can more concretely contribute in transforming the situation of suffering in many parts of the continent. Also, they have not articulated the conceptual structure provided by the context, within which to respond to the question of how faith and hope in Jesus Christ relate to the transformation of Africa’s social condition. This paper argues that the absence of this contextual mapping (or concrete localization) and conceptual elucidation could explain why little progress has been made in bringing the insights from the discussions to bear on the corresponding social realities confronting many Africans as followers of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the paper (1) describes the primary context (grassroots Christian communities), (2) explores the conceptual framework (imagination and image), and (3) reflects on their significance, for the systematic-theological investigation of the doctrine of Christ and its transformative potential in the social context of Africa, and elsewhere.   

Interview with Sociologist of Religion Grace Davie

Leading up to the symposium "What Does Theology Do, Actually?", sociologist of religion Grace Davie speaks with Matthew Ryan Robinson about: 1) viewing theology and theological discourses as social artifacts, embedded in particular situations, and 2) what the non-essential and evolving nature of culture might mean for thinking about "intercultural" theology.

What does Theology do, actually?


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Dr. Matthew Ryan Robinson

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