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Spitituality in Modern Liberal Theology?

The protestant theological faculty of the University of Bonn stands in the mediating theological tradition as well as in relation to the sharp debates of the 20th century concerning “liberal theology”.  Plotting the history of the liberal theological tradition, leads one to list names like .....  but a unified or clearly delineated school never formed. “Liberal“ is also not meant in the sense used by contemporary political parties and discourses. Rather it stands for a field under development, a program that studies the interlocking of religion with culture, science, politics and art through the critical observation and analysis of contemporary public and private forms of life. Against this background, Christian faith is concentrated in its ethical significance for persons, personality, and conduct of life.  The claims of a harsh theology of revelation step into the background in this tradition in exchange for a concentration on a mature and enlightened form of Christianity that places emphasis on inner experience and realization of faith in life.  In the context of contemporary intercultural and into religious tensions and processes of understanding this line of inquiry into the significance of Christian faith is experiencing increasing significance and carries a formative influence on the majority of theological faculties in Germany.  This is also the case in Bonn, even while this faculty at the same time remains – and rightly so – connected with the name of Karl Barth.

Among the most significant contributions of the liberal tradition are its extensive engagements with the concepts of religion and culture as well as its inquiry into the significance of media – including symbols, metaphor, images, narrative, interpretation – in the development and experience of these phenomena. The potential for an explicitly theological form of theology – as Barth called for and as is implied in the liberal tradition’s interest in contemporary forms of expression for liberal piety – has hardly been used up. The question is, in fact, of great significance: For only an enlightened “liberal piety,” attentive to and applied in the broader culture can guard against fundamentalist instrumentalisations of religion.

The question concerning the conjunction of “liberality” and “piety” – between liberal political values and religious faithfulness vis-à-vis understandings of Christianity in general – outlines a large problem-field that is not restricted to Protestantism, but envelops ecumenical and interreligious collaborations. The question is one, again, of the forms of mediation that yield transformations in religious contents and their structures and, in turn how these become more and less determinative for religious orientations and analysis of them. At every turn, the work of interpreting and understanding Christianity today must be remain near to life and sensitive to the pressing concerns of our day.


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