Subproject 8

Theology in the University: From Queen to Quixotic?

Project leader: prof. dr. Gijsbert van den Brink


European universities emerged from the theological enterprise (previously pursued in monasteries and cathedral schools). For many centuries theology was seen as regina scientiarum. Since God was the highest entity in the ‘great chain of being’ (Arthur Lovejoy), how could ‘the study of God and all things in relation to God’ (Aquinas) not be the highest academic endeavor? This paradigm finally collapsed when Kant argued that it is impossible to acquire knowledge of God using our cognitive faculties.

In response, the great theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher reconceived the mission and unity of theology in practical terms: like the faculties of law and medicine had to train future lawyers and medical doctors, the raison d’être for theological faculties was the education of future clergy. In societies with dwindling numbers of students preparing for the ministry, however, their presence within secular universities has gradually become quixotic. Many theological faculties already have been dismantled or metamorphosed into departments of religious studies. What narratives were employed throughout the centuries to back up theology’s academic status? Will theological faculties/departments continue to have a part to play in future constellations of academia or have they had their day?