Event details

Date: January 27-29, 2022
Location: Online, live streamed from Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam, option to attend on location

CFP: Extended deadline

The deadline for the Call for papers is extended to the 15th of October 2021. Read more information on the CFP below.

Online & option to attend on location

The seminar will be organised in an online format. The seminar will be live streamed from the Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam (timezone: CEST). Since we recognise the added value of meeting in person, there will also be an option to attend the seminar on location.

Registration is open

You can register for free for the online seminar through eventbrite. For attendance on location there will be costs, please indicate if you are interested in attending on location and we will inform you when we have updates. 


Whereas many contemporary universities originated from theological programs, over the past centuries the status of theology as a proper academic discipline has become heavily contested, to say the least. Among the many allegations levelled against theology is the idea that there is no progress in theology. The aim of this Winter Seminar is to investigate under which conditions, if any, theology can still function as an intellectually respectable player in the field of public academic studies. In particular, it zooms in on the notion of progress in theology. Is there any such progress? If not, is that a problem? If so, what shape does such progress take and are there ways in which theology might make more progress? The questions that this Winter Seminar’s speakers address are:

  • How can we best define the intellectual tasks of theology?
  • Does it count against theology if there is no progress in theology?
  • Are there important differences in progress between theology and the humanities on the one hand and the sciences on the other?
  • What sort of knowledge is being produced by theology and what kind of research methods enable such knowledge production?
  • Can the results of theological research be replicated and if so, how?
  • To what extent can progress in theology be facilitated by including the tools of analytical philosophy in its methodology?
  • What are the prospects of an ‘empirical turn’ in theology, as to be achieved e.g. by connecting theology with the cognitive science of religion?
  • How should a publicly funded theological department in a (post-)secular and multi-religious society ideally look like?
  • What can be gained from making the very concept of progress the subject of theological and philosophical criticism?

Speakers in this seminar have backgrounds in the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of science, theology, and religious studies. University staff, students, PhD students, professionals in the field and others who are interested are warmly invited to attend this Seminar.


Over the course of three days, we will explore topics that concern the status of the discipline of theology. We set out with the intellectual tasks of theology: what work should theologians do which cannot be done by the other disciplines? In this connection it is important to explore what kind of knowledge theology produces, which research methods enable such knowledge production, and to what extent theological research can be replicated. Next, we will discuss whether there should be more progress in theology, or, rather, more theology in progress, i.e. more critical theological reflection on the modern ideal of progress and its ambiguities.

Call for papers

We invite contributions from theologians, scholars in religious studies, philosophy, and anyone else interested in progress in theology.

Please send a 500 word abstract to Samira van der Loo (via abrahamkuypercenter@vu.nl) by the 15th of October, 2021. The abstract should be suitable for blind review. Questions can be sent to the same email address.  Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • How desirable is progress in theology?
  • Are there important differences in epistemic progress between theology and the humanities on the one hand and the sciences on the other – or even between theology and the (other) humanities?
  • Can the tools of analytical philosophy and its methodology facilitate progress in theology?
  • Should we aim at an ‘empirical turn’ in theology, as to be achieved e.g. by connecting theology with the cognitive science of religion?
  • What does the desideratum of progress mean for the future of theology?
  • Is replication a proper way for theology to make progress?
  • How should a publicly funded theological department in a (post-)secular and multi-religious society ideally look like?
  • How should the concept of progress be critically assessed from a theological or philosophical perspective?


Oliver Crisp. Metatheology: In order to make progress in theology we need to have a clear idea of its aims and scope. This means doing some work in metatheology: reflection on the philosophical foundations of theology as a discipline. In this paper I give an account of metatheology, and argue that there is a wide diversity of views among theologians regarding the aims and scope of the theological task. I then provide a constructive proposal for addressing this problem. Oliver Crisp is Professor of Analytic Theology and Director of the Logos Institute in the School of Divinity, University of St Andrews.

Katherin Rogers. Freedom and Foreknowledge: A Case Study in Progress in Theology: There has been progress in theology as the discussion of the dilemma of divine foreknowledge and human free will demonstrates. Augustine sets the stage and Boethius points out that more needs to be said and provides an important piece of the solution. But it is Anselm, building on Boethius and Augustine, who offers a real reconciliation which is viable today. (Interestingly, Anselm’s solution accords with recent developments in physics, but in that God is the author of creation, one may rightly prefer to bracket science in discussing theological questions.) In this example, progress depended on adherence to Church teaching and tradition, and perhaps that is the surest way to achieve useful results. Katherin Rogers is a Professor in the Philosophy Department of the University of Delaware.

Kevin Schilbrack 1) Are We Studying Religion Better Now?: Over the past 150 years, the study of religions in universities has been secularized. Scholars have sought to shift their goals away from those of Christian theology, in service to missiological and apologetic goals, and to develop a new, non-confessional stance. In this paper, I argue that this shift has brought with it both benefits and costs. The benefits come from the development of ways to do conceptual justice to forms of life around the world, often re-describing and explaining them in terms not known to those being studied. But the cost has been a confusion about the place of evaluation. If religious studies scholars seek to avoid “theology,” can they still critique? Where do they stand? I argue that progress in the academic study of religion will require re-integrating evaluation in the tasks of this secular field.

2) Theology and Methodological Naturalism: Theologians typically seek to understand God, whom they understand as a supernatural reality, but most scholars in the academy today are only willing to recognize the existence of natural entities. These opposed intellectual commitments lead to a conflict about what disciplines belong in the university.  In this paper, I argue that the conflict is not intractable. It permits some progress. Recent developments in the philosophy of naturalism – in particular, liberal or expansive naturalisms that recognize the reality of beauty, objective morality, and irreducible persons – make possible a methodological naturalism that permits a legitimate academic theology. In fact, I argue that this expansive naturalism is so capacious that it should be accepted as a ground rule for the academy as a whole.

Kevin Schilbrack is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Appalachian State University.

Benedikt Göcke. Scientific Discoveries in Theology?: It is not surprising, especially for people working in academia, that scientific progress depends crucially on scientific discovery. It is very surprising, however, that the topic of scientific discovery has not been a central topic in philosophy of science debates. Fortunately, this shortcoming is currently being remedied by the emergence of a new philosophical field of research: the philosophy of scientific discovery. In light of the latest developments in this field, we turn in our talk to the question of the ways in which scientific discovery can also be made in theology. What are promising candidates? How can they be classified? And what can we learn from this with regard to progress in theology? Benedikt Göcke is Professor of the Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy of Science at Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany.

Jan G. Michel. Scientific Discoveries in Theology?: Together with Benedikt Göcke, Jan Michel will discuss scientific discoveries in theologie. Jan G. Michel is a locum professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Düsseldorf.

Katrin Gülden Le Maire. The future of Theology – an epistemological vacuum: In her talk, Katrin Gülden Le Maire will discuss challenges in the theological epistemological debate. She argues that any theological response to ‘What is progress in theology?’ might actually be part of the problem. For in order to assess the progress of the discipline, in order to relate and to project a future for the subject, a precise definition of what Theology is, is necessary. Yet, it is exactly at the epistemological level that theologians remain ambiguous, undifferentiated and divided. Katrin Gülden Le Maire is a consultant and researcher. Her doctorate in Philosophy from Middlesex University focused on the effects of the educational political developments on Wolfhart Pannenberg´s book „Theology and Philosophy
of Science“ in the 1970s.


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Organising committee

This Winter Seminar is organised by:
Gijsbert van den Brink
Rik Peels
Jeroen de Ridder
René van Woudenberg
Samira van der Loo


For questions or more information, please contact:

Samira van der Loo
project manager Abraham Kuyper Center
@: s.vander.loo@vu.nl

This seminar is part of the research project ‘Epistemic Progress in the University‘, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation