Event details

Date: January 27-29, 2022
Location: Online, live streamed from Pakhuis de Zwijger, Piet Heinkade 179, Amsterdam. 
Program: click here


The recordings can be found here. Unfortunately there were no recordings made of many short paper sessions.


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.

Find the program here. Please note: the short paper sessions are each 30 minutes and will take place in parallel. You can choose the session you want to attend by going to a breakout room.


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. 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.

Jennifer Frey. Weber, Newman, and the Fate of Theology in a Disenchanted Age: In this essay, I will contrast two competing models of knowledge for universities: Max Weber’s ideal of university scholarship as a form of expertise and Cardinal John Henry Newman’s ideal of philosophical knowledge of truth that concerns the whole of reality. According to the second model, we can only begin to see how the different disciplines of university study are related to one another—how the truths they reveal can form a unified body of knowledge—if we have an account of philosophical knowledge available to them all.  I will further argue that the fate of theology depends upon a model of university knowledge that does not reduce it to expertise or scholarship along Weberian lines, and that we need to recover some kind of universality of knowledge thesis as a regulative ideal for university research. Jennifer Frey is an associate professor in the philosophy department at the University of South Carolina and fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America

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.

Short paper sessions

Both junior and senior scholars will be presenting papers during the seminar. Click on the titles to read  the abstract of the paper and a bio of the speaker. The times are listed in the program. Please note: the short paper sessions are each 30 minutes and will take place in parallel. You can choose the session you want to attend by going to a breakout room.

NameTitle of paper
Stephen Waldron, Boston University School of TheologyTheological Collaboration: Considering Two Frameworks to Enable Progress
Hadje Sadje, University of Vienna/University of HamburgDecolonial Thinking: Troubling the Progress in the Production of Western Theological Knowledge
Michaël Bauwens, University of AntwerpTruth, contingency and revelation: some Scotistic considerations on the possibility of progress in theology
Ignacio Alberto Silva, Universidad Austral, ArgentinaProgress in Theology or Series of Theological Ideas? The Divine Action Debate as a Case Study
Adriani Milli, Adventist University of Sao PauloTheology and the Hermeneutics of Testimony: Progress in Theological Interpretation?
Jack Johnson, University of St AndrewsThe Unstoppable Progress of Theology
David Clark, Roehampton University, LondonThe Idea of Progress in Theology: Did James Orr Get it Right in 1897?
Mark Boespflug, Fort Lewis CollegeTheological Experts? 
Hans van Eyghen, Tilburg UniversityFine-tuning the sources of theology
Zane A Richer, Liberty UniversityThe Divine Meaning of Progress: The Triumphs and Trials of Theology in the Dooyeweerdian Tradition
David Law, University of ManchesterThe Philosophy of Science and the Wissenschaftlichkeit of Christian Theology
Oskari Juurikkala, Åbo Akademi University, FinlandThe Paradox of Progress: Doing Theology with Both Sides of the Brain
Cody Warta, University of St AndrewsAnalytic Theology as a Sufficient Means for Ecumenical Dialogue
Javad Darvish, Sharif University of Technology, IranThe falsifiability and progress in theological arguments
Marius Dorobantu, Vrije Universiteit AmsterdamRethinking imago Dei between Darwin and Artificial Intelligence: A case study of progress in theology

Call for papers

The call for papers is now closed. We received abstracts on many interesting topics in religious studies, philosophy and theology. In total, 15 papers will be presented during the short paper sessions of the seminar.

Organising committee

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

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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