Classes 2006–2022

Contemporary Catholic Theologies

There are two ways to investigate the "essence" of Catholic theology: on the one hand, one could "define" what it means to be Catholic, and to be a Catholic theologian, and then measure the theologies under scrutiny regarding their orthodoxy, heterodoxy, or heresy. This is the "transcendental" way. On the other hand, one can also ask what contemporary Catholic theologians think and how they define their being Catholic. This more "empirical" way, which will be followed in this course, will allow us to "construct" the multiplicity of different theologies as a "measure" so as to understand the multiplicity of current Catholic theology and its relevance for contemporary theology in general and its "identity" in particular. In the tension of both ways, this course will introduce us to the "polydoxy" of Catholic theologies in their honest and passionate search for the ways in which to responsibly conceptualize what it means to be a Christian in today's multiplicity of societies, the current interaction of religions, and the urgent need to recognize the organic integrity of the Earth.

Eco-Process Theology

Eco-Process Theology is not an application but the essence of a process theology that is concerned with the universal relationality of the world of events in their intertwining, evolution, emergence, and sustainability. The ecological question is pressing and a theological contribution urgent. In the series of great philosophical and theological contributions, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred N. Whitehead occupy a special place in advocating an evolutionary ecology—not just as a scientific reality to be considered by theology, but as a deeper revelation of the nature of reality as such—that, if it really were taken seriously, must change our philosophical understanding of the world we live in and our theological reconstruction of religious orthodoxies. In contrasting their thought with others, e.g., Deep Ecology, a new conceptual and spiritual framework might arise that, in a profound sense, can be called “eco-centric” in nature. Their ecological impetus unites them in a new understanding of Divine Love as love of the Earth with all its theoretical, practical, and spiritual consequences to live in a Universe in Process and opens new perspectives for an eco-diversity of humanity with life and of human diversity regarding religions, cultures, and minority voices in the unity of nature.

Eschatology: Apocalyptic and Counter-Apocalyptic Discourse

From the times of the late Hebrew Bible on, the eschatological hope for the Coming of God took an apocalyptic turn that became a defining moment for early Christianity and the development of its entire outlook on theology and politics. While the eschatological dimension was famously rediscovered in 20th century theology, thereby restructuring the whole body of theology, its apocalyptic implications were challenged greatly by process theology (and other movements) on a metaphysical basis, uncovering its devastating political implications. This seminar will follow the challenge of the apocalyptic discourse and the counter-apocalyptic discourse of contemporary theologies with an accent on the theopoetics of process theology.

The Future of Religions: The Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith is, in its own understanding, the newest of the world’s universal religions. This novelty is program: Its task amounts to nothing less than the unity of humanity through the unity of religions in a renewed world of physical and spiritual peace in harmony with the environment. Although still nascent, but with a wide distribution throughout continents, countries, ethnicities, cultural and religious backgrounds only second to Christianity, it offers unique resources for social, cultural and interreligious discourses on pressing global issues today and a renewal of life to which only mystical and spiritual wisdoms can contribute. Although of Persian origins and of Islamic background, the Bahá'í Faith emerged as a profoundly global religion that understands the world’s faiths as being of divine origin and in their own truths organically relevant to the grand development of humanity toward maturity and bound together by a process of progressive revelation of which its founder Bahá'u'lláh is the latest, but not the last, manifestation. In its own relativity, the Baha'i Faith relates to many movements, not only of its immediate heritage—Shi’i Islam, Sufism, the Shaykhi school and the Bábi religion—but also world traditions such as Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity, and more indirectly Hinduism and Buddhism, by affirming their founders—Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Zoroaster, Krishna and the Buddha—as theophanies of the utterly unknowable divine reality engaging with humanity’s exigencies of time, culture and consciousness in ever new form. This course will explore the becoming, origins and developments of the Bahá'í Faith, its persistent and still ongoing struggles with persecution, its structures and essential elements of spiritual life, its founders, its revelation, vast sacred text and thought as well as its worldwide reception. In introducing a faith tradition of non-violence and universal peace, interreligious integrity and spiritual renewal, this course offers the unique opportunity to witness religion in the making today.

God as Poet of the World

With the advent of “process theology,” in the history of theology, a new way of thinking (feeling) “God” appeared which in the interaction with several theological movements from the 1920s on created a whole new network of paradigms for God-talk. This seminar investigates how this new body of paradigms formed, and continues to form, while contrasting other theological, philosophical, political, and ecological developments; what its “novelty” is all about; of what importance it will be for inter-religious and inter-cultural contextualization in the future; and, finally, what “future” we might anticipate for itself judged by its internal complexity, essential openness, and inherent self-transcendence formed around the image of God as “Poet” of the world.

Mysticism East and West

Mysticism is a name for a multiplicity of longstanding spiritual, subversive, and utterly creative traditions in the various philosophies and religions of the East and West, which take the experiential experiment with the Divine as the ultimate approach to an understanding of the world and its meaning. Just what is mystical experience? And how does it inform and express itself in the various philosophical and religious understandings of the world and address questions of diversity and minority experiences? This seminar attempts a critical examination of the immanent resonance of this mystical approach to process theology, with its insistence on the philosophical method of experiential experiments with Reality and God, and to a folio of outstanding thinkers from diverse religions (especially Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith), Christian mystical thinkers like Nicholas of Cusa and Meister Eckhart, to contemporary philosophy (especially Gorge Bataille and Gilles Deleuze) and diverse cultural and marginalized voices in their relevance to current philosophical and theological reconsiderations of the Divine.

The Relativity of Religious Truth

Religious Diversity is a fact and a problem. It is a fact of the complex reality of our world and it is a problem of the interaction between religions and, even more, within religions. The complex discussions of “religious plurality” in philosophies of religion and theologies of different religions have led to many different heated debates about the questions of religious truth: does one community or many communities represent its absoluteness; is it exclusive or inclusive? Its major theoretical aporia, however, is this: is religious diversity a welcomed or an unfortunate fact?; is it based on the description of reality or is it a normative ideal? In other words: should we accept the plurality of religious traditions because we cannot avoid the fact of plurality or because it is a philosophical, theological, religious, and ethical imperative that we must be pluralistic in order to allow for Truth? This class will investigate the most prominent venues of addressing the plurality and unity of religions from the standpoint of positions of relativity and plurality of truth and paths of salvation/liberation, as well as the “unity” of (all) religions in conceptualizations of a multireligious “world theology.”

Religions and Exo-life

Since the discovery of the massive presence of exo-planets in our galaxy, the old question whether there may be life on other worlds than our Earth has sparked new interest not only in scientific fields such as ex-biology, but also regarding the views of diverse religions on this question. While in many cultures this assumption was part of their expansive worldview and while philosophies in the East and West have speculated on life and even human-like or strange forms of intelligence in the universe for ages, the impact this possibility might have on religious identities has become a more pressing issue today: How to think about creation, the human predicament, salvation and eschatological visions in light of many worlds full of life and maybe even intelligent life? This seminar will explore the history of the integration or exclusion, embrace or limitation of such a vision throughout different religious traditions, the constraints it puts on religious worldviews and doctrines, and the insights the horizon of exo-life can offer when it is applied to religious self-understanding.

The Spirit Beyond Matter: Religions and Near-Death Experiences

In what sense are human mind and spirit bound by matter and bodily existence? Are consciousness and spiritual perceptions mere illusions of material organization or a divine gift of genuine reality, deathless, not defined by the wearing away of the impermanent order of physicality? While materialist worldviews have questioned mind and spirit, consciousness and freedom to the point of nonexistence, recent approaches in the philosophy of mind, science, and religion admit their elementary function in the universe. Supported by the current scientific research into near death experiences, the seminar will ask how this has changed the equations of materialism; how it address the ancient journey of the soul, the belief in the survival of death, and the meaning of spiritual realms; but also why it has been critically received within the dogmatic limitations of diverse religious traditions; and whether it might be a future interreligious bridge between them.

Systematic Theology

Theology means "God-Talk." But can we "talk" about what must infinitely surpass our understanding? What would we say in the face of the multiple possibilities for experiencing this infinite reality we name "God"? How would we think of the multiplicity of answers which were given to these experiences, both within certain traditions and between religions and cultures? Why should we try to express, and why has theology experimentally sought and found, modes of thought for addressing such questions instead of finding rest in certain experiences, beliefs, and convictions, or even silence? In fact, Christian theology-itself a "creature" of a multicultural and interreligious milieu-has asked, and still asks, the major questions that Christians, in their multiple contexts, have faced through time, addressing and adventurously testing the most influential responses that Christians have given to them. Accordingly, this course will "seek an understanding" (fides quaerens intellectum) of these questions by exploring the variety of Christian understandings of God, God's relation to the world, Christ, the Spirit, Trinity, creation, the intercultural and interreligious contexts of the Church, and the quest for God's kingdom-to-come. The class encourages students to address these topics in relation to contemporary intellectual, cultural, ethical, social, and political issues, as well as their application to practical and ministerial situations.

Teilhard de Chardin, Rahner & Whitehead

In the series of great (philosophical) theologians, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, and Alfred N. Whitehead occupy a special place in advocating Evolution—not just as a scientific reality to be considered by theology but as deeper revelation of the nature of reality as such—that, if it really were taken seriously, must change our philosophical understanding of the world we live in and our theological reconstruction of Christian doctrine. These three thinkers not only relate through a historical line of thought—Teilhard has read Whitehead and Rahner, Teilhard—but they present a new conceptual and spiritual framework that, in a profound sense, can be called “eco-centric” in nature. Their ecological impetus unites them in a new understanding of Divine Love as love of the Earth with all its theoretical, practical, and spiritual consequences—to live in a Universe in Process.

Theology of the Body

Cultures and religions are about bodies—their multiple states and incredible plasticity—physically and categorically. Nevertheless, in philosophy and theology, the body has long played only a rudimentary role as me-on (something not to be), something to overcome or to be left behind—quite in opposition to key biblical notions such as the resurrection of the body and the soma pneumaticon.

Especially in their critique of the longstanding "metaphysics of presence," process thought, post-structuralist and deconstructionist scholarship, and gender studies have "uncovered" the profound bodily basis of all our philosophical and theological claims, in terms of both their epistemological and ontological preconditions and their social and political consequences.

This seminar will focus on three areas of thought: the gender-oriented work of Judith Butler (and her engagement with Foucault, Kristeva, and Irigaray); the critique of the development of the concept of the body and its contemporary reevaluation (in Casey, Derrida, Deleuze, and Whitehead); and, finally, the theological renewal of new conceptualizations of the "event of the body" in the context of sex and gender, multiplicity and diversity, the organic and the orgiastic, and inclusion and liberation.

Theology of Creation

Did creation come from nothing or from chaos or has it ever been? Is it historical or eternal? Is it an endless repeating process or will creation end in time? Is the act of creation the beginning of the end or the fulfillment of a previous end? Is it one universe or a multiverse? Important contemporary discussions on creator and creativity, creation and evolution, chaosmos and ecology, design and social constructions will be brought in as the class examines the contributions of religious traditions, philosophies, science, and contemporary theologies to questions of beginnings and becomings.

The Theology of Moltmann and Rahner

In the rich history of Christian theology in the 20th century, two theologians have taken a special place: Jürgen Moltmann and Karl Rahner. Although not of the same persuasion or denomination, and also of different generations, these thinkers have attracted or influenced virtually every Christian theologian in one way or another, and, hence, has gained a kind of "universal" importance. We might not find it necessary to think like them, but we should at least always be ready to think with them. This course on the theology of Moltmann and Rahner will explore their work in systematic theology, and also show why their theses and methods are indispensable for doing systematic theology in the 21st century. The course will include most of their major works and statements on topics ranging from the doctrine of God and the Trinity, to Christology and pneumatology, to eschatology and ecclesiology. Throughout the course, the discriminating and resonating differences of their central intuitions and styles of thought will be of prime interest.

Transreligious Discourse: Buddhism and Christianity

“Transreligious Discourse” is a new approach to interreligious studies that is interested in processes of transformation between religions with regard to their ways of life, doctrines, and rituals. Theoretically, it studies the possibility of such a transfer, not by comparison but by following the trajectories of mutual influences and traces of one religion (way of life, doctrine, or ritual) in the other or by examining their reflection in diverse theologies. Practically, it studies matters and ways of transfer. In this seminar, the perspective is upon Buddhism and Christianity, highlighting the mutual reception of various doctrines, which are considered central and irreplaceable in one religion or the other, and the creative transformation they issue in the other religion. Questions will involve: How are transreligious processes possible and how are they happening? What are the theological presuppositions, implications, and consequences when a tradition not only practically allows for such transfers but also reflects on them as part of its own development? Is there a Buddhist Christology? Is there a Christian doctrine of Emptiness? How do the diverse traditions dare to adopt mutually challenging notions of God and Nothingness? Is there a mutual concept of a “Buddha-Christ”?

Trinity Revisited: Models, Alterations, Alternatives

In times of a global and growing multireligious consciousness, no religious doctrine can be viewed as being reserved for only a specific religion or even some of its streams. Although the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be specific to the identity of Christianity, in interreligious horizons, a trinitarian understanding of God is a shared awareness, flowing through the history of the concept of God in the development of religions since the axial age. Nor is the trinitarian understanding of God identical with Christianity, as not all of its streams share either the same or even the necessity of such an understanding. This seminar will draw on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, relate the diversity of models, explore the alternations and alternatives to it within and outside of established Christian doctrine, and recover the multireligious presence of trinitarian thought patterns, as well as arguments and counter-arguments as to their relevance. It is the aim of such a transreligious approach to loosen the grip of a possession model of religious doctrines and transform it into a model of transreligious mutuality in the interest of a common and peaceful future of religions.

Whitehead and Deleuze

Today, Whitehead’s philosophy is newly discovered to be in the line of ancestors of the postmodern, deconstructive or poststructuralist, French based “philosophy of difference”, which was co-initiated by Gilles Deleuze, for whom Whitehead’s Process and Reality was “one of the greatest philosophies of the 20th century.” The seminar will investigate their relationship by seeking to explore the potential for a mutual reconstruction of their thought regarding epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of religion, theology, ethics and their relevance for process studies. This course is designed to maximize opportunities for discussion. Therefore, most of the time will be assigned to the study of important parts of the primary texts of these philosophers, their thorough reading and interpretation, creating a mosaic of references and a field of relations that will slowly build up to the realization of the respective “architecture” of their philosophies and the “plane of resonances.”

Whitehead and Postmodern Thought

Today, Whitehead’s philosophy is newly discovered to be in the line of ancestors of the postmodern, deconstructive and poststructuralist philosophy. It is this discovery that led Gilles Deleuze to acclaim Whitehead’s Process and Reality as “one of the greatest books in modern philosophy.” The seminar will investigate this claim in light of the manifold of postmodern thought—e.g., Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva, Lacan, Lyotard and Zizek—and their sources of inspiration—de Saussure, Freud, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche—but also in contrast to streams of Whiteheadian thought such as Rescher’s “process metaphysics” and Griffin’s “constructive postmodernism.” In exploring Whitehead’s resonance with, and difference from, postmodern thought, we will ask for the potential of a mutual reconstruction of their thought from ontology to theology, from cosmology to culture, with the intention to discover the different “archi/tecture” of their philosophies and their contribution to contemporary questions.

Whitehead Research Seminar: Process and Reality

Designed to aid a greater comprehension and appreciation of this challenging text, this seminar examines Whitehead's magnum opus, Process and Reality as it is enfolded in its first part from which everything else flows. In Part One Whitehead asks the question of philosophy, wrestles with a reformulation of metaphysics, and develops his philosophy of organism, introducing such important themes as the categorical scheme, the ultimate, novelty, creative advance and the primordial nature of God. In a concentrated, in-depth and detailed exploration, including discussions of Whitehead's background, his inherited and exerted philosophical influences, and the creative philosophical transformation he thereby initiates, we will explore what led the great French post-structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze to acclaim Whitehead’s Process and Reality to be “one of the greatest books in modern philosophy.”