Research Profile of the Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Münster

Theological Research in Münster is distinguished by

1. ...the highest standards

Our high standard of research is reflected in the broad scale and variety of publications, edition series and journals (e.g. Theologische Revue) produced at our faculty. It is also reflected in the large number of research projects devoted to all areas of theology – both self-financed and externally funded. From 2009 to 2014, a total of 194 projects received financing through the German Research Foundation (DFG) and other external funding providers. The thematic spectrum spans the study of monotheism in antiquity to the theological theory of the image, the significance of religion in post-socialist states, and the effectiveness of religious education at traditional learning venues in society. Especially noteworthy are the DFG-funded, long-term projects with 12-year funding periods, e.g. on book censorship during the Roman Inquisition, the two critical online editions of the Nuncial Reports of Eugenio Pacelli, and the diaries of Michael Cardinal Ritter von Faulhaber.

Theological research at our faculty is marked by disciplinary depth of focus and interdisciplinary connection to and inclusion into larger research contexts, e.g. through the participation in SFB 496 (1999 – 2011) with the subproject “Papal Ceremony in Early Modern Times” and the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics. Dynamics of Tradition and Innovation” (since 2007). International researchers appreciate the opportunity to work at our faculties; numerous academics have chosen the Faculty of Catholic Theology in Münster for research visits as part of an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship.

The importance of our faculty in the field of research is also indicated by the fact that so many members of our faculty have been offered research fellowships in Germany and abroad. These include fellowships by the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, the Historisches Kolleg in Munich, the Aleksanteri Institute for Russian Studies in Helsinki, Finland, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, USA and Princeton University, New Jersey, USA. Members of our faculty are regular recipients of distinguished academic awards, including the Leibniz Prize (2003), the Communicator Award (2004), the “International Humanities” award (2009 and 2013), the Homily Award (2012), the Sigmund Freud Prize for Academic Prose (2021), not to speak of numerous honorary doctorates conferred to members of the faculty. These distinctions document the high recognition of research achievements produced by our faculty, as do the appointments of our faculty members to academic and science-policy committees (university boards of governors, the German Science Council, DFG committees), and advisory boards at various civil-society and ecclesiastical institutions.

2. ... inspiring research conditions

The broad range of subjects devoted to Christian theologies and religion-based studies in departments throughout the University of Münster provide for excellent research conditions. With its large Faculty of Catholic Theology, Faculty of Protestant Theology, Chair for Orthodox Theology and the Centre for Islamic Theology (ZIT), the study of theology in Münster is characterised by a breadth and level of differentiation unlike any other. The libraries of these institutions of theological research, along with the Münster Diocesan Library, possess vast holdings of research literature.

In combination with Religious Studies and Islamic Studies devoted to the non-denominational study and investigation of religion, the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” established in 2007, along with history, law, political studies, sociology, philosophy and various philological departments, an interdisciplinary research environment has evolved which enables researchers to study theology in its entire scope and depth. Several interdisciplinary centres have been established in recent years, e.g. the “Centre for Eastern Mediterranean Studies” (GKM), the “Münster School of Ancient Cultures” (MSAC), the “Center for Religion and Modernity” (CRM), the “Center for Religious Studies” (CRS) and the “Centre for Textual Editions and Commentary” (ZeTeK), at which Catholic theology represents one of the constitutive disciplines. In contrast to the limited scope of individual departments and faculties, these centres shall ensure sustained interdisciplinary networking even after the conclusion of the Excellence Initiative. Beyond these research contexts, the sheer size of the University of Münster with its diverse interdisciplinary scope allows researchers to cooperate with other areas of the University, such as medicine and the natural sciences.

3. ... a broad disciplinary spectrum

The research activities are based on a highly diversified spectrum of theological subjects and disciplines. Six research fields play a prominent role in this regard:

  • The faculty emphasises the full spectrum of theology and practice of religions and denominations. History and theology, specifically that of the Western and Eastern churches, are studied from an ecumenical perspective. Non-European theologies and research projects on global Christianity are discussed in context with traditional European lines of thought, which, in turn, are considered in terms of new correlations and the demands of a global theology. The study of Asian forms of religion serves to broaden the view on monotheistic religions.
  • Biblical texts and Christian traditions are studied in three different ways: the exegesis offers possible interpretations of the texts, contemporary and religious history explores their historical relationships, and Bible didactics highlights their relevance for a diverse array of teaching and learning processes. The investigation of theological and church-historical documents is conducted in a similar manner.
  • Religious practice and interactions between religion, politics and society are theologically investigated in terms of their concrete social environments. This enables us to continually redefine the significance of religious education, religious freedom, and human rights in a constantly changing and increasingly secular society. The study of religious influences on the emergence and resolution of conflicts is a central focus of research activities on religious potentials in the context of non-violent conflict management. Theological and ecclesiastic communication in society is explored in depth with respect to the challenges of new media. The interrelationship between the transformation of church community structures and societal processes is also a focus of analysis.
  • Reflection on the relationship between reason and faith often seeks to rationally explain the existential decision for embracing the Christian faith as opposed to other religious options. Theology systematically engages in dialogue with other branches of the humanities and the natural sciences– depending on the respective issue in question. Dialogue with the field of philosophy is of special relevance for theologians.
  • Religion seeks to discover various forms of expression. Religious aesthetics explores these forms of expression in multiple fields. It generally investigates the theological concepts of aesthetics, as well as the mediality and ambiguity of forms of religious expression. It applies a comparative perspective to study the aesthetics of religions or to investigate how Biblical motifs are expressed in films. In view of the globalisation of religions, researchers examine forms of cultural translation and intercultural and/or interreligious communication.
  • Feminist theology and gender research are the subjects of study by our own working group for gender studies, while theological aesthetics and image didactics are studied by the working group for Christian image theory, and topics related to the genesis and history of the Christian philosophy of freedom are explored in depth by the Origen Research Centre. Regional ecclesiastic history is the central focus of study at the Institute of the History of the Diocese of Münster (IGBM).

4. ... academic responsibility

As a scientific field, theology is concerned with the reflected and substantiated discourse on God, humans and the world. Based on the languages and thought processes contained in the Bible and the Christian traditions of numerous cultures, theological study addresses their content, potential and limitations. It works on “translations” that correspond to the horizons of understanding of a pluralistic modern society. Theology explores interpretative patterns, structures of meaning and the possibilities of orientation offered by Christianity and Christian religious conviction. It addresses questions sparked by developments in knowledge, science and modern thinking in terms of their implication for Biblical discourse, a Christian understanding of humans and the world, and the practice of faith.

In this sense, we regard Catholic theology as the critical reflection of Christian religious practice in the context of religious, cultural and social processes of self-understanding and discourse. Its task is to define the criteria for this reflection. By applying these criteria to historical and contemporary developments, we can identify both the rich potential and ambivalence of Christian forms of religious self-understanding. Moreover, we can play an active role in shaping discourse on biblically grounded, ecclesiastically legitimate, reasonably sound, and socially progressive forms of Christian self-understanding and the corresponding forms of a Christian practice of witnessing.

The biblical, historical, systematic and practical approaches to theology correspond to a broad spectrum of literary, historical, cultural, social, legal and humanities-based methods which we apply and continue to develop in cooperation with researchers in related disciplines. We apply empirical, hermeneutic and normative approaches to our subject areas and objects of study. Theology benefits from the accomplishments of other sciences and actively seeks connections to the humanities disciplines. For its part, theology contributes to interdisciplinary research constellations by bringing a dimension of transcendence to processes of interpretation of oneself and the world, as well as ethical orientation.

5. ... critical solidarity with the church

Catholic theology is a subject rooted in the perspective of the Christian faith and thus maintains a special relationship with the Catholic Church as the historical embodiment of the social and expressive form of this faith. This entails a demonstration of critical solidarity with the Church. We observe and analyse processes and procedures in the Church and society which we accompany with our scientific expertise and the results of our research. This leads to a dynamic, often productive, and occasionally fraught relationship with the institutions of the Church. This relationship is subject to an ongoing and reciprocal process of renewal and is redefined according to changing conditions at any given time.

Critical solidarity with the Catholic Church does not negate scientific objectivity with respect to our subjects of research. On the contrary, in accordance with the dictates of scientific honesty, it openly acknowledges the inextricable connection to its locus of research.