Obituary for the historian and theologian Thomas Lentes (1962-2020)
The Faculty of Catholic Theology and the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” at the University of Münster are mourning the loss of their highly regarded colleague Thomas Lentes, who died in Münster on 4 May 2020.
Thomas Lentes was born on 17 April 1962 in Illingen-Hüttigweiler. He studied Catholic theology, history, philosophy, art history, and German at the Universities of Münster and Munich, at the Munich School of Philosophy, and at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. He gained his BA in Philosophy from Munich in 1986, and his Diploma in Catholic Theology from the University of Münster in 1990. He then gained his PhD in Theology under the supervision of Arnold Angenendt in 1996 with a thesis on religious expression in late-medieval prayer books. After his doctorate, he changed to the Department of Medieval History; for personal reasons, an academic career at a Catholic theological faculty seemed unlikely.
From 1988, Thomas Lentes held various roles at the University of Münster, first as a student assistant to Arnold Angenendt, then as his research assistant at the Department of Medieval and Modern Church History, as well as in the Collaborative Research Centres 231 (“Pragmatic Writing in the Middle Ages”) and 496 (“Symbolic Communication and Social Value Systems from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution”). From 1999 to 2008, he led the research group sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, “CultImage. Cultural History and Theology of the Image in Christianity” at the Centre for Christian Image Theory at the Faculty of Catholic Theology. Besides research stays in Paris, Los Angeles, Wassenaar, Munich, Weimar and Berlin, he was involved between 2009 and 2017 as a research assistant in the projects “Images of the Wound / The Wound as Image: Conceptions of the Passion in the Christian Pictorial Tradition and Pictorial Concepts in the Art of the Modern Period”, and “The Heavenly Jerusalem as a Space of Religious-Political Imagination” at the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics in Premodern and Modern Cultures”. The Fritz Thyssen Foundation supported his project “Liturgy and Image in the Middle Ages” from 2012 to 2014. Most recently, he worked primarily on the DFG project “Figurative Cuts. Circumcision in Premodern Christianity”.
Thomas Lentes’ research interests were in the forms of expression of piety and its mediation in bodily and pictorial structures in the Middle Ages and early modern period. His historical studies are mainly concerned with the ritual structures and characteristics of liturgy, with the pictorial representation of bodies and with bodies as image carriers in forms of devotion, and with the meaning of the visual and how it is staged in experiences and expectations of transcendence.
We remember Thomas Lentes as a passionate researcher and clear-sighted thinker, someone who was able to relate the historical, theological and social dimensions of his research to each other in an extremely knowledgeable and profound way, and who always had the religious situation of the present in mind. Thomas Lentes allowed himself to be captivated by his historical sources and was able to inspire others with his insights, because he presented them in a manner that was trenchant, prescient, insistent, committed, and personal. Thomas Lentes was able to bring people together for joint research, and to inspire, support and encourage young colleagues on their own path. It is all the more painful that the academic system could not provide someone like Thomas Lentes with a long-term career perspective. With Thomas Lentes, we are losing an extremely competent and inspiring colleague whose contributions and comments, whose commitment in personal interaction, will be sorely missed. We will remember him with respect.
Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Münster
Centre for Christian Image Theory
Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics”
Nils Jansen, Detlef Pollack, Gerd Althoff, Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger