About us

 

„The ecumenical dialogue of the future will be a dialogue which aims at increased understanding for the integrity of the other, the alien, and does not stand under the pressure of having to dissolve the differences into consensus.“

Konrad Raiser

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The basic tenets and history of the Ecumenical Institute in Bochum offer great potential for the theological exploration of religio-political questions – so crucial for the 21st century – relating to the coexistence of different religions and confessions. Peaceful and civil relations between religious communities and confessional cultures constitute one of the most pressing questions of our day. In seeking answers, it was for a long time the focal practice to take metaphysical recourse to the inner unity of all religions and confessions. It has since become apparent, however, that invoking consensus, similarity and universality at some imaginary locus of unity-in-community in itself bears mythical features and is in practice never capable of permanently containing conflicts and differences. How and in what form people of different confessions, religions and cultures relate to each other is not something that should ever be dogmatically laid down, but has constantly to be negotiated and achieved anew in each specific situation. What is also required, consequently, is a critical theory of ecumenism.

 

 


Education in diversity

Modern Protestantism has played a significant role in cultivating an attitude of sensitivity towards the “divorcity” and heterogeneity of Christianity and of the church worldwide. This attitude has not always been espoused by the Protestant faith, however, and even today, it has to be constantly reasserted as freedom to believe over against fundamentalist and Biblicist tendencies in Protestant confessional cultures. In this respect, ecumenical research and teaching can be seen as education in diversity, in competent coping with diversity, and in a readiness to encounter those who think and live differently. This is one of the central educational tasks of the present day and an important resource for developing a theology for the 21st century.


Public responsibility

The initiative behind the setting up of ecumenical institutes at German universities in the 20th century emerged out of a vision of a species of Christianity that is cosmopolitan and open-minded, and of a peaceful understanding between confessions. This is currently considered by the Christian churches to be exemplary for the political reconciliation of nations and cultures in Europe and throughout the world. Ecumenical theology is both committed to and beholden to this public and political concern of the Christian churches, and so it is reliant upon the close interconnectedness of academic discourse, social reality, and political commitment on the part of the church. Its task is to accompany the socio-political and ecclesiastical discourse on ecumenism and reconciliation at a professional distance, and to enhance it by contributing constructive and critical stimuli.


Concrete socio-political approaches

The Ecumenical Institute in Bochum generates proposals for church and society for a fair and equitable positioning of Christian confessional cultures in a democratic culture and society that increasingly understands itself as being religiously pluralistic. The task is to formulate possible solutions to the urgent interreligious and interconfessional challenges of our day. These include, by way of example, the increasing significance of migrant churches in Germany, the global proliferation of an undogmatic Pentecostal brand of Christianity, the consolidation of fundamentalist groups within Protestant Christianity, and the increasing deconfessionalisation of large sections of the German population.


Theological norms

Ecumenical theology employs methods drawn from hermeneutics, the philosophy of religions, and cultural studies, combining these in a normative (non-empirical) approach. In proposing praxis norms, its motivation is transdisciplinary, and it therefore relates to a non-academic problem: Its aim is accountability in its awareness of and fleshing out of interactive scope for action in church and society. A prerequisite for its work is the professionalisation of analytical and hermeneutical interpretative competence in interreligious and interconfessional contexts, and the development of skills that will allow perspectives for Christian action to evolve from these competences in the present-day context.


Work focuses

(1) Revising central strategies in ecumenism

Our present-day society is characterised by an increasingly strained religious pluralism, in which the peaceful coexistence not only of the Christian confessions, but also of other religious groups, is politically desired, and has to be shaped institutionally. This gives rise to new exigencies as regards traditional conceptions of ecumenism, which viewed consensus and a willingness to dialogue as marking the “high road” towards peace and understanding between the churches, and which articulated the appearance of inner unity amongst the confessions as the objective of ecumenism. This perspective is now far too narrow, as it is only plausible based on the historic cultural and religious connectedness of the European confessional churches. A critical revision of these traditional concepts is required in order to respond to shifts in social requirements and the changing face of global ecumenism. At this point, it is possible to formulate the core thesis that ecumenical theology must develop concepts, metaphors and guiding principles that visualise modes of interaction with those speaking to us from “outside” the formation of our European discourse and reason, and seeking to enter into dialogue with us on the subject of faith.


(2) Ecumenism as public commission

The ecumenical movement of the 20th century sought to demonstrate how integration, cohesion and community are possible in spite of persisting differences. Its contribution towards the perception of Christianity as an agent/player within civil society in the context of the current religious policy of the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union is significant. Building on their ecumenical experience, the Christian churches have, in recent decades, repeatedly laid claim to a competence that extends to questions of social and religious policy for the work of peace and reconciliation. However, this claim is based on the assumption that the parameters for peace and reconciliation have remained unchanged, politically and otherwise, since the 20th century, and that notions of religious reconciliation can be simply and easily transferred to the secular context. Yet precisely this assumption has nowadays become questionable. It is imperative to challenge the church’s claim to the work of reconciliation for society as a whole, and to examine this in terms of its conditions of validity and its reach and scope for the public sphere. The core thesis one could postulate here is that ecumenical theology needs to reassess the extent to which its service of reconciliation for the world remains bound to the political horizons of western democracies and communities of states, or whether it can evolve perspectives and guiding principles that go beyond this and are transferrable to other forms of society.


(3) Ecumenism of language and in language

It is one of the fundamental persuasions of ecumenical theology that the model of non-violent and peaceful dialogue is the only permissible basis on which to seek solutions for conflicts between churches, cultures and religious groups. As valuable as this approach may be with regard to the avoidance of physical force or violence in terms of the annihilation or social exclusion of those of different faiths, it also contains a number of gaps as regards the phenomenon of violence per se. Thus, for example, the dialogue model of ecumenism fails to recognise the potential for open and subtle violence that is inherent within language itself, as can currently be seen in the critical debate on political correctness. It is therefore necessary to take a critical look at the dialogue concept of ecumenism, and to seek alternative approaches for dealing sensitively with conflicts and differences. The core thesis one could postulate here is that ecumenical theology needs to critically examine and revise the normative and disciplining force of its own language.


(4) The limits of ecumenism and excessive overstepping of its horizons

Viewed globally, the perspective of the ecumenical world is increasingly moving away from the centre and towards the fringes of Christianity. Thus, for example, Pentecostal churches constitute the fastest-growing Christian religious group worldwide. In Germany too, given the context of migration, their significance is on the increase. On the other hand ecumenical dialogue and theological examination of this undogmatic Christianity are still in its infancy. Another challenge to ecumenism represents the late-modern phenomenon of an unchurched orientation in life with no confessional affiliation. People in this category suspend questions as to any ultimate meaning in their lives, reject religious institutions, and repeatedly construct and reconstruct ultimate meaning individually, flexibly, and on a hybrid religious plane. They ostensibly organise their collective and individual lives without presupposing any stable religious or confessional identity. It is, however, questionable whether they do not in fact participate by other means in confessional forms of life and/or invoke their incarnations of transcendence in the social sphere. Putting itself into perspective in the context of undogmatic and non-confessional forms of managing contingency can help ecumenical theology recognise and shift its own horizons.