Current research projects

To access the completed research projects, please click here.

Projects funded by Third Parties

"Nearest Help at the Train Station" – a Practical Theological Inquiry of the Bahnhofsmission

The Bahnhofmission's work has scarcely been considered in practical-theological research. The research project envisioned here is set out to close this gap. Analysing, typecasting, and reflecting on the complex diversity of the work of Bahnhofsmission understood as "nearest help at the train station" will be the task of this endeavour. In more than one regard, Bahnhofsmission can be considered pioneering. Firstly, it is co-operating constructively with a commercial corporation, which is unprecedented in today's Church. Furthermore, the organisation has been working under the premise of ecumenical partnership for over one hundred years. Lastly, the concept of "nearest help" geared towards all people in need, underprivileged people in particular, and stemmed mostly by volunteers, is unique. Due to a wealth of experience originating from Bahnhofsmission's work with a variety of people stricken with hardship and destitution, the organisation can simultaneously be considered seismographic for social developments. It is all the more surprising that this central form of "lived Church" has not yet been adequately represented in practical-theological research.
The research project will proceed by making use of text-hermeneutical as well as empirical methods. The qualitative-empirical study will consist of guideline-based interviews with experts, group discussions, participant observation, and a social area analysis in order to specify the guiding questions, deepen insights into the extremely complex practical field, and paint a nuanced picture of the challenges of Bahnhofsmission‘s work. The project aims at the scientific investigation of a new field of church commitment. Moreover, from a practical-theological angle, it is expected that this study will result in a productive combination of Pastoral Care, Diaconal Studies, and Church Theory.

The project will be realised by Dr Christine Siegl.


Fasting – Religious / Spiritual Praxis as “Life Support”

Modernisation processes and radical social changes have increasingly marginalised fasting as an expression of Christian piety, so that the praxis is now in need of elucidation. At the same time, it is possible to identify a present-day rediscovery and transformation of fasting, and many new forms of fasting have become joined to the praxis as originally understood and intended. The aim of the research initiative is – in connection with the fasting initiative of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the association “Andere Zeiten e.V.” – to conduct a hermeneutically reflexive and qualitative / empirical examination of this transformation in Christian fasting praxis in order to explore where the potential of fasting lies for people today. Generously supported by funding from the association “Andere Zeiten e.V.”.

The project will be realised by Antonia Rumpf.


Pastoral Care in the Bundeswehr: a Theory of Military Chaplaincy

For more than two decades now, the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces) has been undergoing a far-reaching transformation process. At one time purely and strictly a defence force, largely sustained by compulsory military service, the Bundeswehr has changed dramatically to become a deployment force engaged in international military intervention, with women admitted to all deployments since 2001, and with recourse solely to volunteer recruitment of soldiers since 2011. These fundamental changes present a major challenge, not only for soldiers and their families, but also for military chaplaincy, which is faced with the need to adapt conceptually and in terms of staffing to the parameter changes. At the Institute for Religion and Society, we are particularly interested in the pastoral care (poimenics) aspect of military chaplaincy work. What questions is it imperative for pastoral care to ask in this special situation? How does chaplaincy understand itself in its tension of loyalties between Bundeswehr and church on the one hand, and Bundeswehr and society at large on the other? How is pastoral care / chaplaincy implemented in the Bundeswehr? What are the special challenges with which military chaplains see themselves faced?
In connection with this project, Isolde Karle and Niklas Peuckmann are both involved with the Theological and Ethical Working Group (ThEA) at the Protestant Church Office of the Bundeswehr in Berlin. With generous sponsorship by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the project will be realised by Niklas Peuckmann.


Transformations in Pastoral Ministry

The pastoral or parish ministry plays a key integrative role for the membership of the Protestant churches. At the same time, it is coming under pressure in the wake of growing pluralisation, individualisation, and secularisation processes, and it is becoming markedly less important in society as a whole. On top of this, the structural parameters for the work of the pastoral ministry have changed for the worse due to cutbacks in the regional churches. By means of a qualitative empirical survey, the project aims to determine to what extent the pastoral ministry is currently undergoing change in respect of shifts in its spheres of activity and responsibility, of the relationship between person and office, of changed mental and emotional pressure, and of the interplay between feedback- and remit-orientation, and to determine how (parish) ministers deal with this subjectively. The project is being generously sponsored by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Evangelical Church of Westphalia, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg and the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. Verena Kroll is executing this.


Research at the Institute

Sexuality, forms of life, marriage

As far as Reformation theology is concerned, sexuality, marriage and family are fundamental forms of expression in human life; they constitute a foundation of our culture, yet the shape they will assume in practice is not necessarily predetermined and self-evident. While this field has been undergoing considerable change processes in the recent years, it nevertheless appears that the values of partnership and family have remained as relevant as ever. In addition to observing sociological nuances while conducting research into the current situation, it is essential to analyse the diversity of marriage and family in historical terms and to examine the socio-ethical and theological interpretations of marriage and family in a more precise manner than has been done to date. With regard to theological practice, the newly gained insights will be of interest for ecclesial practice in pastoral care and religious education in the classroom. The fact that there is a demand for answers in society is illustrated by the irritations and uncertainties that had been triggered following the publication of the orientation guide “Zwischen Autonomie und Angewiesenheit: Familie als verlässliche Gemeinschaft stärken” (“Between autonomy and dependence: strengthening families as dependable communities”, 2013) by the Evangelical Church in Germany. In Isolde Karle’s monographies “Da ist nicht mehr Mann noch Frau” (“There is no longer Man and Woman”) and “Liebe in der Moderne” (“Love in the modern era”), these issues are addressed, and they are to be studied in more depth.


Religion and Society

The Institute organises symposiums and workshops that focus on interdisciplinary research into the relationship between religion and society. The questions that are of particular importance from the perspective of theological practice include: in what way can Church adapt to the ongoing individualisation and pluralisation of religion, and is society becoming increasingly secularised or is a new interest in religion emerging (“religious boom”)? To what extent does religion enable people to open their minds to plurality and to otherness in a contingency-sensitive manner? In what way can faith accept and at the same time process contingency? How can Church open up to forms and tendencies of freely roving religiosity without losing its unique signature? How can explicitly Christian practice be maintained and developed through the interaction with forms of implicit Christian practice and communication that are embedded in intermediate spaces? Not least, the following question arises with regard to the public task of the Church: how can the Church address political developments in a pluralistic society without being perceived as merely society’s moral agency? We frequently invite renowned researchers as well as executives from the corporate world in order to discuss these questions and develop long-term perspectives.


Physicality

In the late-modern society, the body has increasingly become a centre of attention (“body turn”). On the one hand, people seek an intense body experience, as uncertainties with regard to identity grow; on the other hand, they strive to achieve body optimisation, which is supposed to render the body healthier, more beautiful and more “normal” in accordance with current standards. These social change processes have as yet been barely touched upon by theology. Body and body standards have remained a marginalised subject in the field of practical theology. And yet, reflecting on the question of modern conduct of life in a manner that is both sociologically sensitive and compliant with theological practice and developing strategies for addressing that question are essential for pastoral care, for educational processes and, last but not least, for sermons on lifeworld issues and emotions. It is crucial to examine the ambivalence of practices and strategies associated with the suffering and modifying of the body in a nuanced manner, to comprehend their deep existential entrenchment in (gender) identities and emotions, and to address them critically while appreciating them at the same time. Having already submitted several studies on this subject,


Altruism

Are humans born selfish and is their awareness for other people’s needs painstakingly raised through education, culture and religion? In the recent decades, there has been an increase in the number of voices t,hat question the idea of egoism being the fundamental motivation of human behaviour, as they approach it from radically different perspectives. Striving to follow up these questions in interdisciplinary discussions, we have established a dedicated research group at RUB (in collaboration with professors Traugott Jähnichen, Norbert Ricken, Thomas Söding, and Jürgen Straub). We have already organised several symposiums addressing this subject. The most recent one (2017) focused on the question: Why do people help? In the process, it emerged that altruism does not necessary equal self-denial; rather, it is an extension of one’s self, which is aware of its fundamental connections with others and which can be experienced to be a beneficial resonance chamber. The specific conditions of such non-self-destructive commitment to others are to be analysed and described in detail in the contexts of volunteering work and in relationships within the privacy system.


Textbook on Practical Theology

In her research year between February 2018 and March 2019, Isolde Karle will author a textbook that is scheduled for release as part of a series published by the media company Evangelische Verlagsanstalt in 2020. In the process, all sub-disciplines of practical theology are to be addressed – rather than just religious and Christian education, to which an entire volume will be dedicated.


Dissertation projects

Inga Kreusch: Reception of American Rhethorics and Homiletics for Homiletics in the German Language

Rhetoric as a fundamental science is considered much more essential and is far more widely spread in North America than it is in Germany. Here, due to the abuse of rhetorical devices during the era of National Socialism and because of the radical rejection of rhetoric in the pulpit by the school of dialectical theology, the relationship of homiletics and rhetoric is a very ambivalent one. Whereas in North America, the comprehensive understanding of the significance of rhetoric and the acquisition of relevant rhetorical skills is reflected in both homiletic concepts and sermons. Consequently, these texts are to be analysed with regard to their rhetoric, and the results are to be discussed in terms of their relevance for homiletics in the German language.

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PhD research focus: Dimensions of Care

Information on the PhD research focus

The scholarship organisation Evangelisches Studienwerk e.V. Villigst introduced a new interdisciplinary research focus titled “Dimensions of Care” in autumn 2013. In addition to the Chair, professors Micha Werner (philosophy, University of Greifswald), Anna Henkel (sociology, University of Lüneburg), and Gesa Lindemann (sociology, University of Oldenburg) apply the research focus in interdisciplinary collaborations. The project team took up their work on June 1, 2014.
For more information on the PhD research focus, please do not hesitate to reach out to Isolde Karle or click here.
Each supervising professor has been assigned five grants for two years respectively for the duration of the five-year project. Students who wish to conduct their PhD research on the subject of “care” are welcome to submit an application for a PhD grant to the organisation’s headquarters in Villigst. If you are interested in the scheme, please contact Isolde Karle.

On September 21/22, 2017, the 3rd annual conference on the PhD research focus took place in Villigst. Its theme was “Do not Worry – Criticism of Care”. (“Sorget nicht – Kritik der Sorge”) For the programme, click here.

On September 13/14, 2018, the 4th annual conference on the PhD research focus took place in Villigst. Its theme was "Limits of Care". ("Grenzen der Sorge")Sie stand unter dem Thema "Grenzen der Sorge". For the programme, click here.

On September 19/20, 2019, the 5th annual conference of the PhD research focus took place in Villigst. Its theme was "Care and being carefree: Limits, Environments, Requirements". ("Sorge und Sorgefreiheit: Grenzen, Atmosphären, Rahmenbedingungen") For the programme, click here.

On October 1/2, 2020, the 6th annual conference of the PhD research focus took place in Villigst. For the programme, click here.

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Elis Eichener: Care of Souls. Reclaiming the Term ‘Soul’ in Pastoral Care

The notion of ‘soul ‘brings solace to many people, especially in the context of death and dying. However, the term ‘soul’ has been heavily criticised by scientific theology, especially during the 20th century. The ramifications thereof for the practise of pastoral care have been problematic. If the concept of ‘soul’ is judged to be theologically unsound, for example in grief counselling, the consequences will include a lack of reciprocal transactions and limited capacity for empathy and expression in pastoral care.
Based on these findings, the dissertation project intends to rephrase the term ‘soul’ in accordance with the conditions governing contemporary history of ideas. In the process, methodologies in the fields of exegesis, philosophy, and systematic theology play a crucial role, in addition to approaches of practical theology. The study proposes that it is necessary to question the rejection of the term ‘soul’ – not only with regard to pastoral care, but also in respect to theology as a whole. At the same time, pastors are encouraged to use a new, plausible concept of ‘soul’, in order to acknowledge the soul and refer to it when performing their care of souls duties.

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Jonas vom Stein: Concern for Society, Church, and Ministry. Protestant Pastors in Transformation Processes during the Long 1960s

Protestant pastors practise a caring profession.
This is reflected in the image of the shepherd who cares for his flock, and the Latin translation of the term has been commonly adopted for the profession: namely “pastor”. Active in the caring profession, pastors develop a specific sensitivity towards all those who are in need of care. “Concern for” become “care for”. In the pastoral profession, the concept of care can be subdivided into two essential ideas: a central incentive to action, i.e. “care for”, and a factor guiding the perception of the present, i.e. “concern for”.
The dissertation examines these two aspects of care in the pastoral profession based on a study of recent history. It is embedded in the framework of societal and religious transformation processes during the long 1960s. In order to determine the responses of pastors to those transformation processes, statements published by pastors are analysed, with the aim of identifying their incentives to action and their perception of the present.


Nicole Kirschbaum: Carol Gilligans Ethics of Care. Perspectives for Religious Education Pedagogy

Gilligan initially criticises development psychologies based on conventional concepts of structural genetics. The aspect that strikes her is the fact that Kohlberg places women in a lower category than men in his stages of moral development (moral reasoning), and that the works of Piaget and Kohlberg claim to be universally applicable despite being based on empirical research using only male participants. Following this observation, she develops Ethics of Care as an alternative perspective for moral reasoning. When assuming a perspective based on the values of justice, the primary focus is on following established laws and norms. When making moral decisions in accordance with Ethics of Care, the relevant factor are interpersonal relationships. Moral judgement depends on the context. The focus is on empathy and on responsibility in social relationship networks. Gilligan posits a plurality of human cognition and demonstrates that Kohlberg’s universalistic perspective must be relativised.
A critical reception of Ethics of Care (strengths and weaknesses) may provide vital impulses in the field of religious education pedagogy. What are the differences to cognitivist development psychology based on structural genetics? How can the two perspectives ‘justice’ and ‘care’ be rendered applicable in religious education in schools based on Biblical texts, ethnic conflicts, and the students’ individual identity issues?

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Laura Brand: Ritual Communication at the End of Life in the Context of Hospice Work

In connection with the concept of holistic accompaniment of the dying and their relatives, the hospice movement attaches central importance to the spiritual dimension. In grief counselling, this dimension is increasingly being taken into account again after a period of distance from religious forms and rituals. Ritual communication plays a special role in perimortem grief counselling, especially for the process of saying goodbye and for realizing death. Rituals help to endure inhibition and uncertainty in the presence of death. In view of processes of change in society as a whole, it is no longer possible to fall back on traditional Christian rituals without further reflection. Against this background, the question arises as to what farewell rituals in hospices actually look like, and whether or which Christian forms of meaning play a major role in them. In the context of an empirical study, the significance of the rituals - not only for relatives, but also for hospice employees themselves - will be investigated and the effect of the rituals as a form of pastoral care will be examined. The project is carried out within the framework of the interdisciplinary research focus "Dimensionen der Sorge" ("Dimensions of Care") of the Evangelisches Studienwerk Villigst.


Lisa Stiller-Neumann: Organizations that care for the Dying as Care Communities. Spiritual Care in an Interprofessional Perspective

Dying and death are existential issues that challenge us to reflect upon and deal with them in our own way. The emergence of care communities in hospices and palliative wards and the concept of spiritual care show a newly awakened interest in a humane approach to the dying: Dying people should not be left alone and their special - also spiritual - needs should be taken into account. In connection with the concept of Spiritual Care, this task falls to all those who work in an interprofessional team and care for the dying. An empirical study focuses on the following questions: What do the various professions in the interprofessional treatment teams understand by care for the dying? Which narratives of dying prevail? Can the concept of Spiritual Care actually be verified in practice? What special tasks are assigned to professional pastoral care workers? Finally: What conclusions can be drawn from the study for pastoral practice and the understanding of Spiritual Care?


Habilitation projects

Dr Katja Dubiski: Spirituality

Everyone is talking about spirituality; the number of publications on this subject has been increasing for years. At the same time, the understanding and use of the term “spirituality” varies strongly among the disciplines. This is first and foremost true in theological and psychological research. The research project aims at systematising the terminology and at using the findings to demonstrate the limits of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue with regard to spirituality.

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Dr Jula Well: Escape to Germany. Political Sermon between the Culture of Welcome and Anti-Asylum Protests

In the era of the so-called refugee crisis, a heated controversy has been going on in Germany on the attitude towards and treatment of refugees who have been coming into the country. Spontaneous acts of compassion clash with anti-asylum protests. Some people experienced the summer of 2015 as a “humanitarian summer dream” (T. Bendikowski); others have interpreted the events as a sell-out of national identity and integrity. The political situation calls out the churches, because Christian charity knows no upper limit, does it?
Assuming the perspective of ideological criticism (I. Meinhard), the habilitation project analyses how preachers interpret the political situation and how they subsequently preach their sermons. How do preachers react to right-wing populism? Considering the political situation that has created divides in many congregations, are they able to engage in a dialogue with their audiences? Which ideals and self-images are drawn and how is “the Other” represented in linguistic terms? The project investigates ways of communicating a unique attitude in a pluralistic society, without villainising the Other in the process.

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Dr Christine Siegl: "Nearest Help at the Train Station" – a Practical Theological Inquiry of the Bahnhofsmission

The Bahnhofmission's work has scarcely been considered in practical-theological research. The research project envisioned here is set out to close this gap. Analysing, typecasting, and reflecting on the complex diversity of the work of Bahnhofsmission understood as "nearest help at the train station" will be the task of this endeavour. In more than one regard, Bahnhofsmission can be considered pioneering. Firstly, it is co-operating constructively with a commercial corporation, which is unprecedented in today's Church. Furthermore, the organisation has been working under the premise of ecumenical partnership for over one hundred years. Lastly, the concept of "nearest help" geared towards all people in need, underprivileged people in particular, and stemmed mostly by volunteers, is unique. Due to a wealth of experience originating from Bahnhofsmission's work with a variety of people stricken with hardship and destitution, the organisation can simultaneously be considered seismographic for social developments. It is all the more surprising that this central form of "lived Church" has not yet been adequately represented in practical-theological research.
The research project will proceed by making use of text-hermeneutical as well as empirical methods. The qualitative-empirical study will consist of guideline-based interviews with experts, group discussions, participant observation, and a social area analysis in order to specify the guiding questions, deepen insights into the extremely complex practical field, and paint a nuanced picture of the challenges of Bahnhofsmission‘s work. The project aims at the scientific investigation of a new field of church commitment. Moreover, from a practical-theological angle, it is expected that this study will result in a productive combination of Pastoral Care, Diaconal Studies, and Church Theory.

read more


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