Productive Integration of Religions

NRW Minister of Science Ina Brandes - conveys the grant approval letter to a rep
NRW Minister of Science Ina Brandes - conveys the grant approval letter to a representative of the cooperation, Klaus von Stosch. Photo: MKW .

NRW Providing Nearly 2 Million Euros for a Joint Research Project on Societal Transfer of Comparative Theology

The Centre for Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies (ZeKK) at the University of Paderborn and the International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues (CTSI) at the University of Bonn are further expanding their existing cooperation in the area of comparative theology. The Ministry of Culture and Science for the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (MKW NRW) is providing roughly 2 million euros in funding for a joint research project on societal transfer of comparative theology. Ina Brandes, Minister of Culture and Science for the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, formally presented the grant notification letter to the project’s directors.

Minister Brandes noted: "Through this funding program, we are carving out a space for researchers to dedicate themselves to forward-looking topics and drive innovative ideas. It’s just one of the ways in which we are making North Rhine-Westphalia even more attractive and effective as a hub for world-class research. The networking of Centre for Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies and International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues will help reduce the conflict potential between the religions, and in this way make a priceless contribution to societal cohesion."

Comparative theology is a relatively young academic discipline, and one that pursues the goal of bringing change to religion from within by allowing other religions to serve as inspiration for deeper reflection about one’s own theology. Because comparative theology is conducted in a dialogic and cooperative manner, emphasis is laid on areas where the theologies of the various religions are interwoven, encouraging the formulation of common approaches to solutions of societal problems, reducing the potential for violence in the religions, and reinforcing the ways in which they are productively integrated. Zishan Ghaffar, chairperson of the ZeKK and professor of Koran exegesis, explains: "Paderborn stands alone in its development of an Islamic theology that consistently pursues a comparatistic mindset in all disciplines. It is networked into the university and the city at many levels and is seeing its influence continuously growing. We see the state funding as a mark of distinction and a spur to carry this unique orientation even more into society."

The funding calls for the joint development of interreligious formats for encounter at various comparative theological sites of instruction in NRW, and the composition of study and teaching materials on comparative theology for young and old to help address the needs of religious communities among one another as well as state and communal educational authorities. The working packets are broken into three areas of content: digital communication, event management, and educational outreach, with academic staff formulating concepts across the locations from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives.

The director of the CTSI, Professor of Systematic Theology Klaus von Stosch, expressed joy at the announcement: "This will ultimately let our world-class international research have a deeper impact on society. Given the many crisis of our time, we can in this way show that religions are more than just a source of societal problems; they can also be a key to their resolution." As part of the Excellence Strategy from 2021, von Stosch was appointed to the newly created "Schlegel Professorship" of Catholic Theology at the University of Bonn. He is a member of the "Individuals & Societies" and "Present Pasts" Transdisciplinary Research Areas.

The universities will also work with another partner not covered by the funding, the Berlin-based House of One foundation, in their efforts to establish research concepts for their work. House of One is a unique interreligious construction and dialog project in Berlin that brings together a mosque, synagogue, and church under one roof, allowing for joint prayer and study. It was an early adherent to the comparative theology approach.

The North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Science is providing its support as part of the "Cooperation Platforms 2022" funding announcements, which seek the formation of common platforms for application-oriented research with partners outside academia in and for North Rhine-Westphalia. The project, which will start in May, is slated to run until April 2027. Roland Stolte, who is responsible for the concept of Berlin’s House of One, appreciates it as a special constellation: "The time frame of the funding covers the time during which the House of One in Berlin is being erected, and we expect even greater attention in Germany and abroad. Seizing on this attention and applying the greatest level of inter-religious/theological care to establishing a new path for exchange between the religions and society is one of the most bitterly pressing issues of our time. We are very much looking forward to this cooperation."