Sad News for the Academy: German Courts Limit Theological Inquiry

Dear readers,

The following is written by Joe Hoffmann concerning news we, at the Jesus Project, have just heard this morning. Gerd Luedemann has lost his ten-year-long court battle in Germany. The ruling should surprise every critical mind, but it should be of great concern to those in the academy. Gerd writes (in regards to this piece below);

“As for Küng who is always mentioned when people hear about my case, he never went to court but settled with his university. My case is different because for the first time in history the German Supreme Court has issued a full statement on the role of theology in the university and the statement is anti-enlightenment because it plainy states that at German Universities the confession of a church or of any future religion overrides the academic freedom of a professor. That is an intellectial scandel against which the international intellectual community should protest the more so because the University of Göttingen rightly boast of being an enlightenment university (founded in 1737). And this ruling makes truely critical work at German theological faculties – both protestant and catholic – impossible.”

Where the once proud enlightened scholars brought the academy into a new world of theological inquiry, the courts have rules that such inquiry has limits. This is not the first time a scholar has been quieted in German universities because of dogmatic boundaries. And unfortunately, as this case proves, it will not be the last. All of academia should be in an uproar over this incident.


Gerd Luedemann: Non sine causa…laudatus

Gerd Luedemann, Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity in the University of Goettingen, has received word from the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany that his appeal against an earlier ruling excluding him from the teaching of New Testament in the University’s Faculty of Theology has been rejected.

The basis for the Court’s ruling hinges on the fact that Professor Luedemann was “reassigned” to a position outside the Faculty offering essentially the same teaching and research opportunities as his previous position. In addition, the Court decided that the confessional teaching of theology is a unique responsibility of the Theology Faculty and that its interest in retaining a distinctive identity outweighed Professor Luedemann’s claim that the reassignment impinged on his academic (“scientific”) freedom.

The tradition of theological education in many European countries, including Germany, differs substantially from the American situation, where ministerial training is largely the province of private and parochial institutions or, in the case of distinguished private divinity schools such as Harvard, Yale and Chicago, subject to the same guarantees of academic freedom that obtain in the university as a whole.

Professor Luedemann’s distinguished work in the study of early Christianity now serves as a test-case for the entrenched and sometimes unnoticed parochialism of the European model, where—in this case–the open criticism of doctrine and theological axioms such as the resurrection of Jesus has been deemed impermissible, precisely in the interest of maintaining parochial identities. One can imagine no other area of serious study in the modern university where such a rule should be permitted to stand, or be used as the basis of a legal judgment. This case throws into bold relief the archaic nature of the marriage between Christian theology and scholarship as it is still protected by law not only in Germany, but in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Switzerland as well.

Rooted in the political compromises of the Reformation, the structure of European theological education should become a matter of concern and a priority for the educational commissions of the European Union. Cases such as Luedemann’s, and earlier Hans Kueng’s at Tuebingen on the Catholic side, suggest that it is feckless to complain about the regressive nature of scholarship in the Arab world when seminal Christian doctrines can prevail over common sense and free inquiry in some of the most distinguished institutions of higher learning in the world.

We congratulate Gerd Luedemann in bearing the torch in this cause–and “fighting the good fight”

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Chair

Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion;

Co-Chair, The Jesus Project


Please blog this article. Word of this travesty must get out to all and everyone.

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An Amusing Graffito

Pompeii and Herculaneum provide some 11,000 inscriptions for scholars to study, most of them bring in Latin (although there are many still which are Oscan, Greek, Etruscan and at times, combinations of these). These inscriptions give a glimpse of what life was like at Pompeii from around 30 BCE to 79 CE shortly before its destruction, so it is easy for modern scholars to appreciate them. But apparently this wasn’t always the case. Unaware of his city’s impending doom and the usefulness of the writing on the wall, one rather interesting fellow lamented the following:

Ad miror te paries non c[e]cidisse qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas.

Translation (given by Rex E. Wallace):

O wall, I am amazed that you have not fallen down since you support the loathsome scribblings of so many writers.

As Wallace aptly puts it in his An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum (2005), “While we can understand the sentiments of the writer, at the same time we are grateful to those who have, by means of their scribblings, provided us with an invaluable means for gaining insight into the affairs and the language of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the first century AD.” (pp. xxiii-xxiv)

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