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.

29 Responses

  1. […] am reposting a link here to Thomas Verenna’s Blog, just up this morning, regarding the late breaking news of the decision of the Supreme Court of […]

  2. […] am reposting a link here to Thomas Verenna’s Blog, just up this morning, regarding the late breaking news of the decision of the Supreme Court of […]

  3. It is a sad day when the inquiry into truth can be subjected to anothers theology.

  4. Ignorance is still the bane of mankind. The various religions are the greatest perpetrators of it as since time immemorial they have opposed any science or questioning of their doctrines. One should think that in this day and age they would welcome the chance to rejuvenate and bring their faith out of the middle ages and into the 20’s century.

  5. I would not expect to receive a lecture on creationism in a Biology class either. Gerd Luedemann is a Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity. He has no business teaching or lecturing on religion under the guise of scientific inquiry.

  6. You do understand what Theology is, correct?

  7. Shocking, shocking, shocking. As if the creationism/ID v. evolution battles in America aren’t enough; now we have the censure of academic freedom based on religious dogma. For shame, Germany. What happened the last time Germany opted to follow a singular dogma, the Nazi dogma? Is history repeating itself? This may be the first step on a slippery slope to church-defined truth. The German Inquisition is upon us!

  8. Theology is the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity. Teaching a particular religion belongs in the churches, temples and synagogues. This is clearly an attempt to push christianity. Nothing is censured, only the ground rules for teaching are being applied. Again I wouldn’t expect a lecture on quantum physics to come from the pulpit. What’s shocking is the inability for some people to accept that there is a place for everything. All freedoms have limits. I am free to do any number of things in private that I wouldn’t dream of doing in public. Perhaps some believe in absolute freedom but I would guess only if it applies to religion.

  9. Mr. Prophet;
    This ruling helps to prevent the very thing you are concerned about. The inappropriate attempt to get people to follow one dogma. Christians are fine with church defined truth as long as that one dogma is christianity.

  10. I guess I’m uncertain of what position you’re taking. I agree with you that the Supreme Court is ruling in favor of religion. What is uncertain (from your previous post–perhaps I am misunderstanding something) is why you think Gerd, a secular scholar who denies the historicity of the resurrection (with good reason), should not be allowed to teach Theology? Theology is not just about the study and analysis of divine things and religious truths–it is also the study of ancient understandings of divine things and religious truths. Theology is not apologetics. The two are not synonymous. While there are apologists who have degrees in Theology, it should never be suggested that theology is a religious program. It may be thought of as one, particularly because so many apologists with theological degrees have loud voices, but it isn’t just that. Bultmann, for example, taught Theology–he also wrote a book called Neues Testament und Mythologie, which dealt with the “demythologizing” the New Testament. So I don’t understand why you feel that a credible, secular scholar should not be allowed to teach Theology at a so-called “enlightened” University? Could you clarify your perspective for me?

  11. The Court decided that the confessional teaching of theology is a unique responsibility of the Theology Faculty. Gerd is a Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity. I would have no problem signing up for a course that would teach me all I wanted to know about the new testament and so should others have that academic freedom. Just not in any class is all I’m saying. The court has it right.

  12. Actually, Gerd was a Professor of Theology at Goettingen. While he is a Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity now, he was (and still is) a part of the Theological Faculty (it says so right on his website).

  13. This is a direct quote from the article above.”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”.
    He petitioned to teach on the Faculty of Theology.

  14. After all of my opinionating I re-read the article more closely and now see why I have confused you (Tom) as well as myself. Do I have it right that Gerd was refused the teaching position on the Theology Faculty because of the concern that his interpratation of the New Testament may differ with church teachings? If so then I confess to making the wrong argument and would agree that the ruling is unacceptable.

  15. Thanks Tom. Gerd’s web page has enlightened me. I apologise for debating a point that wasn’t even the cruxt of the matter.

  16. Kevin,

    Don’t worry about it. These things happen. I had figured we were talking past each other.

  17. Personally, not too bothered about the theory or it’s conflict with religion. Freedom both ways is the point. Providing it is expressed as an alternate theory to existing interperatation, OK. If it is tought as a belief it may be seen as the foundation of yet another dogma, not OK. It may be that Gert has been gagged out of fear by the nod and a wink people
    who rule by fear? The Christ was not the first, and
    Galileo was certainly not the last. Money, power? The Scriptures are altered to suit the purpose of religions, and even if God met with all the worlds leaders and told them how it realy is, I am sure they would each one say “well He really meant we are right”

  18. Once again the body politic of The Church steps in to
    further obscure understanding which might diminish their power over the minds and money of millions.

  19. […] Originally Posted By Tom Verenna. […]

  20. To be fair, I think that it’s a little over the top to say that the decision has limited theological inquiry. He lost that chair some time ago and it hasn’t stopped his research. He still has access to all of the university resources that he needs to pursue his ideas, and he’s not being prevented from publication. I think that the blog title is somewhat misleading.

  21. I don’t know Gerd, but I do know what exposing truth means and what responds follow it. A year ago things were extremely heated in the symposium held by Princeton in Jerusalem, regarding the Talpiot Tomb. Other faces, but the same manners and attitude. I just wish to remind all the “truth keepers and defenders”: almost 2000 years ago, bad people persecuted a tiny minority, in “the name of truth”. the results were tremendous: a new, world embracing religion. So sad is the fact the the hunted became the hunters. So sad that none of the “truth defenders” understands that real truth has its own power, which is not depended on people, whether or not they agree with each other.
    Gerd will win, because truth will. And the Talpiot Tomb might support his arguments. Keep up the good work, Gerd! And carry on, Tom!

  22. Nialler,

    The fact of the matter is every claim deserves to be held to the same standard of investigation. Gerd’s arguments are being blacklisted–the students who pay for a good university education are being robbed of their right to hear what he has to say and weigh it against other claims equally. While he may have been given another position, that does not excuse his removal. He has a right (and students–atheist, Jew, Muslim, not just Christian–pay for that right) to teach in a field he is qualified to teach in–which happens to be Theology. To remove him from his position because of his atheism is censorship.

    There is another issue; without academic freedom, theology cannot function as a scientific discipline within the university. The only way it can is to allow for dissenting perspectives. If the church decrees that these perspectives are blasphemous, that is their right (and their prerogative). However, for a university to do so (in so many words) is appalling–likewise for the German courts. So in my humble opinion, the title is appropriate.

    Thank you for your thoughts,


  23. to Nialler, are you sure that we all have free access to info sources, no limits at all? If so, how can you explain the FACT that the experts and professionals who initially studied the Talpiot Tomb can not point at the spot where the bones were reburied? Or how come there is no bones report in this case, which is a regular duty in excavations? The access is free, right. But there is nothing to access! Or the fact that some of those experts and professionals physically attacked others who do not agree with them (I’m an eye witness!)? Sadly enough, we are not talking about the dark ages; modern time seems much darker!

  24. Eldad,

    Thanks for your comment. In fairness to Nialler, I believe you just ad hoc‘d him. I do not think that was what he was saying. Nialler is right that Gerd was given another position at the University and is still able to teach New Testament and he still has access to the resources of the University. However, he is not right about the limits placed on the study of theology in Germany right now. To give you an analogy of where I’m coming from, this would be like United States Supreme Court ruling that earth sciences can no longer teach evolution, because traditionally, earth science taught that the world was created in 6 days according to the Bible. In essence, the court has ruled the religious traditional teachings of Gottingen’s theology department is more important than the student’s and teacher’s rights.

    Worse, Germany’s Theology department is given money from the German government which comes from tax dollars; tax dollars supplemented by a very large Muslim minority–not to mention the Jews and atheists and other types of Christians living in Germany or who attend those universities from abroad. How is this fair to them when the German courts have ruled that, in using their money, they will keep with the dogmatic traditional confessional theology of the Lutheran Church?

  25. The college is, so far as I know, broadly Lutheran in emphasis (despite its strong Enlightenment associations). Regarding funding, i feel that that is irrelevant as the funding from thoser sources reflects that fact that students of all religions or none are free to enroll.

    The analogy you used about a US court determining what Earth Sciences can or can not be thought can cut both ways: imagine if a US court decreed that a YEV must be allowed to take a Chair in a Department of Biology on the basis that he had all of the credentials required.

    I’m not saying that the Dr is in theology terms a YEC, but this much is true: he holds in some respects views on Theology which would not go down well with some of the staff in the department, with many of the students in the department, and with the management of the University. His views run counter to almost all christian theology. It appears that the University has done the logical thing by giving him a chair which allows him to pursue his research and pass it on to his students while avoiding the difficulties involved in holding the Theology chair. A political and financial decision, in other words.

    The court merely upheld the University’s right to make that determination.

    Whatever. The ins and outs are clearly not straighforward, and I can see the other side of the coin fairly clearly as well.

    Eitherway, that still dosn’t demonstrate that he has been prevented from theological inquiry.

  26. Nialler and Tom- if my former post seemed too personal, I’m sorry. But essentially, I never meant to be personal. What I tried to do is to show that some academic figures and institutes still think that limiting free study and free info might be acceptable in our time. The disaster is that they are right. I never knew that Gerd argued that the resurrection is not historic. I wish I knew it before I got myself deep in the Talpiot Tomb controversy, on the side of the “yes, it probably is Jesus’ eternal burial site”. I understand the emotional and religious opposition; i really do. But all these have nothing to do with real, objective, cautious study and research. My opinions are open for criticism, refuting, and every other expression of opposition. Provided that all are well informed. I believe Gerd would say the same.

  27. Tom,
    Referring to Gerd as an atheist (I do not know his personal views) is perhaps inaccurate. He could very well hold views that are not in line with any particular religion and still believe in God.

  28. […] This isn’t totally new, either. Back in the 1970s, Thomas Thompson was hounded for arguing that the patriarchs of the Old Testament were not historical, and he could not get a job anywhere (he had to become a house painter for some time). This is a point made by Philip Davies, noting the striking parallels between now and how Thompson’s beliefs were treated (and how it seems to be repeated at Thompson concerning Jesus!). Go back further to 19th century Germany, and you had skeptical biblical scholars like David Strauss losing his professorship; Bruno Bauer, an early mythicist, was also kicked out of his profession. Return to modern Germany, and Gerd Luedemann loses his post for not believing in Jesus. […]

This blog is no longer in use; NO comments will post.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: