WCC calls to strengthen Christian theology in higher education
The role and relevance of Christian theological studies in public and private universities, as well as seminaries was at the forefront of a recent three-day consultation in Granavollen, Norway.
Some 45 representatives of theological schools and associations from around the world attended.
The consultation was convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) programme on Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE), the Churches in Dialogue Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CiD) as well as the MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo.
The conference, which was held from June 6 to 8, brought together high-level experts on theology and higher education from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches.
Its hosting in the unique Norwegian pilgrimage centre of Granavollen provided a forum to continue the so-called Graz process of theological faculties in Eastern and Western Europe, which at a conference in 2010 explicitly identified the “urgent need to make the case for the importance of theology in the context of universities in Europe.”
In his keynote speech, the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said, “Christian theology has much to contribute for the future of European university systems. Christian theology has a public responsibility and needs to remain visible in the landscapes of higher education in the future.”
Tveit went on to say that while the “religious factor is on the increase globally and in many regions of the global South, universities in the European context cannot risk to marginalise or downplay the role which Christian theology has played in cooperation with religious studies – for looking into issues which are of fundamental importance for our societies.”
Case-studies on the relevance, status and role of theology in higher education institutions were presented. Participants affirmed that Christian theology, being part of the European cultural heritage, should continue a visible presence in both research and education in public universities and higher education.
Discussions at the conference reflected on the growing significance of other religious traditions in Europe (such as Islam and Judaism) and their relevance for theology. The status of theology in public universities, understood as a critical reflection of a living religion in an academic setting, would certainly apply also to other religious traditions.
The presence of scholars from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States was an indication that, despite different social, religious and political contexts, claiming a public space for theology and critical religious research in higher education institutions is not just a European issue but also a current challenge for the global South.
It was stressed that it is also in the global South, that despite enormous growth of Christianity, the relevance of theology, theological research and reflection in public universities and higher education institutions seems to have weakened.
The conference report also noted that the interaction between theological research, ecumenism and various academic disciplines in higher education will be an imperative for the future of the ecumenical movement.
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