Contact information

Faculty of Protestant Theology
GA 8/53
Ruhr Universität Bochum
Universitätsstraße 150
44801 Bochum

Intercultural Theology

Intercultural theology studies the diverse faces of Christianity, which are caused by its geographic reach and the intercultural and inter-religious negotiation processes and dialogues resulting therefrom.

With a focus on the aspect of the Body, which is unique in Germany, intercultural theology at RUB has positioned itself within the context of one of the major issues of our time: namely the question of the future of the body between transhumanist bio-technological enhancement and the dream of overcoming disease, age, and death on the one hand, and an advocacy of the vulnerability of the body and an opposition of social and cultural standardisation and normalisation on the other hand.

Intercultural theology as a discipline of cultural studies

From the historical point of view, intercultural theology has emerged at the intersection of religious studies, missiology, and global ecumenism. In addition to these research traditions, it has gradually expanded to entail other methodological approaches and fields of research, contributing to discourses on colonialism, anti-colonial liberation movements and post-colonialism, growing globalisation, secularisation and “re-enchantment”, gender debates, migration research, and the cultural and religious pluralisation of Europe.
Transcending the disciplinary borders laid down by administration and science policy, intercultural theology conducts transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research and teaching. With regard to its origins, it is closely related to ethnology, anthropology, non-European philologies, religious studies, and missiology. Today, it also integrates subject matters and discussions from other disciplines, such as philosophy, sociology, literary studies, and medicine, as well as postcolonial and subaltern studies that have evolved in the context of global interconnections and are transverse to those disciplines. Incorporating the insights gained in recent cultural studies (cultural turns), postcolonial and subaltern studies have shifted the focus of intercultural theology to self-critical reflection on the production of knowledge about cultures, on transcultural interconnections, and on the power relations resulting therefrom.

Intercultural theology as a discipline of cultural studies

The integration of the cultural-studies perspective in theology is nothing new. One of the most influential figures crossing the borders between theology and culture was Ernst Troeltsch, in whose opinion the revolutionary upheavals of the modern era gave birth to the necessity of a theological reflexion on those radical cultural changes. Today’s rapid globalisation processes, too, call on theology to once again reflect on society, culture, and politics theological terms; this can be achieved only on the basis of insights gained in other disciplines of cultural studies and collaborations with those disciplines.
My trademark in the field of intercultural theology is an approach drawing on cultural studies. Religions are cultural systems (Clifford Geertz). This means: religions – including Christianity – and cultural attributions, practices, cultural knowledge, and cultural symbols influence each other. Just like European and North-American theologies, contextual theologies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America do not exist in a cultural vacuum; rather, they are fundamentally moulded by the encounters, conflicts, and interactions between “Christian Europe” and other centres of the world. These cultural and religious interactions and intercultural connections constitute a feature of today’s societies, which are characterised by cultural plurality. The approach that draws on cultural science contributes topical cultural and societal questions to specific theological topoi and debates, those including questions of identity and belonging, sense and knowledge, power and violence, and freedom and agency.

Intercultural theology as a theological discipline

Intercultural theology is therefore not merely a descriptive, theology-observing science; rather, it contributes to “theology formation”, i.e. it has the responsibility to provide orientation and assume a critical, normative role, and is thus an independent theological discipline with a wealth of functions for theology as a whole. By studying both the synchronous and the diachronous diversity of the Christianities and the intercultural transformation processes that have been conducive to that diversity, it builds bridges for the understanding and hermeneutics of the Other. Moreover, it contributes fundamentally to the discussion of crucial theological and epistemological questions of the relationship between the universality and the particularity of God’s truth.
By raising awareness of interculturalism as an essential feature of both Christianity and theology, intercultural theology stands out as a critical theological science that repeatedly questions the claim of universality, which prevails in Western theologies, and points out their limitations. The “inter” has an upsetting, possibly even offensive ring to it; in any case, it is critical and productive. Moreover, it raises the question if theologies from the so-called global south can be at all adopted and considered relevant in countries in the global north.
As far as education is concerned, the discipline of intercultural theology in Bochum wishes to support the reflexion of Christian, religious, and cultural plurality outside and inside Europe and theological discrimination with regard to intercultural and interreligious questions.

Intercultural theology at RUB – main areas of research

In addition to its strong emphasis on physicality, which underpins all areas of research, intercultural theology at RUB focuses on Africa and Latin America, contextual theologies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, postcolonial and gender theologies, including socio-ethical questions resulting therefrom, migration theologies, development and growth of Pentecostal churches, especially in African countries, the correlation of globalisation, migration, and religion, intercultural congregations in North Rhine-Westphalia, the interconnection of religion, politics, and fundamentalism, development policy and religion, churches in transformation processes (South Africa and Rwanda), including the evolution of public theologies, theologies of religions, and dialogue between religions.
In addition to “traditional” formats such as lectures and seminars, forms of research-based learning using qualitative interview techniques and content analyses are practised. Seminars in the English language promote English communication skills.

The Body

By integrating physicality in its curriculum, intercultural theology in Bochum has introduced a subject that reflects up-to-date research in cultural studies and tackles current social challenges. Topical questions such as that of transhumanist body enhancements or the societal standardisation of physicality, body knowledge, and body practice, as well as the origins and development of numerous body-related (religious) rituals are incorporated in the context of a cultural and transcultural change. Ethical considerations are vital requirements, as are extended knowledge of other cultural systems and values, as well as competencies in the attitude towards “the Other”.
“Physicality” is a fundamental dimension of culture. Since the 1980s, the body has been more and more often addressed in debates in the fields of cultural studies and humanities – not least introduced via debates on gender and body that question “traditional” body concepts. At the same time, progress in natural sciences and medicine technology has raised new ethical questions with regard to the body. Anthropological perspectives on physical appearance and body image are at the heart of many social debates (marriage equality, questions of the beginning and the end of life, new racism discourses triggered by the recent migration movements, the question of physical education at school for Muslim girls etc.). Following current social developments, body-related political anthropologies and philosophies, such as that of “bare life”, have emerged as fundament of solidarity and orthopathy (e.g. Agamben, Nancy, Eagleton).
The broad interdisciplinary context at Ruhr-Universität provides the ideal stepping stone for the research into physicality, seeing as such research requires and interdisciplinary approach and, ideally, international collaborations in order to yield meaningful results.
Within the field of Protestant theology at Ruhr-Universität, the research into the body has a long tradition, which is reflected in, for example, biblical anthropology and ritual studies, research into vulnerability and life enhancement, and in research into aspects of ecclesiastical history, e.g. asceticism, as well as in gender and queer studies.
Within the field of intercultural theology, research into body discourses has been implicit rather than systematic to date. Such discourses have nevertheless had been permanently present in historical and missiological studies, as well as in analyses of contemporary transcultural and trans-religious phenomena. However, a transcultural history of the body in general as well as a transcultural-religious history of the body in particular have, as yet, remained a research desideratum.
In this respect, the current situation of religious and cultural plurality in Germany and Europe constitutes an important research field. It poses new challenges to the subject matter of ‘physicality’ and links it to other discourses and questions: intercultural care and pastoral care, forms of life that are subject to diverse cultural and religious influences, artistic performances that centre around “the other” body are only a few of the phenomena that illustrate the extent to which body practices are determined by religion and culture, while defining belonging and identity. This intercultural perspective sets out to contribute to an understanding of the diversity of cultural body concepts and body practice as well as to a peaceful and constructive co-existence in a pluralistic society.