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 FAITH, TRUTH, AND FREEDOM

PREFACE (FAITH, TRUTH, AND FREEDOM)

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This documentary record means to facilitate public debate of a signal, significant event in the academic study of religion in the universities of the West. That event is the expulsion of Professor Gerd Lüdemann from the Theology Faculty at the University of Göttingen by reason of the content of his academic writing and lecturing on the history and theology of earliest Christianity. He was expelled from his post as professor of New Testament and assigned a professorship of the history and literature of Early Christianity thereby losing all his academic rights and being forced into a ghetto existence within the theological faculty. The expulsion of a professor from his academic post because of the public consequence of his scholarship for an academic and also a religious body raises a variety of issues for the academy and for the Church as well as for public policy. What is at issue is the academic study of religion and theology, specifically, the possibility of an authentically academic theological enterprise: can religion be studied by the rules of the academy?

We begin with the parochial and move outward. The particular local issues that concern German university faculties' power to certify, in behalf of Church bodies, the teachers for the study of religion in state schools precipitate the crisis in the life of the German Protestant theological faculties embodied in the Lüdemann case. The institutional arrangements among Church, University, State, and Theological faculty are particular to their setting. In this regard, overseas commentary on a local academic, state, and church culture and arrangement is not invited or even comprehending. American and British faculties afford no warmer a welcome to outside comment and criticism than do German ones. Questions of fact intervene as well, as the account of what was said and done on specific occasions shows. The laws, the contracts, the powers assigned to one body by another - these, however, have no counterpart in the USA, Canada, and Britain. Readers of the symposium and complementary papers will see the diversity of opinion, the different ways altogether in which to begin with observers and participants have framed the question of Professor Lüdemann's fate in particular.

But the event vastly transcends the career of one professor of theology and the institutional arrangements peculiar to his own country and Church therein. Its implications pertain not only to a German university but to the place of the academic study of religion and theology in the Western academy. Issues of law, Church-state relations, academic freedom to study and teach and disseminate the results of both - these intertwine. In theory, most participants in the academic study of religion concur that scholarship on religion and theology under academic auspices adheres to those same rules of reason and criticism that govern all University subjects. And the first of these is, a predetermined conclusion is illegitimate; scholarship of an academic character takes its leave from (mere) erudition when it entertains every possibility and its opposite. Scholarship does its work when, the facts having been accurately portrayed, the labor of analysis and interpretation succeeds the activity of description. Mere repetition of information scarcely initiates the enterprise. The foundations of Western civilization rest on the bed-rock of criticism and analysis, the philosophy embodied in all the pure and applied sciences from the beginnings in Greece to the present. So much for the theory of things.

But in the USA and Britain, as much as in Germany, the unfettered pursuit of critical learning wherever it leads finds itself compromised by the politics of academic fields as much as by the culture and established convictions of those that pursue or sponsor those fields, that enterprise. Everyone understands the conflict of power and preferment that shapes academic careers and the consequent shape of knowledge imparted by those careers. But an academic field shaped by its public responsibility, governed by established convictions not subject to criticism and analysis, produces predetermined conclusions, a program of research meant to validate established attitudes and convictions, not to test possibilities of truth. In that context, the Lüdemann affair contains implications that are scarcely adumbrated by framing the matter juridically and institutionally. At stake for the academic study of religion not only in German but in all Western universities is the intellectual integrity of the subject. That means: are there positions that cannot be entertained, propositions that cannot be open-mindedly investigated, by reason of the protected content and institutionally privileged, standing of said positions and propositions.

I hasten to add, not all participants in the symposium and other documents assembled here define what is at stake in terms of academic freedom to learn and to teach truth whatever the consequences for faith. No party to the discussion claims that the Theology Faculty of Göttingen University acted wantonly, beyond all reason, whether intellectual or institutional. The Church participants in the decision and discussion thereof invoke established, arrangements, legitimate, possibly even in the Protestant Churches and Faculties, and the State of Lower Saxony through its Ministry of Culture has sustained the decision of the President of the University of Göttingen made after consultation with faculty of theology. Nor did the Philosophy Faculty come to Professor Lüdemann's side when that body rejected the proposition of finding a place for him in its program. There are, indeed, many readings of what has happened and its implications for public policy, and there are many parties to the dispute, both within Germany and beyond, and beyond Germany, both in the discipline of the academic study of religion and in the theological disciplines of theological seminaries affiliated with universities and free-standing and church-related.

One fact, and one fact alone, is established in this symposium and accompanying documentary record. The expulsion of Professor Lüdemann by the Theological Faculty at Göttingen University represents an international crisis for the academic study of religion and theology under academic auspices. However matters are resolved, the case transcends the persons involved in it. That is why the participants in this book chose to join in the discussion and debate, and that is why the editor hopes readers will pursue the discussion beyond the pages of this book.

Here, I reproduce and also substantially augment the symposium devoted to Professor Lüdemann's case that was published in the April, 2002, issue of the journal Religion, edited by Robert Segal, University of Lancaster.

In organizing the Religion symposium and this book as well, I wanted to make provision for a variety of viewpoints and analysis. In preparation, to elicit as wide a range of opinion as I could assemble, I invited the participation of every professor of Theology at the University of Göttingen. Alas, none responded but the dean. I also wrote to the deans of every German university Protestant Theology Faculty, as well as the deans of many other Central European Theology faculties from Scandinavia to Switzerland; every bishop of the Lutheran Church in the State of Lower Saxony, and many important figures in German theological study, as well as public intellectuals in Germany and in the English-speaking world of the academic study of religion under university auspices. The outcome was the same. Most Americans and British whom I invited did reply, and the vast majority participated in the project. Most of the Germans whom I invited did not bother to reply at all, not the bishops, not the professors, not the deans, except those who participate.

That fact makes me wonder whether the German theological faculties grasp the importance and complexity of the issues inherent in the disposition of Professor Lüdemann's career by his colleagues in Göttingen. The publication of the symposium in Religion and this book make it impossible to continue to pretend that in Göttingen in the recent past nothing of consequence for the academic study of religion and theology - nothing that those responsible feel an obligation to explain and justify. In this regard I was glad to include Dean Kratz's response, together with Professor Lüdemann's reply to him.

Newspaper coverage, by contrast, has recognized the matter as consequential. I reproduce only a bit of the more important newspaper comment mainly from Germany but also from the USA, where Lüdemann has taught at Vanderbilt University, as well as other writings devoted to the event.

I owe the title of this book to Professor William Scott Green, University of Rochester.

I thank cordially Academic Press, London, for permission to reprint the symposium originally published by Religion. My thanks go also to the colleagues who permitted me to reproduce their writings, as well as to the German periodicals that did the same. The original sources are indicated where they are reproduced, and all are reprinted with permission of the copyright holder and author. All parties to the debate have cooperated to secure this public hearing for the several positions and readings of what is at stake. That is a credit to everyone represented in these pages.

In addition to this symposium and documentary record, I have arranged for the Global Press publication in English of Professor Lüdemann's systematic statement of the matter and the issues that inhere as he sees them. This is Im Würgegriff der Kirche. Für die Freiheit der theologischen Wissenschaft. Lüneburg 1998: Klampen-Verlag.

In bringing into print the Religion Symposium and the two Global Publications volumes I hope to underscore the importance of what has happened as well as to facilitate debate on issues of public policy that are intertwined in the response of the Göttingen Theology Faculty to the issues raised by Professor Lüdemann's scholarly writings about earliest Christianity and its history other fundamental issues of culture, religion, and theology. These concern the academic study of religion and theology, the relationship of Church and University, and religious faith and academic freedom: Lehrfreiheit and Lernfreiheit, the foundations of intellectual integrity in the academy.

JACOB NEUSNER

RESEARCH PROFESSOR OF RELIGION AND THEOLOGY
BARD COLLEGE
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON NY 12572
NEUSNER@WEBJOGGER.NET

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Last updated on May 10, 2017
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