In die Skriflig (Jun 2020)

The future of theology at public universities

  • Gijsbert van den Brink

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 54, no. 2
pp. e1 – e9


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In the recent past, we have seen a parting of the ways of the theological discipline and public universities in many places throughout Western Europe. In this article, firstly, some backgrounds of this development are briefly explored, taking the situation in the Netherlands as an example. Secondly, it is argued that from a Christian – and especially a Reformed – theological point of view that this development is suboptimal and should be regretted. Thirdly, two lines of argument for retaining a place for theology at public and largely secular contemporary universities are investigated: the first one, which attempts to align theology to the natural sciences, is found wanting; the second one, which situates theology in the realm of the humanities, is argued to be largely convincing. Following this finding, a case study was offered of how a theological faculty or department could be (re)structured in such a way that – without turning it into an allegedly ‘neutral’ religious studies department – it continues to occupy a viable place within contemporary public universities. It is argued that theological faculties might have to open up to a variety of religious perspectives (rather than hosting just one religious tradition) both for epistemic and political reasons. Finally, a brief suggestion was made as to how such a development might be justified from a Reformed theological perspective.