Reflecting on good life
Which sources do we use to define what good (and bad) life is? How do people implement those sources? What makes a source or an activity that furthers good life in times of crisis ‘religious’? What does a Christian understanding and how do Christian practices contribute to good life? How do competing views and practices of good life relate and interact? Can various ways of looking at what good is and how it is obtained, exist side by side? Can we learn from takes on good life that differ from ours? And, importantly, is good life in times of crisis for one compatible with good life for another? Can good life for humans also be good for animals and nature – and the other way around? Theologians and religious scholars came to reflect on these questions with us.Watch keynotes
Good life is about meaning
Good life is often connected to living a meaningful life: a life worth living, that contributes to flourishing. It can be applied in many other contexts, as well: when coping with crises, vulnerability, fragility, hardships and suffering or in context of care and ageing, communities that deal with disaster and in response to ecological challenges.
Good life from a religious perspective
Viewed from a religious perspective, good life typically relates to a transcendent and ultimate reality. It is, for example, characterised by being created in the image of God, by a covenant, good deeds, salvation, reconciliation, liberation, grace, discipleship, love, service, responsibility, compassion, community and, what has been called, eschatological imagination.Christian theologians may refer to divine presence and intervention, to God, revelation in the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, cultural and religious experience. Other religions may call upon different sources. Religious studies scholars don’t necessarily identify with the various religious phenomena and sources they study. This may, in fact, also be the case with theologians when they refer to sources, beliefs and practices from the past. Those were once authoritative and inspiring, but are now challenged by new developments. This hermeneutical challenge also holds for developing views on what is good life in religious perspective in times of crisis.
Renegotiating visions of a good life
Visions of good life need to be negotiated time and again, within a person, within a religion, and between persons, religions, and different contexts and situations. They may coincide or collide with other forces and ideals: political, economic, national, ecological, religious, cultural and many more. This is not only a phenomenon of our time. Throughout history and across the globe, cultural and religious traditions have interacted and often clashed, triggered by processes of globalisation, human mobility, and economic disparity. Aspects of religions that were long taken for granted are challenged by religious diversity, sexual diversity, awareness of gender, racism and ecology.
Shifting visions on good life during a crisis
In times of crisis, religious identities react and shift. For example, the ecological crisis fundamentally calls into question the anthropocentric worldview of Western Christianity. The current racial struggles challenge the way we read and interpret our religious sources. Health crises involve negotiating moral views on life and death. All these factors challenge existing views of what is good.
Globalisation and good life
Globalisation is an ambivalent process, from many perspectives, including a religious one. On the one hand, a global world triggers world-wide solidarity by religious communities. A multi-cultural and (digital) network society bears the possibility for mutual enrichment of religions. It enables inter-religious dialogue. On the other hand, unchained globalisation may cause wars, excessive migration, poverty, and global natural, economic and health crises, which also bear local and personal effects. In today’s world, the individual, local, regional, national and global levels are inextricably connected. In turn, such crises may bring out the good in people. They learn to appreciate their local communities and environment and display solidarity and care for each other. They take a break from the rat race and may even decide to change their lifestyle drastically.
Religious sources for negotiating good life in times of crisis
History has known other periods with extensive globalisation, such as the periods of Persian, Greek and Roman dominion. The Mediterranean world in this period is the cradle of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the classical rabbinic literature, and the Koran were consolidated or written in this period. These sources bear witness to similar crises and responses to crises in different periods. Yet many of them are considered authoritative or inspiring to the present day. Throughout history, theological reflections on, additions to, and interpretations of these sources have been produced continuously, and they do until the present day. These reflections and interpretations, including those of people from the margins, have led to new practices and rituals. Asian religions such as Buddhism are currently gaining followers far away from their places of origin. Together with new religious forms, they offer sources for, and ways of dealing with good life and crisis.
Our programme was as follows.
You can watch all keynote lectures via our YouTube channel: pthu.nl/keynote.
- Dr. Aruna GnanadasonFormer director of the programme on Women in Church and Society of the World Council of Churches
- Dr. Cynthia RigbyW. C. Brown Professor of Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
- Dr. Allan BoesakCleric, politician, and anti-apartheid activist from South-Africa
- Rabbi Awraham SoetendorpReform rabbi, spiritual leader and peacemaker
Aruna Gnanadason: 'Negotiating good life in times of crisis'
Dr. Aruna Gnanadason is Former director of the programme on Women in Church and Society of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, and coordinator of Justice, Peace and Creation 1991-2009. Since returning to Chennai, India, she has been active in the Indian Christian Women’s Movement. Latest book With Courage and Compassion, Women and the Ecumenical Movement (2020).
"I decided to keep the theme of this conference as the title of my presentation because it is so inspirational. Amid tremendous suffering and death that the COVID pandemic has wreaked on the world, and particularly on India which (according to WHO reports) has the second-largest numbers of COVID related deaths in the world. Our conversations have focussed on the challenge to Christians to respond to the context: to find theological answers to the suffering as well as to deal with the impact of the virus in our societies and the world. It has exposed many forms of discrimination and even divides in our society – class, gender, religion, and caste have all been exposed to be at the heart of the injustices that plague our world. It revealed the ineptitude of our government to deal with the impact of the virus, and the brazen disregard of all democratic institutions and the rights of particularly the most vulnerable. Every day exposed a new challenge in the bid to negotiate life itself. I realised we had missed an important dimension which the theme of this conference beckons us to explore. We cannot be content to rebuild what we had in pre-COVID times and pretend that it is okay to go back to that.
We have to negotiate a good life! This keynote will explore some of the qualities of a ‘good life’ and some steps to get there."
Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp: 'To amplify the "whisper of truth". Towards a council of conscience'
Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp is reform rabbi, spiritual leader and peacemaker. President of the European section of the World Union of Progressive Judaism and Vice President of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders. In honor of his father, he founded the Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values that aims at building bridges between religions, cultures and generations.
"A quiet revolution for the benefit of humanity and the whole community of life has taken place as representatives of different spiritual traditions have come to realise that we desperately need each other to reach the common goal of justice and peace. Nevertheless the growing interfaith and interdenominational movement has not yet reached its full potential, falling short of providing the much-needed moral compass in our time of crisis.
Thirty years ago, at the conclusion of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, politicians urged religious leaders to help them take measures that in the short term seem to go against national self-interest, but that in the long run are indispensable to safeguard creation.
As 'contemporaries of G-d' in sacred time, we must and can harness the indomitable spirit, in 'our mouth and our heart' to buttress life-saving cooperation."
Cynthia L. Rigby: 'Bone of bone, flesh of flesh: belongingness and the good life'
Dr. Cynthia Rigby is the W. C. Brown Professor of Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is a sought-after speaker who is known for making the “so what?” of Christian doctrine clear and accessible. Latest book Holding Faith: A Practical Introduction to Christian Faith (2018). One of the leading voices of public theology in the USA.
"Recently, Yale psychologist Laurie Santos commented that people in the US are likely to be happier if they belong to a church, not because of the beliefs the church espouses, but because it provides active social connections. Meanwhile, Willie Jennings argues that the goal of theological education must be ‘to form in us the art of cultivating belonging’. But how might we do this, and what might be the hazards? When does ‘belonging’ help us live good lives and when does it risk subordinating one to another, at the expense of freedom and creativity? I will use as scaffolding for my constructive effort the creation myth of Genesis and themes of re-creation in 1 Corinthians 15, arguing that a sense of belongingness funds the good life when it:
- is founded in wonder at the glory of others with whom we are in relationship, so different from us and yet of the same stuff, and when it
- listens to the unfamiliar stories of others with no sympathetic murmur of 'I can’t imagine'.
Instead, it dares bodaciously and empathetically to say: 'I will listen until I can imagine', what particular lives and experiences are like, striving to create possibilities for everyone."
Allan Aubrey Boesak: 'Belhar at forty: between the politics of manufactured contentment and the hope of life abundant'
Dr. Allan Boesak is cleric, politician, and anti-apartheid activist from South-Africa. Doctorate of the Theological University in Kampen 1976. President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches 1982-1991. Award winning author of 22 books. Latest book Children of the Waters of Meribah: Black Liberation Theology, the Miriamic Tradition, and the Challenges of 21st Century Empire (2019).
"The Confession of Belhar was first drafted, debated and adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1982. After making the required rounds in presbyteries and congregations, it was formally accepted and the fourth standard of faith at the synod of 1986. For the purposes of this paper, I will take 1982 as the year of conception for Belhar. Here, I will read Belhar as an expression of faith in the hope for the good life amidst calamities and crises. First, the question: what has happened between 1982 and 1986? How did the confession survive those turbulent years? Was there any sign of ‘the good life’ Belhar proclaims as the hope of the church and humanity in those times of chaos and calamity? Now, forty years later, this contribution is asking the question: what does Belhar mean after forty years? Are the burning questions of faith and life, of ethics and action, of love, solidarity and reconciliation still relevant now?
Do the ‘pillars’ of Belhar – the lordship of Jesus Christ, reconciliation, justice, and unity, matter in South Africa, and the world today? Do they make any difference when it seems that every tenet of Belhar is under severe strain if not open attack? How would Belhar answer the question of ‘the good life’ in a world fallen among thieves (John 10), a ‘scandalous world’ (Accra Confession)? Can Belhar claim relevance for humanity struggling to make sense of faith in a world ‘shaken by deadly convulsions’ (Gollwitzer)? The forces of imperial power people are enjoined in struggle with today, are forces of violence and destruction. Our world is governed by systems of violence, injustice, and systems of concealment of violence and injustice.
While Christians are called, as Bonhoeffer put it, to not live ‘with our heads in the clouds’, to not be content with an unjust world, to prove that our faith is not opium, but that our protest is to be ‘stubborn’ and ‘purposeful’, our struggle is against what I have come to call ‘the politics of manufactured contentment’. So how do we struggle for ‘the good life’ against these formidable forces? For some answers, I will turn to the Belhar Confession."
Following the keynote by Allan Boesak, PThU associate professor Erica Meijers will provide a response.
Panel 1: Coping with crisis and the negotiation of identity in Jewish antiquity
Tuesday 5 April, 9 AM CET
- Dr. Margaretha Folmer, Associate Professor, VU Faculty of Religion and Theology / Leiden University: Crisis and resilience in a fifth century BCE Judean community in Egypt.
It is the year 407 BCE. A tiny community of Judeans in the southernmost part of Egypt is in despair. Their temple has been destroyed and their lives are in ruins. Their only hope is to get permission from the political and religious authorities in Palestine to rebuild their temple. This incident is well documented in a late fifth century Aramaic correspondence from Elephantine. In this paper the documents pertaining to these events will be discussed.
- Drs. Benjamin Bogerd, Junior Researcher/PhD candidate, Protestant Theological University: From Tears to Laughter: Strategic Assimilation as a Code for Survival in the Book of Esther.
The book of Esther can be read as a story in which the possibility of good life for the Jews in the Persian Diaspora is outlined. As opposed to Daniel, Esther hides her Jewish name, almost forgets her Jewish heritage and becomes a Persian. She does not observe the Jewish food regulations and God is hidden or absent in the story. In the face of the threat of the extermination of her people by Haman, she wields her double identity. First, in fasting with her people, she becomes Jewish again. Subsequently, Esther shifts into a Persian woman, both in how she dresses and in arranging banquets for her guests. This strategic assimilation turns the tables, and turns tears into laughter. The Jews live, while Haman and his descendants perish. This paper discusses the use of Esther's double identity in the book of Esther.
- Dr. Barry Hartog, Assistant Professor, Protestant Theological University, and dr. Eelco Glas, Postdoc Fellow, Protestant Theological University: Gaius Caligula’s Attempt to Erect a Statue in Jerusalem (39/40 CE) in First-Century Jewish Historiography: Perspectives from Trauma Literature.
In 39/40 CE the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula ordered that a statue of himself be erected in the Temple of Jerusalem. According to the available sources, this decision caused great uproar among Jews. Although the crisis was quelled prematurely, it sparked the imagination of several Jewish writers shortly after the events. Philo of Alexandria, who resided in Rome at the time of crisis, gives a detailed description of Gaius’ project in The Embassy of Gaius (199–338). One generation later, the historian Flavius Josephus devotes space to the events in The Jewish War (2.184–203) and in The Jewish Antiquities (18.261–309). Each of the available accounts gives different information about the chronology of the events and the motivations of the actors involved. Whereas previous scholarship has mined these texts to reconstruct the historical events underlying them, this contribution investigates the literary representation of the crisis in 39/40 CE. Informed by the theoretical lens of trauma literature, we aim to explain the differences between the available accounts in consideration of the literary goals of each work.
- Dr. Albertina Oegema, Postdoc Fellow, Protestant Theological University: Taking Care of One’s Aging Father: Crisis in the Household in Early Rabbinic Parables.
The present paper will explore the crisis of old age in rabbinic parables. Rabbinic halakhah obliges a son, as part of the commandment of filial honor, to take care of his aging father, such as by giving him to eat and to drink. Although the subordinate character of these tasks suggests that the power difference between father and son is maintained, in practice the dependence of the father, despite his authority as a household head, on his son must have resulted in tensions. How will these tensions have impacted the position of the father and the functioning of his household? And how is the good life in such situations is envisioned? The present paper will address these questions on the basis of two early rabbinic parables (third/fourth century). In the first parable, all sons are eager to take their father in their house, while in the second the father is abandoned by all but his youngest son to take care of him. The paper will explain the crises in both parables from the perspective of paternal authority, filial agency, and the performance of masculinity. Implicit views on the good life are shown to interrelate with the parables’ applications.
- Dr. Margaretha Folmer, Associate Professor, VU Faculty of Religion and Theology / Leiden University: Crisis and resilience in a fifth century BCE Judean community in Egypt.
Panel 2. Contextuality and the Crisis of Biblical Studies: Designing Collaborative Methods That Make Biblical Texts Relevant
Tuesday 5 April, 11 AM - 12.30 PM
In recent decades, the field of biblical studies has seen an increasing amount of studies that take the contextual embeddedness of the researcher into account and often also include a specific reading community into the interpretation of biblical texts. Approaches like contextual, gender and postcolonial biblical studies, childist criticism, autobiographical reading and bibliodrama have in common that they take the hermeneutical insight into the reader’s contribution to the meaning making process to be asset, not an obstacle to scholarly interpretation. While they were and sometimes still are being looked at with suspicion by main stream exegesis, those practices of interpretation are well known for their transformative power and their potential to renew the scholarly field. In this panel we want to reflect on methods that integrate the view of nonprofessional recipients into the research design. The overarching question is: how can collaborative research methods assist to generate meaning that is helpful in dealing with personal, local and global problems for the individual, the religious community and society?
Panel 3. Ecological Awareness Arising from Encountering the Bible
Wednesday 6 April, 9 - 10.30 AM
The four papers in this panel examine new ways of creating ecological awareness through encountering Bible and Theology in inclusive and holistic ways, combining innovative theories and multi-sensational practices.
- Trees van Montfort presents an eco-feminist approach that aims at a renewal of theology by deconstructing hierarchical dualisms of God and the earth, spirit and matter, male and female when engaging Bible and Christian tradition.
- Riëtte Beurmanjer describes how she uses bibliodance, a form of meditative creative dancing inspired by Bible-texts, to put the approach of Trees van Montfort into praxis in a dance retreat. The moving body is the place where creation, source texts and the life of the dancers meet in a dance that helps them discover what a good life in an ecological perspective might be in their situation.
- Annette Merz investigates the potential of two methods that help modern readers to surmount anthropocentric readings of the Bible deeply engrained in our tradition. Narrative criticism provides tools to fully appreciate the earth as a biblical character and bibliodrama helps to overcome the dualism between humans and nature by identifying with non-human characters in a playful and deeply meaningful way.
- Maria Yvonne Băncilă discusses the Living Chapel Sound Installation (Rome 2020), initiated by the composer J. D. Revie, and based on Pope Francis’ 2015 'Laudato Si' encyclical. Underscoring the contribution of the women who collaborated in all stages of its construction, she reflects on the joint effort intended to bring renewed awareness of our moral duty to exert responsible stewardship over God’s creation.
Panel 4: “The earth is the Lord’s.” Renewing Christian theology from the ground up in times of climate and ecological crises
Wednesday 6 April, 11 AM - 12.30 PM CET
Global warming, as a result of the Anthropocene, is an emergency that threatens ‘the good life’ for all earthlings: its risks extend to food security, human security, water supply, ecosystems, health, livelihoods, etc. (UN, IPCC-report 2021). Humankind is at the crossroads. The question is whether theology is sufficiently up-to-date to provide an answer to our God-given responsibility to care for the earth. Ecotheology doesn’t easily find its way to the actual ground on which people live and work, and seems to resonate only with particular theological spiritualities. In our view, the crisis of planet Earth is a theological crisis as well: we believe in Jesus Christ, but do we have a clear view of the life-changing consequences this should have for our dealings with the earth? This panel explores the soil for a robust ‘grounded theology’ for the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PCN): one that offers theological answers that respond to the lived faith and responsibilities of Christians and the actual concerns of current life on earth, whilst acknowledging PCN’s theological plurality. We thus aim to contribute both to the transforming identity of the church, ministers, congregations, and faithful, and the renewal of protestant theology in the 21st century.
Panel 5: Competing Christianities – violence, ideology and war in Europe and beyond
Thursday 7 April, 9 - 10.30 AM CET
The panel consists of a series of papers all devoted to the question of religiously charged ideologies, and fundamentalist versions of Christianity. The war in Ukraine has made us change our initial agenda, making considerations more general: Currently it is not secular totalitarianisms, as in the first half of the 20th century, which provide the ideological legitimation for violent actions, aggressive wars and restrictive politics, but neo-conservative, partly nationalistic ideologies with usually a prominent role reserved for specific readings of Scripture, interpretations of salvation history, and Christian moral tradition. Of course, Christianity cannot be reduced to such versions. However, whereas there is already a philosophical critique of ideology, theology has apparently still a job to do. In the light of current confrontations, Christian tradition once more needs also to be examined for its inherent potential for counter-narratives and opposing concepts, that would offer perspectives to de-escalate conflicts, debunk seducing utopias made up on Christian grounds, and make reconciliation possible, sooner or later. All panellists have chosen particular cases of conflict according to their own experience and background.
Heleen Zorgdrager, Dorottya Nagy, Marten van den Toren, and Alfons Brüning:
- Heleen Zorgdrager: 'Religion, sacrifice, and civic nationalism in times of war: competing interpretations of John 15:13'
- Dorottya Nagy: 'Your neighbour in your home - your neighbour's home: theological reflections on receiving war refugees from Ukraine in neighbouring countries'
- Marten van den Toren: 'Defending the family and the nation?: Pentecostal potentialities for violence and peace across the hispanosphere'
- Alfons Brüning: '"Brave New Worlds" and the heavenly kingdom – reflections on religion and ideology in times of war (The 'Russian world' and orthodoxy in Ukraine)'
Panel 6: Obtaining the ‘good’ in a context of pluralism
Thursday 7 April, 11 AM - 12.30 PM
In current pluralistic societies, constructive debates about morality are complex. Can we still have meaningful conversations about morality, if each person decides for themselves what is good? Is there a shared ‘moral compass’ that could guide conversations about morality? How can a shared moral ground be possible in pluralistic contexts?
The Moral Compass Project aims to challenge widespread notions of morality and provide alternatives. The project contributes to strengthening a 'moral compass', focused on the good without holding us hostage. PhD candidates Dominique Klamer, Sophia Höff and Ariën Voogt, all part of the MCP research team, discuss from different perspectives the possibility and desirability of moral common ground in a context of pluralism.
Young Theologians Panel
You can wach the Young Theologians Panel via our YouTube channel: pthu.nl/keynote.
- Tabitha van KrimpenTheology master student, Young Theologian of the Netherlands 2021-2022
- Almatine LeenePhD, Theologian of the Netherlands 2020-2021, ordained minister, author, lecturer
- Thandi Soko-de Jong MTh ResMAPhD candidate studying Jesus as healer images in light of chronic health conditions
- Martijn StoutjesdijkCompleted a PhD study on slavery in early Christian and early Jewish parables
- Ruben van ZwietenOrdained minister and founder of De Nieuwe Poort Zuidas Weena Valencia
- Elsbeth GrutekePanel moderator; Dutch radio host, historian, theologian and minister
More about our panel
Ruben van Zwieten
Ordained minister and founder of De Nieuwe Poort Zuidas Weena Valencia.
He studied Theology, Philosophy and International Relations in Leiden and Utrecht. At Tilburg University, he completed a Ph-D studie on slavery in early Christian and early Arabic parables. In the final years of his PhD, he also participated in research into the role of Judaism and Christianity in Dutch slavery.
Thandi Soko-de Jong
PhD- student at PThU. Her area of interest is exploring, through Intercultural Theology, how Jesus as healer Christologies are understood from the perspective of people/faith communities encountering incurable illness.
Almatine is a passionate theologian with broad interests. She likes to discuss taboos and is committed to a fairer world. She was Theologian of the Netherlands from 2020 to 2021.
Tabitha van Krimpen
A socially involved theology master student at the Protestant Theological University and former business administration student , Tabitha van Krimpen was voted Young Theologian of the Netherlands in 2021.
Our young theologians panel moderator is Elsbeth Gruteke, a Dutch radio host, historian, theologian and preacher. She works as a presenter for the Evangelical Broadcasting Company (EO), and currently presents the interview programme Onderweg on NPO Radio 5 and Musica religiosa on NPO Radio 4. She also works as a minister for the protestant church of Zeewolde.
Our venue: on location in Amsterdam or online
You can join our international conference at our beautiful venue Vrijburg in Amsterdam, or from the comfort of your own home. Vrijburg is located within walking distance from the Amsterdam Zuid train and metro stations. Our on location keynotes and panel sessions will be livestreamed via our Zoom Events conference platform, which will provide online attendees with as much of the conference experience as possible. Please download our programme to see which paper sessions are available on location and online.
Registration is closed. We hope to see you at our next conference!