Hermeneutics: Understanding life in postsecular culture

The research of this group focuses on the ways and the means that are used to understand life in contemporary culture. It is our assumption that life in itself is amorphous and elusive to the extent of non-existence, unless it receives its forms by the patterns of our understanding, which give life its shape and its meaning. Hermeneutics enables us to address these patterns of understanding methodically.

Religions used to provide overarching worldviews for the understanding and orientation of human life, which related life to its transcendent source and end. In secular modernity, religious views were contested and denied; life was suggested to offer its own patterns of understanding, which science should detect. At present anti-scientific or exclusively religious answers as well as reductionist scientific ones increasingly meet with opposition. Alternative views are developed, in which questions about the fulfillment of life and human flourishing are posed emphatically. This climate can be characterized as ‘postsecular’. It is our aim to clarify and to contribute to the specific approaches and problems of postsecular understandings of life and its fulfillment from a perspective that is informed by Christian beliefs.

The participants in this group will focus on the following themes:

  • The ontological status of mind and consciousness, without which there would be neither a meaning of life, nor any concept of life. Life as it presents itself in human existence, but also in academic research and other cultural expressions is life understood.  What are the hermeneutical implications arising from this insight? How is (the concept of) life related to the possibility of understanding and examining life, and to the notion of soul in classical and modern thought?
  • In which ways can we recognize a reference for life in present thought? The reverence for life was a key concept in the theology of Albert Schweitzer, which unites us with other living beings and relates us to ‘God’.  What sort of transcendence is implied by the reverence for life? Can such a notion be a shared concern in both religious and postsecular perspectives? In what ways and under which concepts is a reference for life formulated in contemporary theology and philosophy?
  • In how far does life as it is given provide clues for life as it should be? This question is explored by focusing on the givenness of the family, as basic characteristic of human life. How should this givenness be valued, especially in times in which secular ideals of developing individuality and independence are highly respected? Does religion provide alternative values for our times, without falling into the dangers of any easy ‘family embracing approach’?
  • Participation in the divine life as an expression of salvation: do the politics and cultural shapes of postsecular society provide forms to understand the theological notion of participation without the confines of ontological conceptions?

Research Staff


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