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Religious pluralisation and secularisation are complex social processes which develop different dynamics in different contexts. Pluralisation can promote secularisation by weakening the influence of faith communities, but conversely it can also lead to a diverse range of new faith communities developing and the value of religious ways of life as a whole increasing. Christianity is faced with both developments. While increased secularisation can be identified in some countries, particularly in the western world, in other countries we can see a rise in Christian ways of life and communities. Established Christian communities and churches need to react to both challenges. These challenges need to be countered at both a practical and an academic level. Theology, which is theoretically founded and addresses religion in a methodically reflective manner, therefore has a key role to play here. It must question the function and the value of religious belief and religious practice in a society that is pluralistic and to some extent secular. This also applies to Catholic theology, which is dedicated to religious questions on the basis of certain normative texts and doctrine as part of a tradition that has developed over centuries. The freedom of knowledge that is fundamentally guaranteed means these issues can be addressed in an independent and critical manner.

There are therefore four consequences for the content alignment and research profile of the Institute of Catholic Theology:

Firstly, this Institute is to address the normative texts and doctrines that are paramount to Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular on a theoretically secure basis. The veracity and meaning of (Biblical) texts should be determined, they must be processed in a historical and critical manner and made relevant to modern issues. The long tradition of Christianity must also be considered and both continuities and discontinuities considered. Methodical reflection of a person’s own access to texts and other sources should be considered in particular, as this type of reflection is the only way to enable a critical examination of various research traditions.

Secondly, the Institute should take into account the challenges mentioned and always conduct theological research with an eye on the pluralistic and secular context - something which is particularly visible in the metropolis of Berlin. Theology must be anchored in society and show the relevance of religious thinking in close collaboration with both religious and non-religious communities. At the same time, it is also necessary to reflect on the risks and temptations of thinking this way (for example in the form of religious fundamentalism). The historical dimension always need to be taken into account, because it is in precisely this dimension that we can see how various forms of belief (including fundamentalist beliefs) develop in certain constellations and how they have changed.

Thirdly, in light of religious pluralism the Institute should work closely with other academic institutions that teach and research religion. At Humboldt University this includes the Faculty of Theology and the Institute of Islamic Theology which was set up at the same time, and at the Freie Universität this includes the Institute of Jewish Studies and in Potsdam the Abraham Geiger College, the Institute of Jewish Studies and the Canonistic Institute. Collaboration with the Catholic Theological Faculty at the University of Erfurt, the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Berlin and other theological study locations should also be sought. An examination of the various forms of Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition shows where the common roots lie but also where there are specific differences and where there have been and continue to be both conflicts and dialogues.

Fourthly and finally, the Institute should work closely with other humanities and social science institutes within Humboldt-Universität. On the one hand this is important from a methodological perspective, because there are various methods involved in theology (for example philological/historical, systematic/analytical and empirical methods) and it can renew itself in collaboration with similar subjects, while on the other hand theology itself can stimulate these subjects in a fruitful manner. The main subjects include classical philology, history, philosophy, sociology, ethnology, cultural sciences, art and pictorial history and law. On the other hand, collaboration with these subjects is also important from a content perspective, because phenomena of pluralisation and secularisation are being intensively studies in these subjects in particular from both a historical and a systematic perspective. Collaboration with life sciences is also important, because bioethical issues in theology can only be thoroughly discussed from a technical perspective in dialogue with biology and medicine.

Global history is becoming increasingly important in various humanities disciplines. This statement does not apply to a specific research topic, but rather to a research perspective. Global history perspectives can make an important contribution in theological anthropology in particular. They can prevent anthropological investigations being limited to familiar contexts and instead expand perspectives beyond Europe and the western world. They can clarify how theological concepts of the person developed in early Christianity when interacting with pagan concepts, they can compare Christian views with Jewish, Islamic or other religious views and they can show how Christianity has respected or disregarded human dignity in its interactions with other ways of life. They can also take into account the gender perspectives by considering how different gender roles were determined for people in different contexts. They can also show us how our own concepts strengthen or change when confronted with the concepts of others. Finally, they also raise the fundamental issue of how our own concepts can be justified in comparison to other religious or non-religious concepts. In any case, global historical perspectives open up another field of research, and the fundamental approach to theological anthropology should be anchored in these perspectives when establishing the new institute.