The pluralistic societies of the present day are characterised by a diversity of religious orientations and world-views. The pressing question we are facing is what the Christian faith can contribute to the development of new perspectives of purpose and meaning, as well as to cohesion in modern society.
In its teaching and research, the Faculty of Catholic Theology approaches the corresponding issues in two ways: on the one hand, it examines Christian approaches to meaning and, in a critical dialogue, tests their plausibility in view of the diversity of social developments. By elaborating the concept of human dignity, it examines fundamental principles for human self-perception from a theological perspective, and for orientation in the ethical and cultural challenges of our time, and thus contributes to the academic discourse on a humane organisation of society. This undertaking has a firm philosophical and historical basis, characterised by a lively exchange with related disciplines and recourse to a wide range of methodologies.
On the other hand, the Faculty of Catholic Theology applies methods used in religious studies, the humanities, as well as cultural studies and social sciences, to preserve an essential part of the cultural memory of European societies with regard to its relevance for the present day. Looking back on the cultural and historical outlines of Christianity and the great religious traditions enables us to reaffirm and define our own tradition from a scholarly angle, and understand key European concepts and ideas, which stem – either directly or in a fragmented form – from Christianity and other religious traditions and cannot be grasped in full without a Christian basis.
Within the University of Vienna, the Faculty of Catholic Theology closely cooperates with the Faculty of Protestant Theology, which is reflected in a jointly issued series of publications. The area of gender studies has been structurally integrated into a network across both faculties. Here, the category of gender is part of the individual subjects, as a general research perspective, to support the process of transformation towards greater gender equality in society and Church. The Faculty’s ecumenical goals are also pursued in a broad cooperation particularly with Eastern Churches: in this context, the location of the University, situated between Western, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, plays a special role with regard to research and teaching.
The interdisciplinary orientation of the Faculty is reflected in its cooperation with other research areas of the University of Vienna, as well as in its participation in research platforms. Within the theological degree programmes, the teaching activities of the Faculty combine the expertise of several disciplines involved in religious research. In cooperation with numerous faculties, it pays specific attention to the interaction of religions and social transformation, and pursues an explicit open access policy with regard to the resulting publications. The goal of these endeavours is to intensify sustainably this cooperation through the co-location of institutions involved in religious research and the contribution of expertise in the area of religious sociology. In this way, synergies can develop, and the religious research at the University of Vienna can be made more visible at the international level. An additional focus of the Faculty is on the interdisciplinary and international research into values, and commitment to human rights issues.
Between conflicting tendencies towards identity on the one hand, and diversity on the other, the social and academic contribution of the Faculty of Catholic Theology is particularly apparent in the following areas: the relevance of the existence of God and of religions in the public sphere, as well as of the associated processes of transformation in the 21st century; ethical forms of reasoning in multicultural, multireligious and secular contexts; reflection on spiritual experience in modern societies and its relationship to biblical and mystic source texts; ecclesiastical structures in the Middle Ages and paradigms of medieval theology in the context of theological history, as a heritage that continues to be felt in today’s society and contributes to the analysis and patterns of interpretation of recent conflicts.
In its research, the Faculty of Catholic Theology covers five thematic areas which, in line with the traditional structure of the degree programme, relate to the basis of theology in the humanities, cultural, social and religious studies, as well as to knowledge on religions in the world on the one hand, and to genuine theological research on the other.
The first thematic area, i. e. philosophy, social ethics and study of religion, examines fundamental philosophical questions, as well as philosophical approaches to the question of God and of human self-understanding, as a prerequisite for theological discourse. In addition, questions of coexistence on a basis of peace and justice, social cohesion and human rights, the humane orientation of one’s personal life, as well as justice in political and social institutions, are treated from a perspective of philosophy and social ethics, as well as in the context of interreligious dialogue, particularly with representatives of Islamic philosophy and theology.
Furthermore, this thematic area includes the representation and systematic comparison of religions and other systems that strive for purpose and meaning, as cultural phenomena, with regard to their history and their anthropological and socio-cultural contexts. The examination, across different disciplines, of the category of gender is particularly taken into account in the collection, interpretation and presentation of academic data.
Biblical studies, the second thematic area, examines the texts of the Old and New Testaments, with special emphasis on their origins and specific cultural contexts, including the history of interpretation and reception of these texts. The disciplines of both Old and New Testament studies maintain an exchange with the diverse movements of Judaism, where the majority of texts of the so-called Old Testament are also regarded as holy scripture.
The third thematic area, i. e. historical theology and Eastern Church ecumenism, studies texts, church life, liturgical practice, as well as historically grown church structures, which are indispensable for understanding the religious and cultural situation of the present day. Apart from traditional questions of church history, questions in the areas of spirituality and history of theology are examined. Finally, a specific focal area is Eastern Christianity and its specific traditions, as well as Eastern and Oriental liturgies.
The fourth thematic area is systematic theology, which examines Christian faith with regard to questions and problem areas that arise in the society and culture of the present day. In an exchange with philosophy, the relevance for human beings of the existence of God is elucidated. Here, actual religious pluralism is approached as a particular challenge for theology. Ethical questions in all societal areas are examined from a philosophical perspective, oriented towards Christian beliefs and their interpretation in the past and present, with respect for human dignity, from ecclesiastical, social, intercultural and global view-points.
The fifth thematic area, practical theology, is oriented towards a vision of life and learning in cultural and religious diversity. This challenge is met in the pedagogical context of the teaching of religion, where questions of an education that is sensitive towards religion, as well as subject-specific didactics are examined. Researching the question of values and religion in Europe provides important input to comparative approaches in social and cultural studies as well as the humanities. With regard to uptodate church life, the themes of sermons, parish and sacramental pastoral work are addressed. The practical field of theology also includes matters of ecclesiastical law and government-enacted law of religion.
Religion and transformation
In the key research area of religion and transformation, members of the Faculty of Catholic Theology, closely cooperating with academics of other faculties, examine the conditions of current social and religious processes of transformation and their interactions. Here the focus is on the criticism of religion, the question of God, religion in processes of inclusion and exclusion, the reception and hermeneutics of religious texts, as well as religion and law.
During the period of the current Development Plan, the focus will be widened to include the non-European world in order to enable the study of the relationship between culture and religion in the context of global change as well. A question of particular interest is the extent to which religions have shaped, and still influence, the narrative and symbolic orders of global culture, not least in the emancipatory developments in non-European cultures. Another area of research focuses on the way in which religions respond to global challenges of our time (the ecological crisis, the dialectic of enlightenment processes, secularisation, pluralisation, urbanisation and technological progress).
The Faculty plans to enhance its activities to support the manifold research activities within the University of Vienna that are related to religion, and thus to intensify the structural links between different perspectives (of theology, study of religions, philosophy, law, cultural studies, social sciences and the humanities). Of particular importance is the dialogue between religions at the level of theological and religious philosophical reflection. The main aim of these endeavours is to increase awareness at the international level of religious research at the University of Vienna, and to increase international cooperation.
Ethics in religious and secular contexts
The strong political role that religious groups play in different world religions, as well as secular societies, requires new reflection on the relationship between ethics and religion. In view of this situation, the question arises as to how religious horizons of meaning and reason can be combined with ethical approaches. As far as concrete fields of action are concerned, the relationship between religious and secular contexts in education (e. g. teaching of ethics v. religion), business, medicine and society (e. g. family matters), as well as research and health policies, is of particular relevance. The objective of this key research area is to advance the discussion of fundamental questions in ethics in the context of pluralistic views of the world and to increase skills in ethical discourse. The Faculty plays an active role in interdisciplinary research into matters of sociopolitical relevance, such as the implementation of human rights, and is among the organisations that run the Department for Ethics and Law in Medicine.
At a location such as Vienna, this discourse is not limited to local contexts but also includes exchange with Central European partners and is integrated in an interreligious and ecumenical, as well as global and intercultural discourse – especially with the Philippines, Latin America and the Middle East.
Scripture and mysticism
A central objective of this key research area relates to the interdisciplinary and interfaith study of the interactions between the scriptures of different religious traditions and spiritual practices. This is in response to the shifts in religious approaches of modern societies, from institution-based to experience-related religiousness. The opportunities and ambivalence of this development are reflected theologically in an exchange with the mystical traditions of different religions. This research focuses primarily on the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, and the question of how to recover a spiritual understanding of scripture according to religious tradition in a reflective way. From a practical theological view, exegetic findings open up opportunities to investigate a specific thematic area concerning possibilities of a contemporary transformation of Christian spiritual practice in church contexts. The study of religion provides a perspective that permits a wider focus on this key research area to include non-Christian religious traditions as well, and thus to gain insight into the manifold ways of perceiving, identifying and academically reflecting on the relationship between scripture and mysticism.
Theological medieval studies
The key research area of theological medieval studies aims to examine theological texts, ideas and figures from the Middle Ages, defined as the epoch extending from late antiquity to the early modern period. This research area addresses the fact that the Middle Ages developed new questions that shaped not only theological thinking but also wide areas of today’s culture. The theory and practice of medieval councils, for instance, has influenced the development of modern parliamentary systems and the constitution of the Church with a number of highly controversial issues right up to the present day.
The efforts that medieval theologians have made to find strategies for conflict resolution and for creating a world order may also contribute to the modern discourse on power, violence and tolerance. In-depth study of the history of medieval theology may therefore play both an inspirational and a critical role for modern theology and culture. Medieval studies have been a model of successful interdisciplinary research within the humanities for years. Theological medieval studies as a key research area are a unique feature of the Faculty of Catholic Theology, which makes it different from other theological faculties in the German-speaking countries, where the history of theology tends to be focused on early Christianity (patristics) or the modern and contemporary periods.