Call for Papers - Winter Seminar 'Progress in Theology'


"It seemed to Brother Juniper that it was high time for theology to take its place among the exact sciences. (...) What he had lacked hitherto was a laboratory." - Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927)

When: January 27-29, 2022
Where: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Organizers: Gijsbert van den Brink, Rik Peels, René van Woudenberg, Jeroen de Ridder,
Samira van der Loo
Website: More information can be found here
Whereas many contemporary universities originated from theological schools, over the past centuries the status of theology as a proper academic discipline has become contested, to say the least. Among the many allegations levelled against theology is the idea that there is no progress in theology. The aim of this Winter Seminar is to investigate under which conditions, if any, theology can still function as an intellectually respectable academic discipline. In particular, the Seminar will zoom in on the notion of progress in theology. Is there any? If not, is that a problem? If so, what shape does such progress take and is it possible to make more progress in theology?

Over the course of three days, we will explore topics that concern the status of the discipline of theology. We set out with the intellectual tasks of theology: what work should theologians do which cannot be done by the other disciplines? In this connection it is important to explore what kind of knowledge theology produces, which research methods enable such knowledge production, and to what extent theological research can be replicated. Next, we will discuss whether there should be more progress in theology, or, rather, more theology in progress, i.e. more critical theological reflection on the modern ideal of progress and its ambiguities.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Prof. Kevin Schilbrack (Appalachian State University, United States), author of Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto (London: Blackwell, 2014)
  • Prof. Benedikt Göcke (Ruhr University Bochum, Germany), editor of Die Wissenschaftlichkeit der Theologie (Münster: Asschendorf Verlag, 2018)
  • Dr. Katrin Gülden Le Maire (FIIT, Heidelberg) finished a PhD-thesis on contemporary challenges to academic theology with reference to Wolfhart Pannenberg's work (2019)
  • Prof. Oliver Crisp (University of St Andrews, United Kingdom), Professor of Analytic Theology,
    Director of the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology and author of many works in 'analytical theology'
  • Prof. Gijsbert van den Brink (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), author of Philosophy of Science
    for Theologians
    (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2009)
  • Dr. Rik Peels (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), author of Responsible Belief: A Theory in Ethics
    and Epistemology
    (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017)

We invite contributions from theologians, scholars in religious studies, philosophy, and anyone else interested in progress in theology.

Please send a 500 word abstract to Samira van der Loo (via by September 1st 2021. The abstract should be suitable for blind review. Questions can be sent to the same email address. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • What is academic progress, how does it relate to consensus and convergence, and how does this impact the status of theology?
  • How desirable is progress in theology?
  • Are there important differences in epistemic progress between theology and the humanities on the one hand and the sciences on the other – or even between theology and the (other) humanities?
  • Can the tools of analytical philosophy and its methodology facilitate progress in theology?
  • Should we aim at an 'empirical turn' in theology, as to be achieved e.g. by connecting theology with the cognitive science of religion?
  • What does the desideratum of progress mean for the future of theology?
  • Is replication a proper way for theology to make progress?
  • How should a publicly funded theological department in a (post-)secular and multi-religious society ideally look like?
  • How should the concept of progress be critically assessed from a theological or philosophical perspective?