Seminar 2018: Fundamentalism as Ecumenical Challenge

“Fundamentalism as an Ecumenical Challenge”—the theme of this year’s Summer Seminar at the Institute—drew more than 50 theologians from around the world and from many different churches to Strasbourg from July 2 to 9, 2018. The seminar took place in the centrally located Protestant Seminary, which made for a very pleasant setting for a rich week of exchange and encounter. Thanks to first-rate lectures in the plenary session and intensive discussion during the smaller working groups, participants had the opportunity to dive into the theme in its many aspects.

Two American researchers opened the conference. Prof. Dr. R. Scott Appleby from Chicago, who has worked on the definitive Fundamentalism Project from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, offered a conceptual clarification of the term “fundamentalism” that focused on its broad empirical basis and its precisely identified criteria, in distinction from the sweeping and polemical usage more often encountered in popular speech. Prof. Dr. Mark Granquist from Minnesota deepened the terminological reflections through a presentation of the history of fundamentalism in the U.S. Regional perspectives were put forward in lectures from Bishop Dr. Ndanganeni Phaswana (Johannesburg/South Africa) and Prof. Dr. Gisa Bauer (Leipzig/Germany), respectively focusing on fundamentalist tendencies in Africa and Europe.

Insofar as such tendencies can be found in all different kinds of Christian denominations as well as in all different religions, vivid lectures were presented by theologian Prof. Dr. Sonja Angelika Strube (Osnabrück/Germany) regarding “Fundamentalist Tendencies in the Spectrum of Roman Catholic Faith” and by religion researcher Prof. Dr. Vasilios Makrides (Erfurt/Germany) on “Rigorism/Fundamentalism in Orthodox Christianity,” along with lectures from Islamic scholar Dr. Ghasan El Masri (Berlin/Germany) on “Exegetic Approach to the Koran” and Archimandrite Dr. Alexi Chehadeh (Damascus/Syria) on “Is a Dialogue with Islamists Possible?”

Since fundamentalist tendencies not always but often go together with a particular understanding of Scripture, one portion of the seminar was devoted to various traditions of interpretation. Two French theologians, Prof. Dr. Christian Grappe (Strasbourg) and Prof. Dr. David Bouillon, offered highly informative lectures on this topic.

At the end of the seminar it was much clearer than at the beginning what can be meaningfully designated “fundamentalism” and in what way it presents a striking ecumenical challenge. How to go about dealing with it remains an open question. The Strasbourg Institute will continue to deal with this issue in the future.

Along with the academic topics, the seminar also offered the opportunity to get to know Strasbourg and its environs. An important element each day was prayer in the St. Thomas Church next door and closing worship with the Lord’s Supper at the venerable church of St. Pierre-le-Jeune.

Some reactions by Seminar participants:

“We shared opinions and research papers without digging in or rejecting other’s opinions and were able to admit that we all have fundamentalist tendencies in certain situations. The operating definition of the term of “fundamentalism” presented us with a dilemma, because it presupposed one correct notion against the other. The reality is that the term originally referred to a ‘foundation’ that cannot be left out, such as laying a firm foundation for the house or any building. The violent actions of fundamentalists should not sidetrack us from the positive meaning of the term.” (Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana, South Africa)

“As a Pentecostal academic and clergyperson working among African migrants, the seminar helped me to appreciate my identity, as well collaborate with others in our work of faith.” (Dr. Joseph Bosco Bangura)

“I am really thankful for participating. It was my first time and for sure I will go home with many things to think about. It was a great privilege to meet so many different and interesting people and to hear their opinions and thoughts. It was also a great pleasure to take part in the daily devotions. I wish all the best for the Institute’s work.” (Theodora Mavridou, Greece)

“It was a wonderfully stimulating seminar with many great encounters. The breadth of speakers was exceptionally enriching.” (Rev. Peter Fahr, Germany)

“Rarely in my life have I experienced in a one-week seminar such a variety of deeply informed lectures alongside profound conversations in internationally diverse working groups. The opportunity to be in a learning community of scholars and participants is a special feature of the Strasbourg Seminar. And of the wonderful Alsatian food nothing more needs to be said! Thanks.” (Rev. Stephan Mühlich, Germany)

“The Summer Seminar took the theme and shed great light on it. The lectures from scholars were very profitable in their practical application. It was an opportunity to get to know other participants who brought their own experiences and questions. A week that will keep me thinking all year! Many many thanks!” (Rev. Tabea Baader, Germany)

“The Seminar leaves me with open-ended questions and more reflections to think about, even after leaving Strasbourg. To find answers why fundamentalism is both a challenge and an opportunity for ecumenism; to ask why it sounds negative when the meaning of the root is positive. The presentations were great, so was the arrangement of the schedules, and of course the friendly people we met during our stay in Strasbourg.” (Jenny Purba, Indonesia)

“Helpful—friendly—stimulating—well-run and well-fed—the Ecumenical Seminar in Strasbourg was ‘great once again’.” (Rev. Ulrich Heinzelmann, Germany)

“What an astonishing privilege to attend the 52nd International Ecumenical Seminar. It has been highly intellectual, theologically challenging and pastorally missional! This Seminar is very enriching. Thank you!” (Bishop J. Priestly Balasingh, India)

“Intercultural, constructive, productive. The whole approach shed great light on the theme. The breadth of the lectures especially revealed many different aspects of the topic at hand.” (Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck, Germany)