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19th Annual Meeting

2008 (11-13 January), Academy of Mission, Hamburg


Making Sense


Ecumenical learning in a multi-religious context

Ecumenical learning concerns mindfulness and change of behaviour, not merely advance in theoretical knowledge. Theoretical reflection draws on the culturally, religiously and confessionally diverse contexts of the learners and on an understanding of the church as a living community. Learning within the so created diverse, experiental contexts "makes sense" by facilitating an ability to recognise the changes in one's own horizon of meaning in an encounter with the other. The main theme of the coming AÖF Annual meeting focuses on concrete forms of mutual learning in contemporary multicultural and multireligious societies. The aim of "ecumenical learning" is not to conform to but to facilitate changes in societal structures. This leads us toinquire on the ethical preconditions of these changes and their implications on the renewal of the church and the wider cooperation within a multireligious context.


Main speaker Prof. Dr. Wolfram Weiße


Wolfram Weiße is a professor of educational sciences(religious education and ecumenical theology) at the University of Hamburg and the director of the interdisciplinary research centre "World Religions in Dialogue"


Paper Sessions

Annegreth Strümpfel: Public Role of the Churches during the Time of the Peaceful Revolution in Germany


Ignatius Edet: A Roman Catholic Reflection on the Relevance of the Trinity for the Theory and Praxis of Collegiality


Christina Biere: Implizite Theologie christlicher Judaistik. Wie interreligiös is Billernecks Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch


Antti Yli-Opas: The Theology of Marriage


Sören Asmus: Ökumenisches und […] lernen zwischen Christlichen Gemeinden


Gwen Bryde: Interreligiöse Projekte mit jungen Menschen im Libanon


Hehanussa: Lehren der GKJ (Javanische Christliche Kriche) für ein ökumenisches Leben in multireligiösen Kontext in Indonesien


Pieter De Witte: Can Theological Research Bring Us Closer Together? The Finnish Luther Interpretation and the Justification Debate (L-RC).


Martti Hirvonen: The Ecumenical Renovation in the Spanish Theology after the Second Vatican Council


Josef Hehanussa: Lernen von Pela und Gandong: ein Model für ein ökumenisches Leben in multireligiösen Kontext


John Anthony Berry: The Achievement and Actuality of Yves Congar's Vision of Faith in Present Ecumenism


Vitalis Mshanga: Recovered Opportunity? The Future of Ecumenism in the Light of the Joint Declaration on Justification



Friday, January 11


5:00 pm.     Arrivals

6:00 pm.     Supper

7:00 pm.     Welcome and Opening of the meeting

7:45 pm.      “Ecumenical Learning in Multireligious Context”

                       Prof. Dr. Wolfram Weiße, Hamburg


9:30 pm.     Informal reception (“talks, wine and cheese“)


Saturday, January 12


8:00 am.     Morning prayer

8:15 am.     Breakfast

9:00 am.     Paper sessions

10:45 am    Coffee

11:00 am    Paper session

12:30 pm    Lunch

3:00 pm      Paper sessions

4:45 pm      Coffee

5:00 pm      Excursion to the city

6:30 pm      Supper

8:00 pm      Informal evening program


Sunday, January 13


09:15 am    Morning service

10:00 am    Future activities of AÖF (Annual meeting, projects)

12:00           Ecumenical News

12:30 pm    Lunch and Closing of the meeting




by Gwen Bryde and Stefan Höschele


Twenty years into the establishment of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökumenische Forschung/Ecumenical Research Forum (1), its annual conferences constitute an established platform of exchange for young theologians through whose presentations of research projects the state of discussion in the fields of ecumenical studies and missiology can easily be assessed. The 2008 meeting was bilingual – in German and English – with participants from various European and non-European countries.


The topic of this year’s conference was “Ecumenical Learning in Multireligious Contexts”. Few scholars in the German-speaking context are as familiar with this subject as Wolfram Weisse, who gave the main lecture. Weisse is professor for religious education and international theology at the University of Hamburg and director of the interdisciplinary centre “Academy of World Religions” in Hamburg.

Pointing out the lack of precision in the usage of the terms “Ecumenical Learning” and “Intercultural/Interreligious Learning”, Weisse showed how the discourse in religious education has shifted its focus from ecumenical to interreligious learning and that interreligious learning has become the pedagogical central theme in the past 25 years.

Still, Weisse maintained that stressing intercultural and interreligious aspects cannot totally replace ecumenical learning. Rather, the concepts should complement each other. He went on to argue that ecumenical learning today needs to take place in the context of a pedagogy that is intrinsically intercultural. Weisse observed that an agreement has yet to be reached on the forms and functions of intercultural learning; and because intercultural encounters have a political dimension as well, pedagogy should not be burdened alone with the development of ideas on this issue. On the other hand, the role of pedagogy should not be underestimated. Ecumenical learning makes its contribution as a field with rich experiences in dialogue and cross-cultural encounters that can help understand interreligious and intercultural learning experiences. That is why religious education in multireligious contexts should include elements of both ecumenical and intercultural learning.

Like Weisse’s lecture, the whole ERF conference showed how interreligious and ecumenical questions show structural parallels and need to be discussed in relation to one another. The conference’s other presentations can be summed up in three categories that focused on the relationship of religion, Christianity and Christianities from different angles: interreligious studies, interconfessional relations and church as a concert of churches. A short remark on each of the papers must suffice here.


Interreligious studies: Indonesia, Lebanon, and a German scholar

Four papers dealt with interreligious questions. The Indonesian couple Murti & Jozef Hehanussa discussed two main aspects of interfaith relations in their country: The “Teachings of the Gereja-gereja Kristen Jawa (GKJ/Javanese Christian Church) on Relations to Other Religions in the Multireligious Context of Indonesia“ (Murti Hehanussa) and “Pela and Gandong: A Model for a religious Relationship in a Multireligious Context“ (Jozef Hehanussa).

Gwen Bryde’s presentation on “Christian-Muslim Conviviality in Lebanon“ examined different levels of interfaith dialogue and asked how churches in Lebanon can perform their public role in a society with a majority Muslim population, while at the same time being faithful to their testimony and caring for their members.

Christina Biere took a critical look at a book well-known in German-speaking theology with regard to its “interreligiosity”, asking: “How “Interreligious” is Paul Billerbeck’s Perspective in his Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash?“.


Interconfessional relations: New approaches and classical questions

Olga Lukacs’s paper on “Interreligious and Interconfessional Coexistence in Romania from the Perspective of the Project ‘Healing of Memories’” showed how interfaith and interconfessional dynamics are interlinked, dynamics of conflict as well as possibilities of healing, as aimed at by the project “Healing of Memories”.

Breaking new ground in terms of relations between the churches on a global level, the Global Christian Forum (GCF), founded in 1998, envisions bringing together all larger Christian groups in a process of dialogue. Stefan Höschele presented his work on this topic.

At the same time, classical questions in ecumenical studies are being given a fresh appraisal. An example was Pieter De Witte’s lecture “Can Theological Research bring us closer together? The Finnish Luther Interpretation and the Justification Debate (L-RC)“ in which he examined the importance of the findings of the Finnish School of Luther interpretation for the ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on the doctrine of Justification.

Vitalis Mshanga also referred to the Lutheran-Catholic debate on Justification in his paper on “Recovered Opportunity? The Future of Ecumenism in the Light of the Joint Declaration on Justification”.

John Anthony Berry’s contribution was entitled “The Achievement and Actuality of Yves Congar’s Vision of Faith in Present Ecumenism”. Berry stressed the necessity of personal sacrifice for the unity of the churches, the need for ecclesiastical fullness and purity and the urgent need for creativity in ecumenical thinking.


The church as a concert of churches: Porvoo, Spain and the former GDR

A third area of research evident in the contributions might be referred to as “Church as a Concert of Churches”, expressing the idea that the understanding of “Church” grows wherever different Christian traditions meet, wherever churches take action together or joint theological thinking takes place.

Antti Yli-Opas spoke about “Reflections on the Theology of Marriage in the Porvoo Communion”, observing common ground but also differences between Anglican and Finnish Lutheran approaches to a question that is rarely focused on in ecumenism.

An important point in Martti Hirvonen’s work on the “Ecumenical Renovation in Spanish Theology after the Second Vatican Council” is the development of a more comprehensive understanding of church, an ecclesiology that is not limited to the institutionalized Roman Catholic Church.

An area where the concert of churches worked out markedly well was presented by Annegreth Strümpfel in her paper on the “Public Role of the Churches on the Way to the Peaceful Revolution in 1989”. The focus of her work is the theological analysis of the various ways in which the churches contributed to the facilitation of an alternative public in this crucial historical period of transformation in the last days of the former GDR.


The Ecumenical Research Forum enters into its third decade

What conclusions can be drawn from this latest conference and the developments of the last few years regarding the near future of the ERF? On the one hand, there is a continuing trend towards internationalisation, which can only be welcomed as the ERF greatly profits from the confessional and cultural diversity of its participants. In terms of research areas, there is a great diversity, ranging from ecumenical relations and missiology to questions emerging from interfaith dialogue and the relations of Christianity to other religions.

From its very beginning, the ERF has offered a platform for this large variety of fields of research, and surely this will continue in the years to come. All those interested are invited to participate in the next annual conference and to present their research projects, thereby enriching the ecumenical discussion. The conference entitled “Ecumenical Formation – Shaping Identities in Church and Society“ will take place from 28-30 November 2008 at the Academy of Missions in Hamburg. All those who have been with the ERF during its 20 years, championing the ecumenical idea through their research, their actions and their discussions, are hereby also warmly invited.


We want to thank all our partners for their support, including the Academy of Missions Hamburg, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony, the Social Service Agency of the EKD and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hessen and Nassau.


(1)   On the first ten years of the ERF, cf. Thomas Kratzert, „‚Eine Quelle zum Auftanken’: Zehn Jahre ‚Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökumenische Forschung’“, in a publication by ERF participants Christoph Dahling-Sander and Thomas Kratzert, Leitfaden Ökumenische Theologie, Wuppertal: foedus, 1998, 289-300.


Gwen Bryde, Academic Fellow and doctoral candidate at the Institute for Missiology, Ecumenical Studies and Religious Studies, University of Hamburg.

Stefan Höschele, Ph.D., Lecturer of Systematic Theology, Theologische Hochschule Friedensau.


Published in ...




Bryde, Gwen/Höschele, Stefan: Multireligiöse Kontexte und das Konzert der Kirchen.
Bericht von der 19. Jahrestagung der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökumenische Forschung
(AÖF) vom 11. bis 13. Januar in der Missionsakademie Hamburg, in: Ökumenische
Rundschau 2/2008, 233-237.




Bryde, Gwen/Höschele, Stefan: Multireligious contexts and the churches in concert.
Report on the Ecumenical Research Forum's (ERF) 19th annual conference at the
Academy of Mission at the University of Hamburg (11-13 January 2008), in: The
Ecumenical Review July, 2008.