Shuck and Jive

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gerd Luedemann and the Loss of Academic Freedom

I heard the news from Thomas Verenna that Gerd Luedemann has lost his ten year court battle.

Here is the story from Joseph Hoffman of the Jesus Project:

Gerd Luedemann, Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity in the University of Goettingen, has received word from the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany that his appeal against an earlier ruling excluding him from the teaching of New Testament in the University’s Faculty of Theology has been rejected.

The basis for the Court’s ruling hinges on the fact that Professor Luedemann was “reassigned” to a position outside the Faculty offering essentially the same teaching and research opportunities as his previous position. In addition, the Court decided that the confessional teaching of theology is a unique responsibility of the Theology Faculty and that its interest in retaining a distinctive identity outweighed Professor Luedemann’s claim that the reassignment impinged on his academic (“scientific”) freedom.
Hoffman goes on to say:
Cases such as Luedemann’s, and earlier Hans Kueng’s at Tuebingen on the Catholic side, suggest that it is feckless to complain about the regressive nature of scholarship in the Arab world when seminal Christian doctrines can prevail over common sense and free inquiry in some of the most distinguished institutions of higher learning in the world.

We congratulate Gerd Luedemann in bearing the torch in this cause--and “fighting the good fight.”
This letter of concern from March of 2000 on behalf of Prof. Luedemann signed by Robert Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar concluded:
As we enter a new millennium, it has become clear that one of the tasks that lies before us in the west is a critical coming to grips with our Christian past. This is a task not only for the church, but for everyone who is an heir to this cultural legacy. This is precisely what Prof. Luedemann is asking us to do, albeit in a very provocative way. That this challenge should be taken out of the theological curriculum altogether is a travesty. Is there a more important issue with which our students should be forced to struggle at this critical time in our history? We do not think so. That is why we are asking you to reconsider this situation, and to find a new solution that reaffirms his right to engage in full academic discussion of his research regardless of its results or his personal views.
Several bibliobloggers have weighed in on this decision.

James Tabor calls it a sad news for academic freedom and writes:

As one non-Catholic among half a dozen others who left the University of Notre Dame back in the mid-1980s under the pressure of one of Father Hesburg’s “recatholicising” moves in the Dept. of Theology back in those dark ages, as well as having scheduled lectures on my book, The Jesus Dynasty, forbidden in the spring of 2006 at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, because I had dared to suggest that Jesus had a human father, not likely Joseph, I can identify in just a tiny way with Prof. Luedemann.
James Crossley asks:
Can anyone give me a good reason why questions surrounding belief or non-belief, or if you like any answer to the question of the historicity of the resurrection, should be off limits in a university setting?
Jim West has a different view. He writes (in his comment section):
Though I like Gerd--as I’ve said before, it’s the right decision. He should definitely be teaching. He should definitely not be teaching in a theological faculty. That’s like insisting that a creationist teach in a biology faculty.
I have made brief posts on Gerd Luedemann here and here.

From my perspective, speaking as a clergyperson, I find this decision distressing. By circling the wagons in order to protect its clergy from engaging in academic scholarship that challenges ancient creeds, it moves theology further into a Christian ghetto. It shows how the church really is not interested in any honest search for what is true, but is becoming little more than a club.

This quote from Roy Hoover in Tradition and Faith in a New Era says all I need to say:

Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition; and they want to turn the ordained clergy into antiquities dealers.

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