|Assessment Report / Dpt of Systematic Theology|
RESEARCH ASSESSMENT OF THE FACULTY OF THEOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI
On the proposal of the Scientific Board the Rector of the University of Helsinki appointed the following professors to be members of the research panel of the Faculty of Theology:
Professor Svend Andersen, Aarhus
Professor Jürgen Becker, Kiel
Professor Gustav Björkstrand, Åbo
Professor Hermann Michael Niemann, Rostock
The Research panel decided to give the chair to Professor Gustav Björkstrand.
The Faculty of Theology is a small faculty within the University, but one of the largest in the world in its field. It is the only Finnish-language Faculty of Theology in Finland, but there is a Swedish-language Faculty at Åbo Akademi University and a Department of Theology at the University of Joensuu.
The Faculty has about 1 800 students and over 70 teachers and researchers. The total personnel is 129. The number of postgraduate students it extremely high in almost all departments of the Faculty. In 1997, the Faculty produced 159 Masters Degrees and 16 Doctoral Degrees.
The Research Assessment
The research assessment is based basically on the selected bibliography compiled by each department and also on discussions during site visits to the departments of Biblical Studies, Church History, Systematic Theology, Practical Theology and Orthodoxy and East European Studies. In our discussions with the Departments we have touched upon themes such as:
- The choice of research subjects
- Important contributions to research
- Research funding
- Policy for publication
- Mobility of researchers
- Plans for future development
- Self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses
The evaluation of each department contains a short description of the unit, qualitative evaluation of the publications and the research activities, rating with explanations of the reasons for the rating and some recommendations for the future.
The Department of Systematic Theology
The department of Systematic Theology is the faculty’s largest in terms of the number of post graduate students (about 190). It is also the department with the largest number of professor positions: there are chairs/ professorships in dogmatics, theological ethics and philosophy of religion, social ethics, ecumenics, systematic theology and modern theology.
The department presents 24 active research members in its written material. It has submitted a full list of publications containing about 620 titles. The list of selected publications numbers 48. Of the impressively many doctoral students, only about 20 have funding for full time work (from the department, the Finnish Academy and otherwise). In the evaluation period 21 doctoral degrees have been awarded.
The research activities of the department are not organised according to the sub disciplines defined by the chairs. They take place rather within a number of projects or thematic areas that involves researchers from various sub disciplines. At the site visit, the following projects/ thematic areas were presented:
1. Medieval Philosophy and Theology.
This area where research has been done for a number of years covers many issues in ancient philosophy and medieval philosophy and theology. The approach is guided by the hypothesis that logical/methodological ideas influence the character of philosophical and theological theory building.
2. Reformation Theology
Also in this area research has been done over a period, and it has resulted in a specific Helsinki research profile internationally known as the ”new Finnish interpretation of Luther”. One of the main ideas is that according to Luther, God and Christ are really present in the believer (unio).
3. Philosophy of Religion, Logic, Semantic
This area is linked with area 1 in so far as the hypothesis concerning medieval thinking is transferred to contemporary philosophy of religion and theology. The idea is that the tools of theological thinking - primarilys logic and semantics - influence the content.
4. Modern Theology (and Science)
The aim of this project is to study the consequences for theology of the shift in conception of reality in modern time. Among various sub projects one on the relationship between religion/ theology and science seems to have developed furthest.
5. Christianity and Globalisation
The background of this project is the fact that the majority of Christians now live outside AWestern@ countries, so that Christianity to a large extent exists in new cultural contexts. This fact is related to the other fact that Christianity is engaged in dialogue with other religions.
6. Theological Ethics and Social Ethics
The research within this area deals with applied ethics (genetics, socio-economic problems, environment) and problems in ethical theory. As to the latter, there is a methodological link to areas 1 and 3, in so far as the apparatus of philosophy is applied to theological ethics.
The six research areas do not have quite the same character: some are groupings of various projects and thematic fields (1, 6), while others consist of one externally funded project (4, 5). Also, the work of the six projects are of a somewhat different kind. Projects 1 and 2 are the results of the efforts of several years and thus have issued a great number of doctoral theses, monographs and articles. Projects 3 and 6 represent more recent or less intense research acitivities. And finally, projects 4 and 5 are in the initial stage and have issued very few publications.
The differences between the three groups of projects also concern quality. The research in the areas of medieval philosophy and theology, and of reformation theology are of undisputed high quality internationally speaking. It should be emphasized that the two fields are not totally separated. On the contrary, the high standard of acquaintance with medieval theology and philosophy has brought new insights in the background of Luther’s thinking as well as of its specificity. - Both areas participate actively in international cooperation on the highest level.
The contour of project 3 is less clear. But there is no doubt that the work done is of good international quality.
Project 6 represents a new development within the department=s work in ethics, as it covers both work in the relatively recent field of bioethics, and important problems of soical ethics. The results produced so far are of good international quality. A number of the sub projects are carried out in the framework of Nordic and European networks.
Projects 4 and 5 make the weakest appearance. This might be due to the fact that they are in a more initial phase, so that the detailed description of the research content and the international cooperation is not yet in place.
All in all, the grouping of individual researchers’ work in these six areas/ projects shows that the department has managed to make a change from a traditional professor- and section-based research into projectoriented and interdisciplinary work. This change has taken place without still keeping a leading and inpiring role for the professors.
Of the 48 publications in the selected bibliograpy, only one is only printed in Finnish. The others are published in English, German, French and even in Chinese. Eleven of the publications are either dissertations or monographs. All dissertations are written in German or English.
The selected bibliography manifests an important feature of the department’s research profile: 3/4 are in either medieval studies (21) or Luther research (11). This picture very clearly mirrors the outstanding character of the achievements in the two fields of medieval studies and Luther research.
The very strong emphasis of the two main field exhibit both strengths and weaknesses of the department. Without question, the strengths are most obvious: in both cases the many individual studies show a ”synergy effect” in the sense that they work together in casting new light of very important fields of systematic theology. There can be no doubt that it is a strength of a department to have two fields of research the results of which are of undisputed high international standard. The achievements in these two fields put the department of systematic theology on the academic world map.
On the other hand, the weight of the two fields seem to have some problematic consequences for the other research areas. Particularly the theoretical approach of the medieval studies seem to somewhat restrict the work in contemporary philosophy of religion. The idea of transferring the hypothesis regarding medieval thought - the connection between tool and content -to contemporary philosophy of religion does not seem totally convincing. In any case, some influential discussions in philosophy of religion - primarily caused by continental philosophy - so not seem to gain much attention in the department.
These remarks can be turned into the recommendation that the success of the studies in medieval thought should leave room for different approaches in other areas of systematic theology. A higher degree of thematic and methodological pluralism could contribute to make the standard of the department more homogeneous.
A second recommendation concerns theological ethics. At the visit, it was stated that the work in this discipline is performed on the basis of the doctrine of natural law, i.e. the congruence of Christian ethics and common morality. This presupposition belongs to traditional Lutheral thinking. One could expect that the new findings of the Finnish Luther research - also concerning natural law - could add new nuances into the understanding of theological ethics. In other words, intensified cooperation between the Luther- and the ethics projects could yield research of international interest.
The imbalance between the various research fields and groups of the department makes the projects on Modern Theology and Christianity and Globalization appear somewhat detached from the other ones. It is recommended either to bring them into closer connection with the more established projects, or to.give them a clearer profile - methodological and thematically - of their own.
The training of young researchers in the department seems to be successful. The research groups in the department attracts a large number of skilled students. All dissertations published in the evalutation period are written in international languages. The conversation with the doctoral students during the site visit showed great satisfaction. Particularly, it was mentioned that there has been an open discussion in the department about the problems for a future academic career a number of the postgraduates might face after having completed their studies. This shows that the researchers at the department are aware of the very important condition for research that consists of a good personal atmosphere.
The department is in charge of the publication series ”Schriften der Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft” in which many of the dissertations and monographs appear. Even if it is a Finnish series, it has an international character, and it seems to be a good functioning channel for bringing Finnish research in systematic theology into an international forum.
When it comes to ranking the achievements of the department, the aforementioned features should be kept in mind. The department’s research is not totally homogeneous in terms of quality, relevance and international influence. The standard is set by the two outstanding fields of medieval studies and Luther research with ethics and philosophy of religion following on the right track. The organisational structure of the research, the synergy effect of the various projects and the number of active doctoral students and dissertations confirm the picture given by the selected list of publications: taken as a whole, the department produces work of high international quality
Concluding remarks on the research activities within the Faculty of Theology
The research activities of the Faculty of Theology cover the whole range of theology. This is possible on account of the number of professors and postdoctoral researchers and especially the impressively high number of doctoral students in all areas. The supervision is well organised through the Graduate school and the higher seminars in all subjects. The quality of the research is of a high international standard in two of the departments and of a good international standard in the others. There could perhaps be more cooperation within the departments and at the level of the Faculty as a whole. This is important especially when plans for future research are discussed. The national and international contacts with other research centres are well established. The publication policy is internationally oriented with some exceptions. The overall impression of the research activities in the faculty is very convincing concerning both the depth and the bredth of research.