Created By: on 22.09.1999 at 12:37
| Assessment Report / Dpt of Biblical Studies|
Category: 22 Theology Category2: Dpt of Biblical Studies, Assessment Reports
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 Biblical Studies
The Department of Biblical Studies comprises two research areas. Throughout Europe and the US these areas are normaly divided into two departments, a Department of Old Testament and a Department of New Testament Studies. In Helsinki, forming an integrated whole, this Department of Biblical Studies was awarded in 1994 as a "centre of excellence", in which research scientists of the Old and New Testament work together on the research project "Early Jewish and Christian Culture and Literature" and was also nominated in 1994 to be a Centre of Excellence and again in 1998 in cooperation with Åbo Academy. Some research of the Department was also financed by the Academy of Finland. Of course this co-operation in the Department for Biblical Studies is a sensible way of practice because the parent religion of Christianity is Early Judaism and which follows from Old Israel.
The Department of Biblical Studies is a rather large institution with 4 professors, 2 lecturers, 3 assistants. The active Research staff as a whole from 1994 to 1998 includes about 17 persons. In 1994-1998 the Department produced 10 doctoral theses ( in this year and in the beginning of the next year 8 other doctoral theses will be approved). Also 9 studies for the degree of a Lic. Theol. were completed in 1994-1998. There are about 30 doctoral students in the field of Old Testament studies and also about 30 doctoral students in the New Testament. Some doctoral students are engaged in other fields, for example Septuagint studies.
In the Department there are 7 major research projects on-going:
1. Formation of Early Christian Ideology
2. Myth and Social Reality in Gnostic and Related Documents
3. Early Jewish Christianity.
4.The Hellenistic Context of Christianity
5. Ideology and Writing: Hermeneutics and Rhetoric of Early Christian Literature
6. Historiography in Ancient Israel: History, Archaeology, Ideology
7. Intertestamental Literature
There is interest in the Department in other fields connected with the seven main fields but for the time being there are no funds to have full time personnel for the topics: Rabbinica, text history, history of text receptions.
Research of all these seven subunits are on-going under the following main goals and ambitions:
- a comparative-religion approach
- a combination of tradional and creative approaches
- careful philological analysis and also wide-ranging theological and ideological issues
- careful study of texts (Assyrian texts, Qumran texts, Nag Hammadi texts) which have been recently edited and become accessible to scholarship
- studies in demanding areas (especially Septuagint translation technique, Qumran scrolls, Akkadian, Coptic, Aramaic)
The progress in research is mainly based on specialised and detailed investigations. The department gives some exquisite examples which testify originality and autonomy. They are among the best in international research if not in the lead. This is valid throughout the department and especially for the dissertations published between 1994 and 1998. At the same time these dissertations do not confine themselves to isolated details. For all published theses one can say, that they have been discussed with the team and they show in which way the results are to be related to the overall view of studies in Old Testament and Jewish history and theology and the studies in Early Christianity as well.
All people doing research at this department are working on this overall view. Implicitly or explicitly one likes to concentrate on a three-world model of communication, which leads exegetically to three methodological viewpoints. To comprehend the text these would be: the description of the text world, then of the symbolic universe, and finally of the concrete world. This methodology is at the height of international discussion.
Typical for the research at the department is to bring up the wide research history in a way that significant turning points are described in a new way and are thought over once again. Patterns of interpretation which are commonly taken for granted are questioned once more and all the unsolved problems in research history are pointed out sharply. In front of this background one tries to pose one´s own suggestions into discussion.
It is remarkable that a lot of scientists in the department do not only work on one special field, but usually investigate two or even more topics and literary sources at the same time. One is not so keen on limited specialists but on real experts who will work on more than one main emphasis and will therefore be able to overview the whole research area. Two, three or more of the department´s researchers are working in methodology and hermeneutics; in the development of Israel´s theology and historiography; in the formation of the Hebrew Bible and its subunits; in questions of the history of Early Christianity; in researching the gospels; in researching the document Q; about Paul; in researching the Gospel of Thomas and the Nag-Hammadi texts; in the Septuagint´s translation techniques; in the history of the research on the Bible. We have to add to this enumeration that those articles which were only published in Finnish were nearly not considered by the international experts in the assessment panel because they do not know any Finnish.
Co-operation with other institutions of research working on the same subjects is a matter of course. With regard to the Old Testament reference should be made to the cooperation with numerous universities and specialists in Germany (for example in Goettingen), in Switzerland (Bern) and in the Netherlands and also with the international research group AAltorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte@, headed by E. Otto (University of Munich). The Septuagint group has good cooperation with the only other main location of Septuagint studies in Europe, i.e. Göttingen. As for the New Testament, naturally the first to be named is the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity (Clarmont Graduate School, CA) und the Q Seminar of the Society of Biblical Literature. But one can easily add to this list (Tuebingen, Kiel, Muenster, some universities in the UK, for example, Durham, and some institutions in the USA). It is also a matter of course for the department´s researchers to present their investigations at international congresses and to dicuss them in a lot of internationally visited seminaries. Most senior members of the Department are cooperating with international scientific societies such as SBL, SNTS, IOSOT. It seems that the Annual European Conference of the famous Society for Biblical Literature which was held a few weeks ago in Finland (Lahti/Helsinki) can be seen as a remarkable sign that the work of all researchers from the Department of Biblical Studies in Helsinki is extremely well honoured internationally and well credited. Those who work in a climate of unbiased discussion at home will be happy to be open to the international discussion - especially as all the researchers of the department do not only know a few languages of antiquity but also at least two contemporary international languages.
The leaders of the subunits of the Department take care of all younger researchers of the department so that they attend the best of international congresses to give lectures on their research subjects. They also ensure that all of the young researchers get the possibility to work with international researchers and institutions of high quality abroad, namely in the USA, U.K., Germany and the Nordic countries as well as Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Nearly all of the publications - those which are more important at least - are written in English or German. The publications are made by internationally operating and well known publishing houses or in scientific (referee) journals which are used all over the world. Therefore the department can be acknowledged highly by international standards and because of the quality of its work, it actually is.
General remarks: Everybody who works with antique texts knows how difficult it is to open them up according to contemporary understanding, how much one can only guess as to the meaning. Everybody knows that in this field one cannot work at all without any speculations or hypothesises. The total whole of literature of Israel and Early Judaism and also Early Christianity which one would like to compose from the variety of texts is furthermore always influenced in a concealed way by the history, which the texts have had so far, and also by one´s own viewpoint from where the researcher tends to ask questions as well as by the form of the questions he likes to inquire. This is exactly what is known at the department so one can say that the department´s members are serious about the principle: There is no purely objective study of history. All approaches to it look on this phenomenon with their own assumptions. That is why they are extremely self-critical when trying not to take contemporary viewpoints in an uncontrolled way into the text but to do the methodological steps to perceive the document in their original setting. That is why one is so much bothered with methodology and hermeneutics. That is why one does not pronounce the truth but tries to discuss possibilities and their probability. That is what makes it so productive to discuss problems with the researchers of the department. And that is why one can always learn from their research results even if one sometimes does not share the opinion or would stress things differently.
Our visit to the department and our talking to our colleagues has demonstrated the complexity and variety of items of their research programs. Such a variety is found all over the world in only a very small number of departments. Looking at this rich variety and intensity of work it is impressive that all of these subunits are integrated in the conceptions of two programs of the centre of excellence. There is another point which must be mentioned: In the field of biblical research there has been found in the last fifty years three large extrabiblical text groups (Qumran; Nag Hammadi; texts on assyrian prophecy). It is astonishing and remarkable that in all of these three areas the department is strongly engaged. As far as we know there is no other institution in the world besides the Department of Biblical Studies at Helsinki which is simultaneously engaged in all of these three fields. The high international level of the Department´s research can be summarized in pointing out the research in, for example, the field of Deuteronomy/Deuteronomistic History, Biblical Hermeneutics, and in the close cooperation with other institutions in the research of the „Logienquelle Q“ and the „Thomasevangelium“ (Nag Hammadi). We would like to recommend to the Septuagint research group - if it isn´t already in practise - to cooperate closely with both of the other groups of the department because pure linguistic research will be further improved by integrating the contemporary cultural contexts of the Septuagint texts.
It is delightful to see the power and energy used to continue the past efforts, namely in supervising the great number of about 60 postgraduate doctoral students in a very inspiring and open-minded atmosphere. If we have one worry that would be: Where there are so many highly qualified theologians how will they ever all get a position in their own country?
The studies in the field of Old Testament/Septuagint/Qumran and New Testament seem not only to add to an international high level of research, but also to inspire the international fields of research. To speak in terms of sports: to be among the best in the top group inside and outside Europe.
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.