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Enhancing Life in the Context of the Church: A Q&A With Dr. Heike Springhart

March 01, 2016 • By Heike Springhart Enhancing Life in the Context of the Church: A Q&A With Dr. Heike Springhart

At the Enhancing Life Project’s summer residency seminar in Banff, Canada, the scholars were joined by six public interlocutors from a variety of fields, who moderated sessions and offered feedback. One of the interlocutors was Heike Springhart, Lecturer of Systematic Theology at Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg in Germany.  A Protestant minister, teacher, and theologian, Springhart brings a wide range of professional interests to the Enhancing Life Project. At the seminar, she offered valuable insights into the resources that the Project can offer students and religious leaders.

Read a blog post by Heike Springhart about enhancing the life of the church and the academy here.

What is your professional background, and what particular interests did you bring to the Enhancing Life Project’s seminar?

In addition to working in the academic sphere as a theologian, I’m Dean of Theologisches Studienhaus Heidelberg, which is a house for 29 students of various subjects: theology, pedagogy, medicine, mathematics, legal studies and music.  Serving as a dean means in my case working as a minister and as an academic teacher at the same time. The house is run by the church, but closely linked to the university. I also have a lot of experience doing adult education, creating some formats that are not that common for academic work, and of course I am deeply involved with my church. So I’m linked to various networks on the boundary between church and the broader public and also the boundary between church and the academy. I think that’s why I was brought on as an interlocutor: I can offer thoughts on how a particular idea will be received in the world beyond academia, but I am also very comfortable in academic settings and can speak that language as well.

What do you see as the potential of the Enhancing Life Project? Why are you excited to be involved?

The biggest potential is that it’s driven by a common vision that’s concrete and practical, while the different projects have a broad variety. It’s an avenue of academic work that is looking for relevance and resonance in the broader public, and that’s really valuable. The other thing that seems great to me is the way the scholars work together. Everyone has his or her own particular project, but  aims also at developing the thing together and being open to the questions of the others—that’s a unique strength. 

What do you think the Enhancing Life Project can offer broader public debates?

To begin this work, you first have to raise a question, and then you can develop a vision of what might enhance life. We don’t live in a perfect world. We live in an endangered, vulnerable world, a world full of risk. There is a gap between the world we live in and the world we envision. The question, “what enhances life?” helps us begin to bridge that gap and allows us to move forward.

I think the particular strength of the Project is that one could think enhancing life is just mere optimism. Everything has to become better and better and better. But this is only part of the truth. Because as the Project shows, there can be enhancement by limitation or enhancement by surrendering or enhancement by talking about risks. So it’s not just optimizing. It’s much more subtle than that. The individual projects are all very different, so you have to kind of balance two ideas: there’s this broader idea of enhancing life, but each of the scholars has their own answer. Sometimes the scholars’ views are overlapping, but not always. So a danger could be that there is just one big cloud of enhancing life but the concrete situations or the concrete questions where this becomes subtle or differentiated might get lost. On the other hand, I think this variety is the real strength and beauty of the Project, and it will help us show the relevance of the different research agendas in many contexts.

What do you think the Enhancing Life Project or Enhancing Life studies can offer your profession or area of focus, and why?

I work with students and I work with pastors. Sometimes people who are just in the practical realm of church have this idea that there’s this theoretical theology that has nothing to do with practical questions. You can see through the Enhancing Life Project that theory and practice are closely linked; they belong together. And that says a lot about the relevance of theological thinking. On the other hand, it also challenges theological thinking to stay connected to a practical vision. 

In the work with the students, I appreciate the Project’s communal aspect. It’s not the idea that we have one solution or that our job is just to read and learn interesting information and be done. Your religious beliefs and studies are not merely private things for your private wellbeing. You have to take the extra step of accepting responsibility for the world. And I think the idea of enhancing life helps create that link.