Andrea Bieler

Enhancing Life in the Aftermath of Atrocities. Exploring the Theological and Cultural Imaginary

Professor of Practical Theology
University of Basel
Basel, Switzerland

Capstone Conference Talk

SUNDAY (8/6) 1:00-1:20PM

Enhancing Life in the Aftermath of Atrocious Violence: Exploring the Religious and Cultural Imaginary

How do human beings seek to enhance life in the aftermath of atrocious violence? What kind of practices do they develop to learn again what it means to be human in the face of utmost experiences of dehumanization? What are the aspirations, values, and core beliefs that help or hinder victims, bystanders, and perpetrators in coming to terms with traumatic violence in a life-giving way? During my Enhancing Life Project, I engaged these questions by exploring various projects that attend to the aftermath of violence in South Africa, Germany, Israel, and Italy. In my presentation, I will present some of my findings. 


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 9:30-10:40AM

Politics and Enhancing Life: Disruption, Dialogue, and Democracy

The premise of our laboratory is that in order to engage fully the questions of enhancing life, one must explore it in relation to global political challenges. This is because global political challenges (e.g. climate disruption, terrorism, refugee crises, post-truth media) provoke questions about power (who’s got it, who doesn’t), value (forms and loci) and shared life (social and ecological, global and planetary) that directly bear on the questions of Enhancing Life Studies. The purpose of our laboratory is to test the utility of “Enhancing Life Studies” as a framework for interpreting and/or morally engaging global political challenges. Our group hypothesis is that Enhancing Life Studies provides a way of looking at global political challenges that illuminates them in new ways which we will explore in the laboratory. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.


Academic Biography

Andrea Bieler is a native German who received her doctoral degree from the University of Kassel. Beginning January 1, 2017 she holds the chair for Practical Theology at the University of Basel, in Switzerland.  From 2012 - 2016, she held the chair for Practical Theology at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel in Germany. Prior to going to Wuppertal, Andrea taught for twelve years at the Pacific School of Religion and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley/California in the MA-, MDiv-, and PhD-program.

 She is about to finish a book on vulnerability as a basic category for a practical theological anthropology. Her further research interests include memory and religion and the transformation of violence. In cooperation with the filmmaker Ralf Bieler she has begun to work on different film genres in which she explores topics in the area of culture and religion. In March 2015 their film Remembering Violence. Risky Pedagogies and Contested Aesthetics was nominated for the Hanns-Lilje-Award.

She is the author of numerous books. Her publications include: in cooperation with Henning Wrogemann, eds. Was heißt hier Toleranz? Interdisziplinäre Zugänge, (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2014); in cooperation with Christian Bingel and Hans-Martin Gutmann, eds. After Violence. Religion, Trauma and Reconciliation. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2011; in cooperation with Hans-Martin Gutmann, Embodying Grace: Proclaiming Justification in the Real World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010); in cooperation with Luise Schottroff, The Eucharist: Bodies, Bread and Resurrection (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007); Gottesdienst interkulturell: Predigen und Gottesdienst feiern im Zwischenraum (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2007); Die Sehnsucht nach dem verlorenen Himmel. Jüdische und christliche Reflexionen zu Gottesdienstreform und Predigtkultur im 19. Jahrhundert, Vol. 65, (Cologne: Kohlhammer-Verlag, 2003).

Project Executive Summary

This project focuses on the human capacity to enhance life by imagining a future in the aftermath of atrocities. Enhancing life encompasses the capacity to engage in a social and religious imaginary that fosters narratives and symbols, as well as aesthetic and communicative practices that are geared towards hope, trust in God and neighbor, and the dignity of the individual.

In the 20th century, thoroughly disturbing events occurred which revealed the human capacity to commit profoundly evil deeds. The Shoah and the Apartheid system in South Africa are two major examples hereof. It is remarkable, however, to observe that in such contexts human beings are capable of imagining life beyond the logic of violence, of creating communication that disrupts resentful images of the other, and of engaging in interactions that probe the power of empathy or forgiveness.

The research project focuses on these capabilities by creating a dynamic hermeneutical circle in which various research perspectives are brought into conversation with each other. These perspectives include an exploration of the religious and cultural imaginary within the Jewish-Christian traditions that deal with post-violence situations and individual and social resilience. A rereading of Christian eschatology will be offered that takes this context seriously.
Secondly, the project deals with current hermeneutical and psychotherapeutic trauma theory, with a focus on resilience and life-enhancing resources. Finally, three examples from South Africa, Germany, and Italy will be discussed in which the enhancing life project in the aftermath of atrocities is put into practice.