Günter Thomas

The Pragmatics of Religious Counterworlds: Enhancing the Life Given and Hoped For

Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics
Ruhr-University Bochum
Bochum, Germany

Capstone Conference Keynote

Saturday (8/5) 11:00AM-12:00PM

Enhancing Life - Competing Visions in a World of Conflict

This lecture will describe a hopeful and passionate religious realism as a prospectus for Enhancing Life Studies. The rich variety of visions for enhancing life is itself part of the flourishing of life, and yet this variety can easily reach the tipping point of social and political conflict. Against this background, three questions central to this religious realism need to be addressed: What are the powerful challenges built into the fabric of social life which realistically need to be faced? Is it possible and is it necessary to ground the processes of enhancing life in counter-worlds, providing an encompassing narrative framework sustaining a culture of hope? How can insight, passion, and patience conceptually be related in the many endeavors striving for enhancing life?


Capstone Conference Talk

SUNDAY (8/6) 1:50-2:10PM

The Communication of Faith, Hope, and Love as Transformative Entanglement of World and Counter-World

The presentation will first outline a typology of counter-worlds and describe the crucial role of future-oriented counter-worlds for the transformative enhancement of life. In a second step, it will introduce the Christian unity of faith, hope, and love as a dynamic pattern of communication which not only characterizes Christian life, it also connects in lively, complex ways what is taken to be the world and the imagined counter-world in favor of enhancing life. In a last step, the presentation will sketch out implications of this dynamic triad for a political philosophy in the 21st century.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Enhancing Life in a Digital Age

The aim of this laboratory is to capture and evaluate the most significant impacts of digitalization and media on economic, social, cultural and political life. These impacts may come with enhancements, but also with threats. These impacts include potentials and problems such as data/privacy protection and IT security concerns as well as phenomena such as “hate speech” on the internet; artificial intelligence and “digital labour” (e.g. the impact of permanent [“enhanced”?] availability of employees on labor markets); the “echo chamber” or “filter bubble” effect (as a result of algorithm-based, personalized news streams in social networks, users can get separated from information which disagrees with his/her preferences and views); the use of “big data” applications in the health care sector and many more aspects.

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

Thomas holds a chair for Theology specializing on Systematic Theology and Ethics at Ruhr-University Bochum / Germany. He received his doctorate in theology from Heidelberg University (1997) (“Media, Religion, and Ritual. On the Religious functions of Television”) and a second doctorate in sociology from Tübingen University (1999) (Implicit Religion). His Habilitation (2004) focused on constructive issues of religious eschatology.  He was a principal investigator on a multi-year research initiative, “Interpretation of Illness in a Post-Secular Society,” and managed several interdisciplinary projects funded by research grants. He was a fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry / Princeton, gave the McKay-Lectures in Taipei/Taiwan, and is visiting research professor at the University of Stellenbosch / South Africa.

He works primarily in 20th century Protestant thought, constructive theology, eschatology, theological and medical anthropology, and in the field of religion and media. His key interest is interdisciplinary exchange between theological concepts and other distinct disciplinary discourses (terms such as ‘ritual’, ‘witnessing’, ‘imagination’, ‘finitude’, and ‘enhancing life’). He has co-edited several volumes, i.e. on the relation between theology and sociology, on religion and illness, on finite life and Christian hope. He has published articles in numerous professional journals. Currently he is editing a volume on the question of whether Christianity is still a religion of redemption, and finishing a book on anthropology. His research for The Enhancing Life Project is a theological exploration of the spiritual laws embedded in the transformative unity of faith, love, and hope.

Project Executive Summary

The Judeo-Christian Tradition deeply values and honors human life in its many dimensions and at the same time has always carried with it a strong notion of “a life to come.” Even though the spiritual resources of the tradition were not always fully uncovered, the Christian notion of life is dynamic and multilayered. Life is always a life interwoven in some way into a “counter-world” that helps to find the true life for the faithful and the world, even as it provides permanent and creative “spiritual aspirations.”

Comparative, interpretative and constructive in method, the project will ask: “How does the hope for God’s current and future creative presence stimulate human creative striving for the enhancing of life?” In other words: “What are the pragmatics of religious counter-worlds?” The underlying assumption is that the tension between what is religiously considered the world and the counter-world can be utilized in a creative way for the drive to transform this world.

Assuming that religious counter-worlds are complex means to reason about and attempts to shape this world, the project is starting with a specific two sided hypothesis:

In the complex unity of love, faith, and hope in a given faith tradition, the dynamic relationship between world and religious counter-world is effectively played out and epistemically visible and evident. Conversely, every unity of love, faith, and hope implies a distinction between world and counter-world.

Using the specific shape of the unity of love, faith, and hope as a heuristic tool to uncover the pragmatics of counter-worlds, the project will analyze the spiritual laws embedded in this unity within three different Christian faith traditions. The constructive goal of the project is to outline a realistic theology to face the most urgent challenges to enhance life in the new century.