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Organization profile

Research theme

This research program examines the processes through which religious knowledge and practices are transmitted in Judaism and Christianity, and looks at how the traditions to which this transmission of the faith belongs are maintained and reshaped. The program specifically focuses on the hermeneutical, didactic, and dialectical aspects of the learning processes involved in the transmission through which the Jewish and Christian communities appropriate their own sources by interpreting them, thus constituting themselves.

The research theme explained

The ‘Teaching and Tradition’ research program is a direct continuation of the ‘Mystagogy and Initiation’ program that was recently concluded. One of the research results of this program was that teaching and tradition play a crucial role in initiation. If there are no processes of transmission and education, of teaching and learning with distinct roles for the teacher and the student, initiation cannot take place. If there is no previously existing tradition, there is no normative framework for didactic transmission of the faith, and the latter will be unable to contribute to maintaining the tradition as the foundation of a faith and learning community on the one hand, and its contemporary appropriation on the other. Both teaching and tradition presuppose a dynamic unity of conservation (canon formation, orthodoxy), development and renewal (debate, conflict, contemporary changes).

The research program thus focuses both on teaching and on tradition as these taken shape, in very varied form, throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity. The focus is specifically on the texts that form the basis for the learning process of the tradition, as well as on the texts that have emerged from the tradition and reflect this very process.

Although the themes of teaching and tradition are not new, the combination of the two offers new possibilities to study theological aspects of faith transmission processes within religious communities, and in dialog with other religious communities and religions. Tradition is far from monolithic. In fact, the constant process of rethinking the content of the tradition, a process that is inevitable if the faith and learning community is to survive, and the adaptations that result from this, make tradition dynamic; teaching is one of the places where this process occurs. Reception and reformulation with a view to transmitting content to new generations can be identified within the Biblical texts themselves, as well as in texts that were created later and that played a role in the process of transmission. This process continues today, and it can be ascertained throughout Jewish and Christian history.

 Research questions

The program focuses on the following questions:

  • What role do teaching and tradition play in Christian texts?
  • How are these texts themselves part of the learning process of the tradition?
  • How do traditions and the learning processes that happen within them embody coherence between conservation and renewal?

 Relevance to society and to scholarship

The concept of tradition points to a dynamic reality. Whether it is the monarchy, a political ideology or a religious faith and learning community, constant updating is necessary for survival in the future. Churches, religious groups and even society as a whole constantly face the question how the transmission of their traditions can be continued in a changing world. Asking this question explicitly reveals that both continuation and change are essential components of tradition, certainly in the context of transmission or teaching.

Teaching as a theme is currently receiving a great deal of attention as developments in the educational field follow each other in rapid succession. But teaching is not limited to educational processes. Transmission takes place in many varied sectors of society, including in churches and religious communities. In fact, it has been taking place since the origins of religion as a practice that connects people to each other. Teaching presupposes tradition in the sense of a community with shared values and experiences, but this also shapes and builds tradition.

Connecting these two elements, tradition and teaching, enables us to study the coherence between them and to gain insight into the way in which these two processes unfold. The processes that take place in faith and learning communities can contribute fruitfully to the study of parallel phenomena in society.

Scholarly interest in the combination of teaching and tradition has grown over the last few decades, particularly in theology. Much attention has been concentrated on the various models of the teacher that have played a role in Jewish and Christian history, such as the rabbinic model, the scholastic model and homiletic catechesis in the Patristic era. Further study of give a new impulse to theological research, but will also create a platform for the various theological disciplines to engage with each other, using hermeneutical, theological and philological methodologies.

Impact: Empowering the Resilient Society

The University’s ‘Empowering the Resilient Society’ Impact Program focuses on societal change in the fields of economics, the growth of technology, migration and globalization, whose consequences are difficult to evaluate. These changes may have major consequences for a society that will be more diverse than ever. Strengthening a resilient society is therefore an important task.

The ‘Teaching and Tradition’ research program highlights two important aspects for our society. On the one hand, societies never begin from scratch; they are always part of a plurality of traditions which are essentially dynamic. On the other, this dynamism of traditions can only happen if there is teaching or transmission, in which the process of conservation, development and renewal can occur.

The ‘Teaching and Tradition’ research program thus forms the hermeneutical backdrop to the process of empowering the resilient society. The subprojects further develop this hermeneutical background or specify it by looking at specific themes in society.

Research output

If the renewed research program is to be strengthened, it will be important to consider joint research output. Our proposal is to write a joint English-language volume on tradition from the perspective of teaching, using the definitions that the disciplines involved in this research program use to study tradition, and to publish this in an international series.

In addition, a School-wide project is currently studying the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. After the Descent into Hell, the article currently under analysis is ‘Born of the Virgin Mary’. The anniversary committee proposed setting up another School-wide program on baptism, to reflect the common focus on tradition that the School’s two research programs share. This could be an option once ‘Born of the Virgin Mary’ has been completed.


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