The Dominican Research Centre for Theology and Society is an institute for theological studies. It was founded in 1988 by the Dutch Dominicans. The DSTS aims at contributing to a contemporary theology in the European context. It addresses people who are interested in religion and questions of the meaning of life.
A new research project starts every four years. The results are published in annuals presented on symposia, and in other publications and public talks.
The DSTS is a foundation with its own board. It is founded by the Dutch Dominican Order.
Director: Prof. dr. Manuela Kalsky
Researcher: Dr. Ellen Van Stichel
Office Manager: Dr. Heleen Ransijn
Members of the Board
President: Prof. dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld
Secretary: Ms Pia Wolthuis
Treasurer: Mr Frans Peperzak, MSc
Mr Hendrik Vis, LLM
Mr Herman Kaiser, MA
Mr Hans Hamers
Contributions from Dominican and transreligious perspectives (2017-2021)
Introduction: Dominican vocation and the DSTS’s mission
The Dominican Research Centre for Theology and Society was founded in 1988 by the Dutch province of the Dominican Order with the aim of being a sanctuary for theological reflection on current issues in church, society and culture. In keeping with Dominican tradition, the DSTS takes its cue from the ‘signs of the times’. Theology’s trade mark; as Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895-1990) taught, is reading the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. And Timothy Radcliffe, former magister general of the Order, stated in a 1996 lecture on study within the Order (in the Santa Sabina Priory in Rome): ‘Our study centres should be places where we learn to wonder again, in an attempt to understand reality and each other.’
In this spirit, the DSTS aims to analyse the ‘signs of the times’ and fathom these theologically in interaction with the stories of the Bible and the Christian tradition(s). One of these signs is the question of the common good, ‘the good life for all’, which seems more relevant than ever, not only on a global level, but also within Europe. The ‘good life for all’ encompasses all of society. At the same time, the Dominican tradition inspired by the Gospel, gives special attention to the vulnerable and marginalized people in our society. For instance the issue of refugees, which is evoking strong feelings in the Netherlands as well, but also issues concerning poverty, the environment and human rights are within this scope. As a theological research centre, DSTS aims with this research to search from both a Dominican theological and an interreligious perspective for the ingredients needed for ‘the common good.
The concept of ‘the good life for all’ serves in this search as a contemporary interpretation of what in traditional Christian idiom is referred as the ‘Kingdom of God’. From a Dominican perspective, this relates to the notion of ‘salus animarum’, the salvation of souls. According to the Dominican Order’s constitution, Dominican preaching aims at this salvation of all humans. The inquiry into a theology of the good life for all concurs seamlessly with this definition of the identity of Dominican existence, which lies at the heart of the constitution. With this research, the DSTS aims to demonstrate that ancient Christian notions like the ‘Kingdom of God’, as well as the Dominican ‘salus animarum’, can offer a positive contribution to a secularised Dutch society. We hope to be able to show Dutch non-believers that religion and religions do not merely cause violence – as many are inclined to think nowadays – but are also capable of serving ‘the good life for all’. Or, as Edward Schillebeeckx wrote: “… Far from being a theocracy, [the Kingdom of God] is a realm of justice, love and mercy. […] In it, the disparities of the world are turned upside down, and only love, justice and solidarity reign.” (Ons rakelings nabij, 22-23).
As indicated above, the issue of the common good will primarily involve the theological reflection on the biblical vision of the Kingdom of God (βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ) in our days and on the salus animarum in Dominican tradition. The theological angle of the study will be chiefly soteriological.
Research themes and research question
The research will focus on the question how a Dominican-theological perspective can contribute to the ‘good life for all’ and how the Biblical-theological notion of the Kingdom of God can be made fruitful in this respect, amid present-day diversity in (post-)secular world views and religious communities. Can we find elements for an interreligious theology which will be capable of connecting the ancient Dominican mission of the salus animarum to ‘other (religious) traditions of salvation’? How could this notion function within a society strongly defined by a secular understanding of reality, but also containing a plurality of religions? Is the ‘good life for all’ a salutary perspective which is capable of opening the limits of our own Christian religion and evoking recognition with other religions and world views (including humanism)?
The project starts from a theological-hermeneutical reflection on the Biblical image of the ‘Kingdom of God’. The Christian understanding of faith, as grounded in Scripture and tradition, will be both the starting point and reference point of theological hermeneutics. ‘The good life for all’ is, as stated in the introduction, closely related with the Biblical-theological notion of the ‘Kingdom of God’, which has already been subject of countless studies. The historical survey The Kingdom of God in History (1988) of the American-Swiss Dominican Benedict Thomas Viviano presents a good overview. Different Dominican interpretation on the meaning and function of this Biblical-theological notion will be explored, amongst others on the basis of this publication. Obviously, recently published Biblical-theological studies on this theme will also be included. It is clear that the ‘Kingdom of God’ was an important theme in Jesus’ preaching. We can find this notion in 122 citations in the New Testament – 99 times in the synoptic Gospels and one in the Gospel of John. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is worded as the Kingdom of Heavens (βασιλεία τῶν ουρανῶν). This kingdom of peace and justice is primarily promised to the poor and those who suffer violence (Matt. 5, 3-9). It is seen as a sign already present in the salutary actions of Jesus (Luc.11, 20). At the same time, its realisation lies in the future. The good life for all cannot be obtained without metanoia (conversion), so the Biblical message tells us.
Which consequences does this message have for today? How can we read the essential lessons from the Sermon on the Mount and the love for one’s enemy (Matt. 5, 43-48) in our times? What does it mean that the Biblical Jesus speaks chiefly in parables whenever he mentions the Kingdom of God?
We will look at the theme of the Kingdom of God / the good life for all with a theological, critical view on culture and society. Underlying question is thus what the notion of ‘Kingdom of God’ could mean in a world in which:
– a religious interpretation of reality is not to be taken for granted, but is rather merely one option amid many others (see: Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007),
– several religions and world views have abandoned their traditional claims of universal and exclusive truth and are willing to learn from each other and let themselves be mutually challenged and enriched,
– a positive appreciation of the temporal or ‘secular’ has come to determine the interpretation of the Biblical message (as in catholic theology marked by the constitution Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council, 1965, and in protestant theology by Paul Van Buren’s book The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, 1963).
The research programme is divided into four subprojects which will not necessarily be implemented successively, but in part also synchronously. These projects will have both an analytic and a normative character, in the sense that the analysis will serve the eventual reflection on what ‘the good life for all’ would mean from a theological perspective (normative).
Project 1: The good life for all in Dominican perspective
Essential elements in Dominican spirituality, such as the dialogue with people from other faiths (think of Dominic’s dialogue with the innkeeper), experiences of divine salvation in a post-Christian Dutch society (in keeping with Edward Schillebeeckx’s theology) and the incarnational character of Dominican theology are important leads in the research. They will be developed with the aid of well-known Dominican theologians such as Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895-1990), Yves Congar (1904-1995) and Edward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009), whose works provided important contributions to the theology of worldly values, emerging around the Second Vatican Council. Vaticanum II’s pastoral constitution (Gaudium et Spes) was particularly important for this development. Its initial impetus was given by Jesuit Henri de Lubac with his book ‘Surnaturel’. This was further developed by the Dominicans mentioned above.
Besides Chenu, Congar and Schillebeeckx, attention will also be given in this context to the Dominican Georges Anawati (1905-1994). He made an unquestionable contribution to the document Nostra Aetate and its consequent theological and practical implications for the relations with other religions. Which elements can be found in this document that contribute to a respectful approach of the other and which are capable to give a present-day interpretation of the good life for all? This question will also be applied to the theology of the medieval Dominican thinkers Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart. Meister Eckhart’s interpretation of the ‘proximity’ of the Kingdom of God is not in terms of time (see amongst others his sermon about “Know that the Kingdom of God is near” (Lk. 21,31; see also Lk. 17,21: “the Kingdom of God is within you”). Humans get direct knowledge of the Kingdom of God through the spiritual experience which teaches us that “God is nearer to me than I am to myself.” Besides Eckhart, attention will also be given to other Dominican mystics such as Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Seuse and Catherine of Siena. Which input can this mystic aspect of Dominican tradition provide to the theme of the good life for all?
It is not the research’s intention to reproduce the theological lines of Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx et.al. as Dominican heritage, but rather to develop and interpret their insights for our present day and our current societal issues. This is what makes this project’s approach distinctively ‘Dominican’: the theological reflection takes place in a continuous critical dialogue with our own tradition.
This project will result in a number of scholarly articles and in a book, to be published by the end of 2018. On this occasion, we plan an international symposium for the Dominican family to foster this dialogue on the good life for all and Dominican spirituality.
Project 2. The good life for all in the perspective of liberation theology
Edward Schillebeeckx’s theology was influenced by Latin American liberation theology, of which Gustavo Gutierrez was one of the most important representatives in the second half of the 20th century. In 2004, Gutierrez entered the Dominican Order. We will inquire how old and new insights from liberation theology can contribute to a theology of the good life for all. Which renewal is needed in order to give a contribution to the theme of the good life for all from this theology, which emerged in the 1960s?
Three themes will be central, associated with present-day discussions in society:
(1) the issue of poverty and the growing gap in European society between rich and poor. In this context, attention will also be given to migration and the issue of refugees;
(2) the issue of the environment;
(3) human rights.
In these themes, feminist, queer, postcolonial and ecological theologies will take an important part. Also, both male and female Dominicans will be involved who have contributed to the themes from their own research. Publications by the present Pope Francis will be utilised as well.
Project 3: The good life for all in transreligious perspective
This project will have an international character and will draw not only from Christian tradition but also from other religious and secular traditions in order to find there, too, ingredients for the good life for all. In a European context, with an increasing diversity in world views, this interreligious and secular approach of the research theme is of major importance. Where can we find ingredients in other religious traditions which can contribute to the good life for all? Which values and convictions (religious and otherwise) concur with each other and how are these values embedded in the traditions concerned? But also the application of notions coming from the non-Christian religions which do not concur so easily with one’s ‘own’ tradition is important to this.
Several (guest) professors of the Hamburg Akademie der Weltreligionen – prof. Sallie B. King (Buddhism), prof. Anantanand Rambachan (Hinduism), prof. Ephraim Meir (Judaism) and prof. Katajun Amipur (Islam) – will contribute to this part of the research programme. (These professors earlier participated in the Master’s course ‘theology of the good life for all in transreligious perspective’ which Manuela Kalsky gave during her guest professorship at the Akademie der Weltreligionen in Hamburg [April-July 2016]). The question is asked to what extent something like the Christian vision of the Kingdom of God resonates with elements in these religious traditions mentioned above and if, in which way? Where are similarities and differences where the issue of the interpretation of the good life for all is concerned? Where do these different religious traditions complement each other with regard to this issue and where do they possibly exclude each other? Which new insights does this offer where the issue of the salus animarum, salvation for all, is concerned?
Summarising: in this project we will inquire into the question which contribution the different traditions (religious and non-religious) can make to the interpretation of the good life for all and whether there are possibilities for a common (ethical) praxis.
Project 4: The good life for all in interreligious dialogue (through Nieuwwij.nl)
In a globalised world characterised by migration, the continuing practising of interreligious dialogue is of major importance. Not only the overcoming of prejudices by way of the encounter with and the gathering of information about other religions and world views is important; also the search for how to connect differences and what leads to ethical actions are fruits of this dialogue.
The necessity of interreligious dialogue in order to promote a peaceful society was already perceived during the Second Vatican Council. Dominicans were actively involved in the writing of Nostra Aetate, in which the position of the Church with respect to other religions is expounded. Also in our days, several Dominicans in are active internationally in interreligious dialogue. For instance: Flemish Dominican and Islam expert Emilio Platti; Pakistani Dominican James Channan, a pioneer of Christian-Muslim dialogue; Chris Smoorenburg (1929-2015) and Vincent Shigeto (1922-2003), Dominicans and Zen students. Nowadays, dialogue with other religious traditions is seen as one of the theological priorities within the Dominican Order worldwide.
This project will not result in a book, but in a continuous stream of articles, blogs, reviews, interviews and reports to be published on Nieuwwij.nl (a digital platform for intercultural and interreligious dialogue). Also, publications from this project will appear in printed Dominican media, such as the magazine Tijdschrift voor Geestelijk Leven (TGL).
Cooperation with partners
The new research programme will be implemented in close collaboration with several partners: the Dominican (educational) centres, the Edward Schillebeeckx Chair for Theology and Society at the Faculty of Religion and Theology VU University Amsterdam, the Institute M.-D. Chenu in Berlin, the Akademie der Weltreligionen in Hamburg, and the Nieuw Wij Foundation. The DSTS’s own contribution in this lies – in accordance with the Dominican theological tradition – specifically in the theological reflection on the phenomenon at hand, and more in particular in the developing of a theological hermeneutics of the good life for all. But, keeping in mind Thomas Aquinas’s adage of contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere, the DSTS also wants to share the results of its theological reflection with others. This is possible through the Dominican centres and through the successful multimedia dialogue platform Nieuwwij.nl, developed in previous years by the DSTS. Through these channels, a wide audience is reached.
Georges Anawati, Ich liebe die Muslime, weil sie Gott lieben. Aufforderungen zum Dialog. Übersetzt und herausgegeben von Hoda Issa, Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2014.
Marie-Dominique Chenu, La Parole de Dieu. II: L’Évangile dans les temps, Parijs 1964.
Manuela Kalsky, ‘Heil im alltäglichen Leben. Weiterdenken mit Edward Schillebeeckx in einer multireligiösen und multikulturellen Gesellschaft’, in: Thomas Eggensperger, Ulrich Engel, Angel F. Mendez Montoya (Hg./Eds), Edward Schillebeeckx: Impulse für Theologien – Impetus Towards Theologies, Grünewald 2012, 211-229.
Sallie B. King, Socially Engaged Buddhism, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu 2009.
Ephraim Meir, Interreligious Theology. Its Value and Mooring in Modern Jewish Philosophy, De Gruyter, Oldenbourg 2015.
Anantanand Rambachan, A Hindu Theology of Liberation. Not-Two Is Not One, Suny Press, New York 2015.
Edward Schillebeeckx, ‘Christelijke identiteit, uitdagend en uitgedaagd. Over de rakelingse nabijheid van de onervaarbare God’, in: Manuela Kalsky, André Lascaris e.a. (red.), Ons rakelings nabij. Gedaanteveranderingen van God en geloof, Meinema, Zoetermeer 2005.
Edward Schillebeeckx, Mensen als verhaal van God, Ten Have, Baarn 1989.
Glen H. Stassen, David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics. Following Jesus in contemporary context, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2nd edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2016, (2003).
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 2007.
Paul M. Van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel. Based on an Analysis of Its Language, Penguin Books, New York 1963.
Benedict T. Viviano o.p., The Kingdom of God in History, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 2002.
Wolfram Weiße, Katajun Amirpur, Anna Körs, Dörthe Vieregge (eds.), Religions and Dialogue. International Approaches, Waxmann Verlag, Münster 2014.
In the period of 2013-2017, Manuela Kalsky’s research focuses on questions concerning mulitple religious belonging (MRB). For this research a grant was awarded by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research).
In Dutch society, as in all of western Europe, cultural and religious diversity is leading more and more to forms of hybrid religiosity. A group of ‘religious creatives’ is coming up, who fulfil their needs in this field by drawing from more than one religious source. The research into MRB follows an international trend by interpreting hybrid religiosity as multiple religious belonging (or multiple religious identity). Seen from this perspective, hybrid religiosity does not refer to trivialising or decline of religious belonging, but rather to its transformation. A transformation which might well become the standard for the future of religion and is therefore of great importance for the societal significance and shape of religion.
The research programme ‘In search of a new we in the Netherlands’ was connected to the still running Project WE of the of the Dominican Research Centre for Theology and Society (DSTS). As is the case with the multimedia website www.nieuwwij.nl, this research programme focused on bridging the ‘us/them’ oppositions in Dutch society: secular people versus believers; natives versus immigrants; et cetera. What is needed to find a ‘new we’ which is not founded on exclusion but rather succeeds in giving al Dutch citizens a feeling of being at home?