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Professors in Demand

Increased Dynamism in the Development of Islamic Theology in Germany


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 4/2011, P. 196-200
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    A year ago, the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) demanded the creation of centers for Islamic studies in Germany. Meanwhile federal funds for erecting the respective professorships have been promised to four locations. The biggest challenge is now the training of the needed young scientists.


Higher education policy is a tough matter. Changes take place here often only slowly, not least because of the federal structures in Germany, according to which the topic education is in the responsibilty of the Länder. There is currently a quite different situation with regard to the development of institutions of Islamic theology in Germany.

In the course of the German Islam Conference one had with some surprise taken note of the fact that about four million Muslims live in this country. They had already for quite a while declared their interest in Islamic religious education. At least here and there in some Länder corresponding school experiments took place. Only recently, however, the conviction widely prevailed that the religious education of Muslims in this country cannot simply be left to the mosque communities. At the same time also the task is relevant to train appropriate teachers of Muslim creed, who are as good as Catholic and Protestant religious teachers with regard to knowledge, teaching skills and pedagogical convictions.

It is now equally critically seen, when the imams of the communities come from abroad, are not familiar with local conditions, and do often not even speak German (see HK, January 2010, 12ff.). In not a few communities there is even a dissatisfaction with the imams.


Applications for Federal Funds

Around 700.000 children and young people of Muslim faith currently attend school in Germany. A total of 2000, according to generous estimates even more than 2500 teachers would therefore be necessary. The number of mosques communities has a similar dimension. Although it will take a longer time until nationwide university-educated Muslim religious teachers and imams are available, who - similarly to the graduates of Christian theology - are able to move within the network of relations between secular public and the respective communities, one is currently working at full stretch on it (cf. last HK, September 2010, 436ff.).



As is known, one does also here not start entirely from zero. In the past decade, especially at the universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Münster and Osnabrück one started with the education and advanced training of teachers for the school experiments; and thus the first professorships were established, not in the way of Islamic studies (in the sense of comparative religion), but one reflects on Islam from the internal perspective of this religion. There were two semester courses for advanced training of teachers for primary and secondary schools also at the Baden-Wuerttemberg teacher training colleges in Ludwigsburg and Weingarten as well as in Karlsruhe, where teachers for Rhineland-Palatinate were trained.

One year ago, in its "Recommendations on the Advancement of Theologies and Sciences concerned with Religions at German Universities" the German Council of Science and Humanities has requested to build two to three centers for "Islamic studies" where - comparable to Protestant or Catholic theological faculties - both teachers and imams can be trained and in addition also the young scientists, who are inter alia necessary for enabling this at all (see, also HK, March 2010, 137ff.). The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has subsequently quickly signaled to provide funds - in the sense of a start-up support. Provided that it is ensured that the respective Länder to a similar extent co-finance and then also take over fully the institutions.

In the following months, a number of universities, including especially those with already established chairs of Islamic religious education, have then drawn up the relevant applications. Last fall, the BMBF has already nominated the first two centers. On the one hand the Universities of Osnabrück and Münster have got the contract for a cooperative project, on the other hand the University of Tübingen. But the experts acknowledged at that time also the proposal of the University of Erlangen, which now in late February in a second round of selection got a positive response. The conception of the universities of Marburg and Giessen was not taken into consideration. In the first round the Land Hessen had campaigned for it, although Frankfurt had at least as many good arguments to put in the balance. In the second round, the latter has now, in combination with the University of Giessen where teachers for primary schools are trained, also got a contract. In Baden-Württemberg a location at the University of Heidelberg, which had applied together with the University of Freiburg, could not assert itself.

For the next five years, the Federal Ministry funds professorships, staff positions and two groups of four post-doctoral students of the now four centers. The BMBF makes available up to four million euros per location. Due to the two rounds, altogether 400 to 500 college places shall be created. The undertaking is linked with the reference to the co-financing Länder that the development of the usually already existing units must not happen at the expense of the Christian theologies.


What Already Exists

In Osnabrück since the winter semester 2007/2008 at the "Center for Intercultural Islamic Studies" (ZIIS) there exists already the course "Islamic Religious Education" as a supplementary subject, scheduled to run for four semester. Already trained teachers and students with the aim of teaching profession can additionally attend the subject. In addition to the main contents of the various Islamic scientific disciplines, it is on the one hand about imparting the Arabic language skills needed for the lessons, on the other hand about the teaching methodology. Professors are the founding director of the Center, Bülent Ucar, and since 2009 Rauf Ceylan who has become known to a wider audience by a study on imams in Germany.

Since last autumn in Osnabrück also imams are now trained, first for two semesters extra occupational. A theological education is here required. In the center of this study program there are German language skills, geography, history and civilisation of the country and - in view of the community and youth work - theory and methodology of education.



The course Islamic religious education is designed for 70 students and is at full capacity, whereas in the imam training only 30 places exist, which are also much sought-after. Also the program beginning this fall is already fully booked. However, this shall only be a first step towards a university education of imams. From the winter semester 2013/2014 an special bachelor's course of studies is planned (see also Lower Saxony's Interior Minister Uwe Schünemann, in: Ucar [ed.], Imamausbildung in Deutschland. Islamische Theologie im europäischen Kontext, Veröffentlichungen des Zentrums für Interkulturelle Islamstudien der Universität Osnabrück 3, V&R unipress, Göttingen 2010, 32f.) [Imam Training in Germany. Islamic Theology in the European Context, Publications of the Center for Intercultural Islamic Studies at the University of Osnabrück 3].

After the academic training of imams at the universities, the Muslim umbrella organizations and communities could erect seminars for imams similar to seminars for priests and there impart practical and liturgical contents, Ucar proposed (Rheinischer Merkur, No. 41/2010).

In Münster at the „Centrum für Religiöse Studien" (CRS), where also Orthodox and Jewish theology is taught, more than 50 Muslims are enrolled, around a dozen of them are gaining their doctorate. The first religious teachers have just completed their studies. Since 2004 Sven Kalisch was there holder of the first professorship, but has left the "Centre for Religious Studies" after he had denied the historicity of the Prophet Muhammad and turned away from Islam. He now teaches "intellectual history in the Near East in the time after the classical antiquity" at the faculty of philology. Last fall, his successor became Mouhanad Khorchide, who in Austria has causes a sensation by a study about the ideological orientation of the Muslim religious teachers there. A second professorship shall soon be endowed, and next year two more of the five are to be filled. From the autumn there will be like in Osnabrück special training courses for imams.


How to Get Eye to Eye?

The courses of study "Islamic theology" (Bachelor and Master) under the umbrella of the new Center for Islamic Studies are currently in the design phase. From autumn 2012 they will be run independently both in Osnabrück and in Münster. The two locations complement each other due to different catchment areas (here northern Germany, there North Rhine-Westphalia), which also involve two advisory committees. In Münster there exist already the relevant related disciplines, such as two large Christian theological faculties and Islamic Studies as well as Oriental studies; through the advance payment of the Land Lower Saxony in Osnabrück the Center for Intercultural Islamic Studies at the University of Osnabrück is already similarly well established. With a total of ten up to twelve professorships the common center will in a few years have a similar size as a classic theological faculty in Germany. It would know then that it was eye to eye at least in this respect.

The University of Tübingen had until now little to show in terms of Islamic theology, but it was able to score points due to the political will of the Baden-Wuerttemberg government and the extensive networking opportunities with existing related sciences. Now one will begin with the teaching there already in the winter semester 2011/12. In this institution, which will be established by the Rector at the level of a faculty, six professorships are planned as minimum appointments, two of them shall be permanently allocated already this year. With additional lecturers one wants to offer then a program for 40 students. In addition, at the colleges of education of the Land also other junior positions for Islamic Religious Education will soon be advertised, in order to be able to expand the courses there.

The University of Erlangen-Nuremberg is the first German university where one could study not only Islamic Studies but also Islamic Religious Education. Already in 2002 the „Interdisziplinäre Zentrum für Islamische Religionslehre" (IZIR) was established there, where since 2006 Harry Harun Behr is professor of Islamic religious education. An estimated 150 students are currently in Erlangen, a large part of them aspires to the teaching profession and had to choose Islamic religious education as additional subject. A master's degree course Islamic Studies / educational science belongs to further degree courses. The Land Bavaria had already announced a second professorship, even independently from the acceptance of the BMBF in the second round.

At the University of Frankfurt, the second location for a center that has likewise only now got a positive answer, there were already in 2003 the possibility to engage oneself in "Islamic studies". Until now, the program was here rather oriented towards religious studies, but some graduates work de facto also as teachers of Islamic religious education. The professors Ömer Özsoy and Abdullah Takim teach at the „Institut für Studien der Kultur und Religion des Islam" and are to a considerable extent co-financed by Turkey's government department Diyanet.

For the first time in Germany, one could in Frankfurt since this winter semester also study in a six-semester Bachelor course "Islamic Studies" as an independent study course. Of the in total 230 students at present there are more than 90 students enrolled there.



About 75 attend the BA course "Islamic religion", which will soon be completed by the first graduates (the master's course is under design), and about 65 are still attending the now expiring master's course of the same name. A third professorship is currently filled, but after the decision by the end of February one can now also here, together with the University of Giessen, plan more generously.


Discussions on the Name of the Subject

In its recommendations the German Council of Science and Humanities had proposed the appointment of advisory bodies as Muslim equivalent of the responsibility of churches for the theological teaching at state universities. It is currently still open whether the appointment and survey of Islamic theologians will proceed without conflict.

The main problem with the present extension of the capacity for research and teaching in terms of Islamic theology is anyway that it is at short notice impossible to find enough suitable applicants for the many new professorships that have to be filled - inter alia also because most of the eligible German Muslims are so far Islamic scholars and not graduates of Islamic theology.

In a statement on the recommendations of the German Council of Science and Humanities, those responsible for the "Theologisches Forum Christentum - Islam", a group of Muslim and Christian theologians from the Catholic Academy of Rottenburg-Stuttgart including many of the relevant actors, had last June already against this background warned about an "actionism in ascertaining the requirements" and an "arbitrary anarchy with regard to the subjects".

One also calls for a decidedly theological orientation of the "Islamic studies", in order to be able to distinguish them from religious studies in general and the Islamic studies in particular. "Besides understanding and interpreting the basic sources of religion, the specific task of theologians is to translate the scientific reflection on faith as it is lived in the churches or Islamic communities (...) into the current horizon of understanding, and to bring methodically their presuppositions, contents and consequences up." In concrete terms this means that research is done also in the subdisciplines of Islamic theology, as e.g. Koran or Hadith exegesis, the history of the prophetic tradition and mystique, but also Islamic philosophy and Islamic law.

In this context it is interesting how the self-understanding of the subject is expressed on the website of the Center for Religious Studies (CRS) in Münster. "The aim of the professorship is on the one hand the training of religion teachers for the denominational Islamic RE, on the other hand the establishment and development of an intra-Islamic discourse on Enlightenment, which imparts the view of Islam as a spiritual and ethical source and as a humanistic, open-minded message that is based on love and mercy."

After all, there is a comparable interest in a more accurate profile of the new subject on the part of some Islam scholars at German universities, who criticize the name of the new centers. The term "Islamic studies" allows no clear demarcation and a renaming of Islamic Studies in Oriental studies, as proposed, is no alternative. Islamic Studies, too, treat the whole Islamic world and not only the Orient (cf. e.g. Patrick Franke, Transkulturelle Alternative zu den „Islamischen Studien", Dossier „Islam - Kultur - Politik" in: Politik und Kultur, No. 1/2011, 16). In Tübingen one has decided to call expressly the new institution "Center of Islamic theology", in order to prevent misunderstandings, but also to emphasize the new perspective.


Now Qualify Junior Scientists

Given the foreseeable shortage of applicants, all parties agree that at least for a transitional period visiting professors will be needed who come from countries with an embodied Islamic theology (especially from Turkey or Bosnia, but also from other countries with comparable academic standards). However, it is also a stated aim to accordingly qualify now junior scientists who have been socialized in Germany and here also feel at home.

For this purpose, too, several new initiatives have been launched. Last year the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung has advertised five scholarships at the University of Osnabrück for PhD students of Islamic theology and religious education. At the University of Paderborn, there are also since last year two Muslim doctoral fellows of the Mercator Foundation at the in 2009 founded "Center for Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies" (ZeKK). One main focus of the ZeKK, which is chaired by the Catholic theologian Klaus von Stosch, is so far the study of Islamic theology.

The same foundation has recently attracted attention when it at the beginning of December last year announced for the coming winter the establishing of a post graduate programme with 15 doctoral students - avowedly, to contribute to a "reasonable representation of Muslims in science, schools and the public".



Applications are welcome from Muslim graduates of Islamic studies, Oriental studies or similar subjects from Germany and abroad. The project is designed for six years. In total 3.6 million euros are available. Mouhanad Khorchide has been entrusted with the leadership. The scholarship holders may study at the relevant institutions in Erlangen, Frankfurt, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn and the University of Hamburg (Academy of World Religions). Each location shall receive at least one doctoral candidate. Other universities may participate if they create the appropriate institutions..

After all, also the publication of new journals and publication series is noteworthy for the current development. In Erlangen there exists for quite some time the "Zeitschrift für die Religionslehre des Islam" (ZRLI), which is published twice a year as an online offer. In the past year, Bülent Ucar has founded "Hikma. Zeitschrift für Islamische Theologie und Religionspädagogik". It is published by the newly founded Freiburg Kalam Publisher for Islamic theology and religious education.

In addition to the publications of the ZIIS (V&R unipress, Göttingen, 2010 ff.) the Osnabrück Institute publishes in the Frankfurt publishing house Peter Lang the "Reihe für Osnabrücker Islamstudien", and Harry Harun Behr publishes in Erlangen the series "Islam and Education" (Lit-Verlag, Münster, 2008ff.). Also the series "Beiträge zur Komparativen Theologie" (publishing house Schöningh, 2010 ff.) of Klaus von Stosch is until now focussing on Islamic theology. The series of the "Theological Forum Christianity-Islam" appears already since 2006 in Regensburg in the publishing house Friedrich Pustet, with now six volumes.

Many Protestant or Catholic theologians may feel a bit of envy with regard to the dynamism in the construction of the new subject. However, what primarily matters is that the backlog demand is met - and it will take a while to meet it.


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