Theology and economics in one course

DOMRADIO.DE: You cannot serve God and mammon, the Bible says: Why do you think theology and economics work so well together?

Jochen Sautermeister (professor of theology and dean of the Faculty of Catholic Theology, University of Bonn): The world we live in is shaped by the economy. This is evident not only in managing your own household or tax return, but also in politics and society as a whole. It is enough to think about the consequences of the war in Ukraine, which can now also be felt in the lives of everyone in this country. For this reason alone, theologians of various professional disciplines cannot avoid to some extent knowledge of economic contexts.

But the Bible also deals with economic issues: some of Jesus’ parables refer directly to the economic conditions of his time. Or: social criticism of Old Testament prophets condemns unfair economic conditions and exploitation. Theology is thus already confronted with economic issues in its biblical sources.

DOMRADIO.DE: And is it relevant for today?

Sauter Master: The option for the poor and the marginalized or the Church’s commitment to peace and justice are largely fueled by the biblical-Christian ethos. The principles of a social market economy would be unthinkable without the tradition and influence of Catholic social teaching. Even if it may sound clichéd: the economy is for the people, not the other way around. Decent working conditions, the importance of work for the self-fulfillment of people, sustainable management also for future generations, as well as subsidiarity, solidarity and the common good – all these are the foundations of Catholic social teaching and Christian business ethics. Topics today are more important than ever – and everyone notices it in their daily lives.

If we, as theologians, want to be competent in dealing with economic issues, it is not enough to simply read a book. Anyone who wants to go into this in more detail has a great chance with this new theme combination. This applies to theologians as well as economists, who are also interested in these pressing questions.

Professor Sautermeister on the new combination of courses

“When we […] If you want to deal competently with economics, it is not enough just to read a book. “

DOMRADIO.DE: Why do you not propose this economic perspective yourself, but cooperate with the Faculty of Law and Political Science?

Sauter Master: The pastoral constitution “Gaudium et spes” of the Second Vatican Council concerns the Church in the modern world. It recognizes the “autonomy of earthly things”. Accordingly, “created things and societies themselves” have their own rights and values, or one could say: their own factual logic, which must be recognized in order to be able to design and act responsibly. Therefore, it requires specialist knowledge in various fields: e.g. medicine, psychology, and also economics. Two fields of study are now involved in this new combination of courses, each with their own competencies. Students sit simultaneously in the lecture and seminar rooms of two faculties – interdisciplinarity and social significance in the best sense of the word.

DOMRADIO.DE: What are the very practical application areas where both disciplines can be combined?

Sauter Master: Consider an Associative Caritas that deals with economic contexts in very different areas: for example in social work or when it comes to the issue of appropriate support services. And let’s not forget: Caritas itself is an economic player, even one of the largest employers. Therefore, it requires an understanding of business relationships as well as economic, political and social processes and structures. At the same time, however, one should also consider the question: how to reconcile the economic aspect with one’s own mission, the Catholic profile and Christian ethos of Caritas, and the ethical-theological self-understanding of charitable activity.

Another important area is the question of the image of the human being that guides our actions and our self-perception: should people be understood primarily as a homo oeconomicus that makes decisions solely on the basis of economic considerations and maximizes utility? Or should people not be understood as people full of hope, guided by holistic values ​​and gripped by the question of meaning?

In my opinion, these two should not be played against each other. We humans are complicated. Therefore, it is good to understand what motivates people in their decisions and actions. What is needed here is a sense of reality that takes into account the ambiguity of human action, that is, neither simple economic rationality nor spiritual-moral idealization.

So there are enough topics to cover in a variety of disciplines.

DOMRADIO.DE: Is there no danger that theology will become a moralizing, finger-waving discipline in relation to economics?

Sauter Master: This does not happen when you have an interdisciplinary discussion. You then know not only your object, but also the actual connections, hermeneutics, and methods of other objects. This is exactly what protects against ignorant all-knowing people. Interdisciplinarity is, in a way, preventing moralization through scientific exchange. The larger the index finger of morality, the lower the understanding of the various inherent logics of life.

But there is also the problematic concept of salvation and the promise of salvation for unlimited progress and growth. However, they are long obsolete because we know that this is hopelessly exaggerated and unrealistic, and that such ideas have destructive consequences. Then criticism of naive ideas, exaggerated claims and inhuman interests is required. Criticizing accountability experts has nothing to do with moralizing.

Professor Sautermeister appreciates the collaboration between departments

“Interdisciplinarity is quasi preventing moralization through scientific exchange.”

DOMRADIO.DE: Theologians should first and foremost deal with God: if economics is now half the course, is there a risk of theologians ‘secularizing’?

Sauter Master: “Secularization” can be interpreted in two ways: on the one hand, as a legitimate critique, when theology becomes a pure science of culture and society that does not considerably consider, ponder or completely reject the theological dimension, theological hermeneutics, and theological prerequisites.

On the other hand, as a polemical notion of a tendency, namely when behind the accusation of “secularization” there is ultimately a devaluation of the realities of life, from which one would like to isolate themselves in order not to have to deal with the depth and shoals of life. But Christian responsibility means exactly the opposite. It’s about understanding what people think, what moves them, what questions they are asked about, how they see the world and in what contexts they live. Without it, faith and the church are not possible. Evangelization and inculturation are permanently dependent on it. Otherwise there is a danger that the church and theology will be deprived of place and life. Then they become an ordinary mind game in a unique world.

Theology is one of the oldest disciplines in universities. In Germany, there are 19 Catholic theological faculties and universities where, in addition to teaching and other subjects, a full five-year course in theology (usually with a master’s degree in theology) can be completed.

So not secularization, but the way in which theology as a science of faith does justice to its mission at the University House of Sciences: Theological expertise is extended to economics – and vice versa: economic expertise is supplemented with theological qualifications.

DOMRADIO.DE: The Church in the World is Always About People: What Can I Do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Economics?

Sauter Master: There are many jobs in the charitable and nonprofit sectors where exactly this mix of theological and economic expertise is required. There is also a corresponding need in the administration and church organizations.

The second charm of this new combination of courses is that the theological part can be covered by a so-called “full course” for Magister theologiae or Church exams in Catholic theology. So if you study with the intention of becoming a pastor or priest, or have already done so, you will already have the theological parts with you. Economic expertise is essential for theologians in church leadership and management responsibilities – especially when you think about the major financial, organizational, structure, and personnel challenges that the church will always face in the future.

The interview was conducted by Gerald Mayer.

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