Together Towards Unity. Being Church in a Fragmented World

Bossey Ecumenical Studies Online Course

The course offers succinct introductions into the classic dimensions of ecumenical studies. Through specific assignments, students are guided in exploring ecumenical relations in their local context, sharing about it in a global cohort of students and deepen their understanding through theological study. Strengthening the students’ agency and the students’ capacity for theological discernment is vital in this study program.

The course is taught in English.

Learning objectives

This course empowers and equips participants to:

Understand historical trajectories on church unity and grasp the issues at stake with conceptual clarity.

Connect local and global developments and their implications on church unity.  

Analyse critically the division and fragmentation in church and society.

Articulate theologically the vision of moving together towards church unity and contribute to building common witness for justice and peace in the world.

Engage practically with others, through dialogue and collaboration as expressions of solidarity.   

Thematic modules

The quest for unity: entering pathways in building communion in a fragmented world

Ecumenical theology constructively contributes to the churches’ search for reconciliation and unity. This module shows milestones in the historical trajectories on church unity in the ecumenical movement. It introduces different ecclesial self-understandings that are around the ecumenical table, and articulates how they approach the question of unity from within their ecclesiological tradition. Moreover, it outlines how they can be engaged in a common search for building communion. Key themes that help to shape the ecumenical vision are koinonia, visible unity, mutual recognition, unity in diversity. Models like conviviality, receptive ecumenism and healing memories have contributed to strengthening the ecumenical endeavour. The module discusses core themes and methods of multilateral and bilateral dialogues and thereby makes visible how churches commit to overcoming the pain of division between different traditions and cultures.

Scripture, Hermeneutics and Ecumenical Spirituality – Biblical Interpretation for Christian Unity

What role has biblical interpretation played in divisions among Christians? This module will explore how and why we read the Bible so differently and to what extent our cultural background influences the lenses through which we read the Scriptures. It will also examine how the different ways Christian traditions read the Bible contribute to constructive ecumenical dialogues and how we can make interpretation of Scriptures an opportunity for Christian unity. In so doing, we will seek to show that for any meaningful and fruitful dialogue, participants should be skilled in understanding the basic principles of biblical interpretation that their dialogue counterparts employ. The module will also highlight the central role of the Bible in ecumenical spirituality.

Ecological Reformation: Rethinking Theological and Ethical Frameworks

The human-induced ecological crisis in our world calls for a double-sided reflective account or ecological reformation. The underlying question is not only what the church can do to redress ecological destruction but also how ecological awareness challenges Christian self-understanding, its cherished values and beliefs.

Against that background, this module will introduce theological, ethical and ecclesial concepts to be employed in the study process and re(dis)cover the ecological resources already deeply embedded in the Christian faith tradition. Further, the module will sketch emerging eco-theologies, eco-ethics and eco-friendly actions from different confessional perspectives and integrate (inter)relational epistemologies as instructive for the search for unity. Finally, the module will explore (spi)ritual and social practices from various confessional and cultural contexts and worldviews to serve as models, examples and resources for church eco-ethical responsibility and action.

Doing Dialogue ‘Other-Wise’: Reconfiguring Interreligious Dialogue

Interreligious engagement is an important means to foster the flourishing of life. However, Jonathan Swift’s observation, “we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another” seems poignantly true even today. Against backdrop, this module will examine how interreligious engagement through dialogue and cooperation has contributed, and can contribute, to fostering justice and peace in a multi-religious world. The module will thus correlate dialogue with diapraxis and thereby bring a 'public-theological' dimension to ecumenical formation in a multi-religious world. Perceptive to the criticism that elitism has been an inherent risk in traditional forms of dialogue, this module will adopt the premise that the perspectives of the margins are essential in the quest for justice and peace. Foregrounded in this conviction, the module will critically re-visit the motivation for, and methodology of interreligious engagement from the perspectives of the often-'othered' margins and re-imagine dialogue in creative fidelity to scriptures, (spi)ritual practices and the contexts of the marginalized.

Church and Society – Responding to challenges in today’s world

“Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world” affirms an anonymous Christian writing from the 2nd century AD called The Epistle to Diognetus, echoing the words of Jesus in John 17:14. The epistle uses that imagery to frame a Christian lifestyle within the society. Drawing inferences from this paradoxical condition of Christianity described in the ancient sources, this module will tackle following intersections: (1) Revelation in relation to ways of interpreting scripture, understanding history and reality; (2) the relationship between church, state and society; (3) understanding of the church in relation to culture; (4) explore the location of the church in, and its role in the public sphere. The module will analyse  how the ensuing overlaps, juxtapositions, and contraditions in the context of contemporary challenges such as religious and social-political constructions of “truth(s)”, digitalization, political theologies, religious patterns in political discourse, interculturality, glocalities and hybrid identities, migration, etc. The underlying assumption is that the world is a space of manifestation of divine economy and how the Church as God’s gift and instrument for the flourishing of the world can discern, act, and contribute to the transformation of the world.

The Church's mission - announcing the reign of God in word and deed

This module will shed some light on the developments of Mission Theology during the last 250 years. An important highlight will be the focus on the Conferences for World Mission and Evangelism since Edinburgh (1910) until the Arusha Conference (2018) and its paradigm shift during the last 110 years. It would touch on mission theologies of the different denominations and Church traditions. At the end, we hope that the students will be able to give a profound theological answer to questions like “How does my Mission theology look like?” or “What are the consequences of my understanding of Mission for my ministry?”

Course structure and methodology

The study programme is a 10-weeks online course. Each module consists of the following elements:

A series of video lectures on each theme. These lectures connect contemporary dynamics with insights from the history of the ecumenical movement. They explore key concepts in the thematic field and articulate perspectives from different church traditions. These video lectures are pre-recorded and can be watched at different times.

Required and optional reading. These academic articles help to deepen knowledge in each field.

Reflection on the reading material. There will be guiding questions for the students in order to engage with the literature. Students are required to hand in brief written reflections on the required reading material.

Assignment for contextual exploration. For each module, students will receive an assignment that invites them to get in touch with another community/ study a topical issue within their local context. These local study visits and explorations will be shared in the group.

Joint seminar session. Each week on Thursday afternoon (CET) the module coordinator and the students will gather for a joint seminar session.

In order to round up the module there will be a quiz at the end of each module.


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Apply now: Bossey online course in Ecumenical Studies, spring 2021

As a pilot project, the course is offered free of charge in the spring of 2021.