Session A19-208

Religion and Catastrophe: Bonhoeffer in Comparative Perspective

Saturday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM (In Person)

Convention Center-Mile High 4C (Lower Level)

In this session, scholars engage Bonhoeffer’s thought through a series of comparative studies in conversation with diverse traditions of religious and ecological inquiry. The papers examine Bonhoeffer in comparison with Sufi Muslim Ibn ῾Arabī on “sainthood”; with Japanese philosopher Tanabe Hajime on “metanoia,” or repentance; with contemporary ecology on “preservation” and “extinction imaginaries;” and with the world-ecology of capitalism on “cheap things.” Collectively, with Bonhoeffer, they seek to address “how a coming generation is to go on living.”

Matthew Puffer, Valparaiso University, Presiding


•Hans Harmakaputra, Boston College

Bonhoeffer, Sainthood, and Islam: A Comparative Theology of Sanctity as a Liminal Space

Abstract: Both Christian and Muslim traditions emphasize holiness as otherworldly spirituality. However, another similarity emerges from a comparison between Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology of saint with that of Ibn ῾Arabī, namely the hiddenness of saint. At the heart of the notion of hiddenness is the saint’s involvement in the world. However, there is another less apparent similarity related to sanctity, namely the hiddenness of saints. Guided by the notion of the hiddenness of saints, this paper will survey Bonhoeffer’s works to draw his theology of saints and juxtapose it with Ibn ῾Arabī’s treatment of the hiddenness of saints using a comparative theology lens. The exposure will delineate how the idea of hiddenness correlates with sanctity as a liminal space between the banality of the world and the holiness of God in Christianity and Islam. Furthermore, the endeavor will also highlight the ways in which such comparison can enrich the dominant Christian theology of saints.

•Mac Loftin, Harvard University

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Tanabe Hajime: Metanoia as Consent to Death

Published 2021

Abstract: Bonhoeffer’s prison letters briefly mention metanoia, repentance, as a way for Christianity to overcome “self-preservation” and reckon with its complicity in past and present atrocities. I flesh out these scattered mentions by reading them alongside Tanabe Hajime’s Philosophy as Metanoetics. Tanabe, a Japanese contemporary of Bonhoeffer’s, makes explicit what Bonhoeffer implies: metanoia names not only acceptance of moral contingency but also consent to death. Both understand metanoia as individual and collective; not only must we accept our own moral limitation and death, we must also take responsibility for the moral failings of our community and accept that this community will pass away. After showing how both see metanoia as resisting ethnonationalism, I explore their relevance to today’s far-right’s push to ban “Critical Race Theory” and forestall a fantasized “Great Replacement” of the white race – attempts to secure both the moral purity and the perpetual existence of a white Christian America.

•Adam Vander Tuig, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

A History of the Anthropocene in a Single Cheap Thing: Bonhoeffer, Cheap Grace, and the Future of the Planet

Published 2018

Abstract: In A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet, coauthors Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore attempt to show how our modern world has been made through seven cheap things: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. This paper puts their work into conversation with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship to explore comparative notions of “cheap” and to argue that our modern world—including the cascading climate catastrophe that exponentially threatens it—has been made by “cheap grace,” too. The cheapness that restores a world-ecology ripest for capitalism has profound implications for Christian sacraments, ecclesiology, cosmology, discipleship, and spiritual practices in general.

•David Robinson, Regent University

How is the Coming Generation to Go On Living? Bonhoeffer’s Ethics of Preservation Amid the “Sixth Extinction”

Abstract: Threats to the lives of other creatures are so acute that scientists now speak of an anthropogenic mass extinction event comparable with the five found in the geological record. What is our obligation to species threatened with extinction—or to those already extinct? Ecotheology has made significant contributions but often reaches its limit when faced with the moral ambivalence of nature. This essay therefore draws on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics of preservation, adapting his call for a world alliance against nationalist resentment and resource wars in order to counter the threat of an anthropogenic mass extinction. I connect this material to Karl Barth’s own treatment of divine preservation against the “nothingness” that threatens creaturely life. Finally, this essay engages with current scientific discourse regarding a practical target for biodiversity that can inform public policy, while also analyzing the use of de-extinction technologies in light of Bonhoeffer reconfiguration of “natural life.”

Session A20-204

Crossing Boundaries: Bonhoeffer and Black, Womanist, and Liberation Theologies

Sunday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM (In Person)

Embassy Suites-Crestone B (Third Level)

The papers in this session explore the relationship between Bonhoeffer’s theology and various liberationist discourses. The first paper identifies resonances between Bonhoeffer and James Cone on Christology; the second compares Bonhoeffer and M. Shawn Copeland on ecclesiology; and the third evaluates Bonhoeffer’s liberationist status vis-a-vis central liberationist criteria.

Karen V. Guth, College of the Holy Cross, Presiding


• Michael Mawson, Charles Sturt University

The Stumbling Block and the Lynching Tree: Reading Bonhoeffer’s Christology with James Cone

Cone, 2013

Abstract: Despite their very different contexts and styles, there are striking resonances between Bonhoeffer’s and James Cone’s reflections on Christology. This paper explores three of these resonances in particular: (1) Bonhoeffer’s and Cone’s shared diagnosis of and resistance to docetic, abstract Christological thinking; (2) their shared emphasis on Christ’s human suffering and humiliation; and (3) their insistence that encountering Christ as the crucified one locates us in the world in a new way. The final part of the paper will suggest some ways in which Bonhoeffer’s and Cone’s reflections on Christology complement and repair one another.

• Htoi San Lu, Vanderbilt University

Integrating Body and Community: Engaging Dietrich Bonhoeffer and M. Shawn Copeland’s Ecclesiological Approaches

M. Shawn Copeland

Abstract: In line with the theme of crossing boundaries, this presentation examines the constructive ecclesiological approaches of Bonhoeffer and womanist theologian M. Shawn Copeland, primarily focusing on their understanding of the church as the body of Christ. Bonhoeffer’s approach stresses the sociological structure of the church and gestures towards the understanding of church-community as a collective person of Christ, constituted by ethical responsibilities. Copeland’s womanist approach centers the body as the site of divine revelation and reclaims despised bodies. Through her theology of embodiment, she emphasizes basilia praxis which she defines as “ acts of justice-doing, empire critique, love and solidarity.” A dialogue between Bonhoeffer and Copeland’s work, specifically the concept of church-community and theology of body, offers nuances, fresh theological insights, and robust theological visions of the church. In combining the two, we may reimagine the church community and consider a constructive ecclesiology that can work for the betterment of diasporic churches.

• David Gides, University of Providence

Parts for the System: Bonhoeffer and the Liberation Theologians

Fortress Press, 2016

Abstract: Kelly and Kirkpatrick argue in “Bonhoeffer and Liberation Theology” from Engaging Bonhoeffer (Fortress, 2016), “Discussions of whether Bonhoeffer was a ‘liberation theologian’ are perhaps ultimately unimportant as they fall down to semantics and subjective opinion.” This essay challenges that assessment, arguing that there are criteria by which to provide an objective answer. Furthermore, an answer is important as it challenges the use of Bonhoeffer as a support for other movements. What are the initiating conditions for liberation theology? Is there an interpretive device explaining such conditions (ideological foundation)? Does theology start with orthodoxy or orthopraxy? Finally, are there theological categories in liberation theology indebted to, or influenced by, Bonhoeffer’s own treatment of commensurate categories? The final criterion provides the only convincing connection between Bonhoeffer and liberation theology. Difficulties in using Bonhoeffer in liberation theology are compounded by the fact these criteria cannot be separated in any coherent theological movement.

Additional Sessions/Papers of Interest

A21-415 (Ethics Unit)

Monday, 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM (In-Person)

Embassy Suites – Aspen A (Third Level)

Theme: Guilt, Blame, and Justification: Social Ethics in the Context of Resistance

• Dallas Gingles, Southern Methodist University

Christ, Intrinsic Laws, and Guilt in Bonhoeffer’s “History and the Good 2”

Abstract: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “History and the Good II” describes a willingness to “take on guilt.” I argue that in this manucript Bonhoeffer is not deploying a generic category of guilt, but rather the guilt that comes from breaking what Bonhoeffer calls the “intrinsic law” of state. Bonhoeffer’s account of this intrinsic law is deeply tied to a long Christological argument that precedes it. Understood this way, Bonhoeffer’s argument is much more cautious and careful than traditionally understood by either his supporters or critics.

A22-118 (Comparative Theology Unit)

Tuesday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM (In-Person)

Convention Center – 302 (Street Level)

Theme: The Political Implications of Comparative Theology

• Hans Harmakaputra, Hartford International University for Religion and Peace

Worldly Saint, Political Saint: Revisiting the Christian Notion of Holiness

Abstract: Both Christian and Muslim traditions emphasize holiness as otherworldly spirituality. However, regardless of the similar negative perception about the world, Christians seem to have a more difficult time imagining the interconnection between holiness and politics than Muslims, as seen in the canonization process of Óscar Romero. This paper utilizes a comparative theology lens to draw insights from the Islamic tradition of friends of God, particularly through an account of a Muslim saint from Indonesia, to transform the negative perception of politics in Christianity. Several insights drawn from the comparison are these: rethinking Jesus’ political role, differentiating types of saints, and redefining the meaning of “miracle” or extraordinary power of saints. In addition, the paper will construct a theological rationale, drawn from Karl Rahner’s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ideas, for revisiting the Christian notion of holiness and suggesting a different kind of saints for contemporary time: a worldly and political saint.




The English Language Section is dedicated to advancing the theology and legacy of German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the academy, church, and world, and has been on the forefront of this work for the last fifty years.

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