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Reviewed by:
  • Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University
  • Harvey Hill
Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University. By Thomas Albert Howard. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. Pp. 468. $135.00.)

Reviewing a book devoted solely to Protestant theology in the nineteenth century would perhaps be odd in a journal dedicated to Catholic history. But a book about the making of the modern German university is not, given the remarkable influence that the German university has had on educational institutions throughout the world. The history of the German university in the nineteenth century is surely relevant to the history of higher education more generally, including the history of Catholic higher education.

The book under consideration should interest historians of Catholicism for another reason as well.Howard successfully defends what he calls "the foundational thesis" of his book: that the history of the modern university and modern theology "profoundly hang together" (p. 10). As the title indicates, Howard stresses Protestant, not Catholic, theology when he argues that theologians in Germany reconceived of theology as "critical,academic,scientific and . . . statist" rather than "apologetic, practical, confessional, or ecclesial" (p. 408). Even in German universities, Catholic theologians did not typically go as far as their Protestant colleagues in allying themselves with the state rather than with institutional churches. But many Catholic theologians and religious historians, both within and outside Germany,adopted the critical, scientific norms that were the hallmark of academic theology in the Protestant universities of Germany.

Indeed,one of the central issues of the so-called "Modernist Crisis,"for example, was the relationship between the scientific authority of the Catholic scholar and the dogmatic authority of the Church.Howard's book provides helpful context for understanding some of the complex issues raised by this episode. [End Page 392]

In his discussion of the modern German university, Howard particularly emphasizes two developments: the growing "political authority of the state and . . . social authority of science" (p. 14). State agencies took the lead in reforming German universities and controlled both the funding and the hiring process for professors. By and large, government ministers used this influence to promote "science," that is critical scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Exactly what Germans meant by "science"evolved over time, but throughout the century, virtually all German scholars assumed that science was naturally progressive and open-ended, and that a central scholarly task was therefore the expansion of knowledge.This assumption has been the ideological basis for modern research universities.

For theology,Howard emphasizes its "Janus-faced"character.On one hand,the constantly growing erudition and rigor of scientific theology in Germany gave German Protestant theologians an impact and an audience that went far beyond Germany itself. On the other hand, the influence of the theology faculty within the German university itself steadily eroded over the course of the century, ultimately forcing theologians to defend the very existence of scientific theology within the university from both secular and neo-orthodox challengers.

Howard ends his book by noting that "this formidable epoch's questions and issues . . . remain alive and well, particularly those concerning the relationship between theology and the university; between deeply held articles of faith and critical-scientific understanding; between the traditions of Christianity and their public, cultural expression; in short, between what Schleiermacher had called the 'religious interest' and the 'scientific spirit'" (p. 418). Indeed they do, and, if this book cannot hope to resolve these questions, it can certainly help us to understand them better. For that,we can be grateful. [End Page 393]

Harvey Hill
Berry College


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