Theology and Evolutionary Studies of Religion: Public Defense of my Dissertation

On Tuesday, November 7th, I successfully defended my dissertation on the relevance of evolutionary studies of religion for theology. With that, a period of fifteen years came to a close, a period in which I studied theology, for the better part in combination with a full-time job as a teacher. So the defense was a very emotional experience on the personal level, not to mention that it really is a milestone in my professional life.


Picture with the jury, right after the defense. I’m holding a little (but remarkably heavy!) statue of the Virgin Mary as Sedes Sapientiae, patron of the KU Leuven. The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies offers each of its graduating doctoral students such a statue as a gift.


Jury Members (from left to right):

Prof. Dr. Mathijs Lamberigts, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies,  KU Leuven – Chairman of the jury.

Prof. Dr. Willem Drees, Dean of Tilburg School of Humanities, Retiring Editor of Zygon, former president (2002-2008) of ESSSAT

Prof. Dr. Lieven Boeve, Secretary-General of Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen (network organization of Catholic schools in Flanders) – Promotor


Prof. Dr. Stephan van Erp, Coordinator of the Research Unit of Systematic Theology and the Study of Religion, Ku Leuven – Co-Promotor

Prof. Dr. Erik Borgman, Coordinator of the Tilburg Cobbenhagen Center (research projects on the role of values in the sciences, and the role of the sciences in society).

Prof. Dr. Johan De Tavernier, Vice Dean of Education at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, and Coordinator of Ethics@Arenberg

You can download the pdf of the presentation of my defense here. Here, you can download the introduction in pdf.

Some of the questions asked during the defense I will certainly continue thinking about (paraphrased, not quoted):

  • Can you speak of dialogue when you’re the only one actually having an interest in dialogue?
  • Does the current title of my project really clarify the theme I’m developing? Shouldn’t I announce more clearly that ‘praxis’ is what I am focusing on? I think so, and I also think that there is still much to say about a ‘practical cooperation’ between science and theology – in education and beyond.
  • I compare Ian Barbour’s four models of relation between science and religion with the tension between wanting to be in continuity with one’s own field (in my case: theology) and wanting to be open for contributions of other fields (e.g. evolution). That comparison needs further clarification, possibly modification, the jury suggested. It might work better if I develop this tension further, instead of starting from/clinging to Barbour’s work.
  • One of the jury members mentioned how Teilhard de Chardin’s work influences Philip Hefner’s theology. Certainly something I want to study some more. I suspect this might also help me in getting a better grasp on what it means today to say that we want to help young people to ‘grow as a person’ in education.

These, and other critical but generous remarks from the jury will certainly be helpful in the upcoming task of revising the manuscript into a publishable text. My adventures in theology are far from over!



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