Brian Wallheimer | August 29, 2017
An examination of one of the 20th century’s most important Catholic theologians has garnered a significant honor for Jennifer Newsome Martin, an assistant professor in the Program of Liberal Studies.
Martin, who holds a concurrent appointment in the Department of Theology, is one of 10 people worldwide to receive the 2017 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise, presented by the University of Heidelberg’s Forschungszentrum für Internationale und Interdisziplinäre Theologie (Research Center for International and Interdisciplinary Theology).
Martin received the award, which honors outstanding doctoral or first post-doctoral works in the area of God and spirituality, for her book, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought.
Balthasar, a Swiss theologian and Catholic priest who died in 1988, is often seen by critics unevenly, Martin said, as either ultra-conservative or too innovative and speculative.
Martin, however, sees Balthasar as much more moderate in his thinking, especially about the relationship between religion and culture, which she articulates by examining his analysis of three influential 19th-century Russian Orthodox theologians — Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov — alongside 19th-century German Romantic philosopher F.W.J. Schelling.
While Balthasar often affirms some of those thinkers’ ideas, his analysis, however speculative, remains fundamentally constructive and opens the conceptual space for theological engagement with Western philosophy, literature and art, Martin said.
“He ends up engaging with Western culture quite a bit,” Martin said. “He balances a view between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal,’ and that’s very interesting to me.”
The book has received praise from a number of reviewers, including Mark McInroy of the University of St. Thomas, who in Theology Today called the work a “timely, illuminating study of Balthasar’s largely unexamined appropriation of Russian Orthodox theology.”