Brauer Seminar

Established by friends of the Divinity School to encourage interdisciplinary teaching and research, the Jerald Brauer Seminar is co-taught periodically by two Divinity School faculty members. 

The topic changes according to the interest of the instructors. Up to ten students may participate with the consent of the instructors, and each student receives a stipend to support participation. A seminar budget supports the honorarium and travel expenses for the Brauer Fellow, a visiting scholar who represents a disciplinary perspective on the seminar topic that complements those of the instructors.  

Jerald Brauer was Dean of the Divinity School from 1955 to 1970. An authority on Puritanism and the history of Christianity in America, he served on the school's faculty for 49 years, from 1950 until his death, and wrote and edited numerous books. Although he officially retired in 1991, he continued to teach a seminar on Christian history each semester.

The 2022 Brauer Seminar, "On the Nature of Theology," was run by Professors Willemien Otten and William Schweiker.

The seminar conference -- "The Theology of Nature and the Nature of Theology" -- was held on March 30-31, 2022.

On the Nature of Theology: This Brauer seminar will explore historical, ethical, legal and theological conceptions of “nature” and extrapolating from these reflect on the “nature of theological reflection” and so connect the various meanings of the seminar’s title. The question of nature—human and non-human—is hotly debated today. This is true in the face of the global environmental crisis but no less so in important matters brought before the Supreme Court, which might lead to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade or the undoing of same-sex marriage and are often grounded in appeals to “nature” and the natural. The topic has occupied thinkers throughout Western history ranging from natural law ethics, moral naturalism, definitions of the existence and essence of God and, for Christians, the “nature”, i.e., hypostatic union of the Christ, questions about creation and the natural order, and, of course, the possibility and task of natural theology. Even current questions about transhumanism and posthumanism find historical forerunners in ideas about theosis or divinization of human nature as well as in debates about resurrection and the possibility of mystical self-transcendence. Each of these topics implies something about nature and also about the nature and task of theological thinking. 

The seminar will explore (some of) these matters with a focus on and shifting understanding of human and divine nature, sustained throughout by a deep interest in the question of “natural religion,” “natural law,” and “natural theology.” The purpose of the seminar is both to introduce students to the richness and complexity of the topic and to get some purchase on the history of Western thought in relation to contemporary questions. It is the hope of the seminar that it can be a fruitful laboratory for the generation of research projects, including dissertations. 

Some specific themes and questions to be discussed:  

  • How, if at all, does one move from natural religion to natural theology? 
  • Does theology require the negation of natural religion? 
  • What are the scriptural warrants to support the idea of natural law in theology and  ethics and are these necessary? 
  • How, if at all, are appeals to biological processes in natural law thought related to  claims  about natural law and human reason? 
  • Where lies the difference between natural law and positive law in religious and ethical  terms?  
  • Does natural theology necessarily require classical metaphysical conceptions of God  around such ideas as “substance/accident” or “essence/attribute,” and the like? 

Among some of the texts we will engage are classical primary ones: 

  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, relevant questions on being and existence, on the  analogy of being, law, on nature and grace. 
  • Hume’s Natural History of Religion; Dialogues concerning Natural Religion 
  • Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue 
  • Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone; Groundwork for the Metaphysics of  Morals 
  • Barth, Nein. Antwort an Emil Brunner (1934) 
  • Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (SUNY, 1984) 

In addition, the following secondary titles are of interest: 

  • Natural Law and Moral Inquiry. Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of  Germain Grisez, ed. R.P. George (Georgetown, 1998) 
  • Charles Taliaferro, Evidence and Faith. Philosophy and Religion since the Seventeenth  Century (Cambridge, 2005) 
  • William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (eds.), Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology  (Blackwell, 2009) 
  • D. Albertson and C. King (eds), Without Nature: A New Condition for Theology  (Fordham, 2010) 
  • John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford, 2011)  
  • M. Renaud and J. Daniel, God and the Moral Life (Routledge, 2018)