Professor of Theology and the History of Christianity; also in the College; Associate Faculty in the Department of History, Social Sciences Division; Director, Martin Marty Center
MA, PhD (University of Amsterdam)
Willemien Otten studies the history of Christianity and Christian thought with a focus on the medieval and the early Christian intellectual tradition, especially in the West, and an emphasis on the continuity of Platonic themes. She has worked on the Carolingian thinker Johannes Scottus Eriugena and on twelfth-century humanistic thinkers including Peter Abelard. She analyzes (early) medieval thought and theology as an amalgam of biblical, classical, and patristic influences which, woven together, constitute their own intellectual matrix. Within this matrix the place and role of nature and humanity interest her most.
Reflecting her lasting interest in medieval nature, the volume Eriugena and Creation (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), which she co-edited with Michael Allen (Classics), brings together selected papers on that theme. The volume Religion andMemory (Fordham, 2013), which she co-edited with Burcht Pranger and Babette Hellemans, addresses methodological concerns related to the question how to conceive of the pastness of religion. Besides her medieval work Otten maintains an active interest in Tertullian, Augustine, and the broader patristic tradition. In collaboration with Editor-in Chief Karla Pollmann (University of Bristol, UK), Willemien Otten edited the three-volume Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (430–2000) (Oxford University Press, 2013) and with Susan Schreiner she co-edited Augustine Our Contemporary. Examining the Self in Past and Present (Notre Dame University Press, 2018).
Embedding theological questions in broader historical and interdisciplinary study, Otten’s forthcoming book Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking: From Eriugena to Emerson(Stanford University Press, March 2020) approaches ideas of nature and human selfhoodacross a wide array of thinkers, from Augustine to William James and from Maximus the Confessor to Schleiermacher. Deconstructing the notion of pantheism in the Western religious tradition, Otten draws attention to a more elusive idea of nature in which nature was an ally and co-worker of the divine. She will organize a colloquium on the topic of “Pantheism, Creation, Emanation, and Other Aspects of Nature” on April 29-30, 2020. Confirmed speakers are: Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Virginia Burrus, Burcht Pranger, Karmen McKendrick, and Jean-Luc Marion. For details, please check the Martin Marty Center webpage closer to the date.
Willemien Otten serves as the president of the Society for Eriugenian Studies (SPES). She was named a 2015–2016 Luce Fellow by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. In Winter 2017 Ottenserved as visiting distinguished Tipton professor of Catholic studies in the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In Spring 2020 Otten will give the annual Etienne Gilson lecture at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, Canada.
Willemien Otten is director of the Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion.