Willemien Otten

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. Her preferred approach is to analyze (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 conceptions of nature, the volume Eriugena and Creation (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), which she co-edited with Michael Allen (Classics), brings together papers from the Chicago Eriugena colloquium, while the volume (co-edited with M. B. Pranger and B.S. Hellemans) Religion and Memory (New York, 2013) addresses some of the methodological concerns in conceiving nature along broad cultural lines. 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, Willemien Otten edited the three-volume Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (430–2000) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Seeing theological questions embedded in broader historical and interdisciplinary study, even as she pursues her interest in medieval history and culture, Otten currently deals with ideas of nature and self, linking, among others, Eriugena and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Willemien Otten 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. for a book-length project entitled “Natura Educans: The Psychology of Pantheism from Eriugena to Emerson.” In winter 2017 Otten was invited to be visiting distinguished Tipton professor of Catholic studies in the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where among other things she organized a colloquium on “Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking” and gave a public lecture entitled “Theological and Environmental Criticism: Creation, Pantheism, and the Problem of Thinking Nature.”

A Dutch native, Otten has served since 2009 on a Task Force for Sustainable Humanities instituted by the Dutch minister of education to strengthen the position of the humanities across the various Dutch universities. The work of the Task Force was completed at the end of 2016.

Select work: 
(773) 702-1901
Swift 301

Current and Upcoming Courses
  • History of Christian Thought II (THEO/HCHR 30200)
  • The Religious Thought of Emerson and W. James (HCHR 42999)
  • Augustine Confessions (HCHR/THEO 47717; HREL 53400)
  • Theological Criticism: Christology (HCHR/THEO) 51703