Willemien Otten Named Marty Center Director

Willemien OttenWillemien Otten has been named the Director of the Martin Marty Center for the public understanding of religion.

Otten is Professor of Theology and the History of Christianity; her academic work in the history of Christianity and Christian thought includes a focus on the medieval and early Christian intellectual tradition. The author or editor of several books, including, most recently, Eriugena and Creation, Otten’s current work deals with ideas of nature and self.

“Public debates about religion often lead to confusion and misunderstanding. But they can also lead to greater mutual respect, a deeper appreciation of age-old wisdom traditions, and a sensitivity to the value of practical solutions. I see the latter as the Martin Marty Center’s core business,” said Otten about her appointment.

Otten is also appointed as Associate Faculty in the Department of History (Social Sciences Division). A 2015–2016 Luce Fellow, Otten was also recently visiting distinguished Tipton professor of Catholic studies in the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A Dutch native, Otten 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 task force concluded in 2016.

The Martin Marty Center, operating since 1979, is the Divinity School’s institute for advanced research in all fields of the academic study of religion. Through its seminars, research projects, conferences, and publications, the Marty Center fosters interdisciplinary research on religion by University of Chicago faculty and graduate students, in cooperation with scholars from around the world.

Laurie Zoloth, Dean of the Divinity School, said “I am delighted to have a scholar of Dr. Otten’s stature become the faculty director of the Marty Center.  Her vision for international scholarship on the public understanding of religion will be transformational.”

The Center builds on the Divinity School’s longstanding conviction that the best, most innovative scholarship in religion arises from sustained dialogue with the world outside the academy. In 1998 the Center was renamed for founding director Martin E. Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity and a 1956 PhD graduate of the Divinity School. “Marty” holds a singular distinction as an American public intellectual and commentator on religion and public life. He continues his involvement in the Center to this day with a weekly column in its online publication Sightings.

“Martin Marty is that rare scholar whose work seamlessly integrates the public understanding of religion with first-rate scholarship, said Otten. “To be able to build on his reputation, from the Quad to South Chicago, in furthering the Center’s mission is a daunting and honorable task. And to do so aided by the team of creative scholars that make up the Divinity School’s faculty makes it both more daunting and more honorable.”

The Marty Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary on February 3rd, 2018. More details will be available closer to the date  

The Divinity School was founded in 1892, the year that the first classes were held at UChicago, and it was the first of UChicago's six professional schools. It is internationally recognized for scholarship across many religious traditions and for scholarly and comparative perspectives on religion and public life. The school is known for research that spans disciplines, with many of its faculty members holding joint appointments in other departments or schools.