Jens Zimmerman, Canada Research Chair Interpretation, Religion & Culture

Jens ZimmermannThe Creative Challenge of Christian Humanism

Jens Zimmermann

Canadian Research Chair of Interpretation, Religion and Culture, TWU

Wednesday, February 27 @ 4:00 pm, Woodward IRC Room 5


The question of who we moderns are and what vision of humanity to assume in Western culture lies at the heart of hotly debated questions about the role of religion in education, politics, and culture. The urgency for recovery of a greater purpose for social practice is indicated by the increasing number of publications on the demise of higher education. Dr. Zimmermann contends that a main cause of this malaise is to be found in the alienation of reason and faith. He remains hopeful that the West can recover and rearticulate its identity, renew its cultural purpose by recovering the humanist ethos that originally shaped it. The journey he takes us on traces the religious roots of humanism from patristic theology, through the Renaissance and into modern philosophy. Historically, humanism was based on a creative correlation of, and compatibility between, reason and faith. Our speaker uses his considerable skill to re-imagine humanism for our current cultural and intellectual climate. This lecture follows in stream of thought with the CBC Ideas Series called The Myth of the Secular, a reframing of the conversation about religion and society in the twenty-first century.


Jens Zimmermann holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He currently occupies the Canada Research Chair in Interpretation, Religion and Culture, and is Professor of English at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley. He has published eight previous books in the areas of theology, philosophy, and literary theory. He is board member of the International Bonhoeffer Society (English Language Section), and co-editor of the IBI (International Bonhoeffer Interpretation) series. With two other colleagues, he also runs the Religion, Culture and Conflict group at TWU, which organizes inter-faith conferences. The group recently published Politics and the Religious Imagination (Routledge 2010). Dr. Zimmermann has just released a new book from Oxford University Press in 2012 (Humanism & Religion: a call for the Renewal of Western Culture) from which comes the theme of today’s lecture.

Text of Dr. Zimmermann’s Talk on Wednesday, February 27UBC Lecture on Christian Humanism

Recommended Reading for this Forum:

Brunner, Emil. Christianity and Civilization. Second Part: Specific Problems. 2 vols. Vol. 2, New York: Scribner’s, 1949.

———. Christianity and Civilisation. First Part: Foundations. Gifford Lectures, 1947-1948.  New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1948.

Butler, Judith, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Cornel West, Eduardo (ed.) Mendieta, and Jonathan (ed.) VanAntwerpen. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Casanova, José. “The Secular and the Secularisms.” Social Research 76, no. 4 (Winter 2009): 1049-66.

———. “Rethinking Secularization: A Global Comparitive Perspective.” The Hedgehog Review  (Spring and Summer 2006): 7-22.

Sommerville, John. Decline of the Secular University. Oxford University Press. 2006.

Strousma, Guy G. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity. Translated by Susan Emanuel.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. (for some Jewish/Christians influences on profound cultural changes.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Harvard University Press, 2007.

Taylor, Charles, and James Heft. A Catholic Modernity? : Charles Taylor’s Marianist Award Lecture, with Responses by William M. Shea, Rosemary Luling Haughton, George Marsden, and Jean Bethke Elshtain.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. (If people don’t want to read “a secular age”)


Some provocative quotes from Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism.


Understanding the nature of reason is central to our conception of human existence. We have to resist a narrow conception of human rationality that excludes religion as irrational because such a view cripples our ability to analyze correctly the current state of Western culture. As Rodney Stark has argued in his book The Victory of Reason, Christianity’s ability to combine faith and reason with a progressive view of human nature laid the foundation for Western science and technological progress…. Building on Judaism, Christianity also allowed for the concepts of human dignity, personhood and individuality that have decisively shaped Western views of society. (p. 25 & 26)

Neither the best nor the worst features of modernity are comprehensible without the transformative influence of Christianity on Greco-Roman culture.Without religion, the West would not be what it is, and without understanding the religious roots of Western culture and their continuing influence on Western thought, we lack the self-understanding necessary to address our current cultural crisis. (p. 26.)

The reduction of reason to scientific objectivity, combined with an individualistic understanding of the human self as an island of autonomous consciousness and will, has draw a sharp line between faith and reason, between science and religion, between fact and value. (p. 35)

Living in a postsecular world means that secularism is no longer the standard for reasonable thought. If indeed it is true that Western culture continues to experience a crisis of identity and purpose, the dogmatic exclusion of sources of transcendent purpose (i.e. religion) seems unwise…. Such dogmatism is not secular thinking, if secular is taken at its root meaning of “this worldly”. Rather, the arbitrary exclusion of religion from reasonable discourse is secularist ideology, a fundamentalist rejection of all interpretation of the world, except the materialist one that excludes religion.  (p. 41)

When science begins to think, that is, when it moves beyond verification and begins to interpret the meaning of its findings, science takes recourse to philosophy and theology. (p. 42)


Further Graduate Student Dialogue

Also hear David Lyle Jeffrey on the topic in the GFCF Series:

Endorsements of Jens Zimmermann’s Work:

“A timely and thoughtful analysis of how human beings, in the course of several centuries, have come to dominate a world, and yet have lost a sense of what it means to be human. Jens Zimmerman demonstrates with depth and clarity the way that our common humanity was uniquely recovered in the incarnation. This is truly a topic for our times.”

~Barry Harvey, Baylor University

“Jens Zimmerman has wisely and judiciously mined the depths and fullness of the Christian humanist tradition. There are those who take humanism to be the polar opposite of faith. Zimmerman has made it clear that the noblest aspects of Christian humanism act as a corrective to both a secular humanism and many forms of contemporary Christianity. This classical form has a breadth and depth to it that is well worth investigating with Dr. Zimmermann. Going beyond dualism and deconstructing caricatures of Christianity, faith and reason are woven together in a nuanced, subtle and refined manner.  Public responsibility to a common good is elevated as a high value.”

~Professor Ron Dart, Dept. of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley

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