In recent years, centers for the teaching of Islamic theology have been founded within German universities. A conversation with Lejla Demiri, professor of Islamic doctrine at the Center for Islamic Theology of the University of Tübingen

Last update: 2022-04-22 10:03:31

The Islamic theology programs established within some German universities are almost unique in Europe. When and how were they founded?

In 2010 the German Council of Science and Humanities recommended the introduction of Islamic Theology at universities. Since then, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), departments for Islamic Theology have been established at universities in Tübingen, Münster, Osnabrück, Erlangen-Nürnberg, Giessen and Frankfurt am Main, Berlin and Paderborn. The Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen was established in 2011, alongside the existing faculties of Catholic and Protestant Theology.


Whom are these programs addressed to? What job opportunities do students seek after graduation?


The Center for Islamic Theology in Tübingen is dedicated to teaching, research and the study of various fields of Islamic Theology, using the highest standards of contemporary scholarship. The Center currently has more than 200 students and offers a range of undergraduate (BA), graduate (MA) and postgraduate (PhD) programs. Many of our undergraduate students come from the state of Baden-Württemberg, and some of them come from other regions of Germany. We also welcome a regular cohort of Erasmus and other visiting students each year. Our PhD students and research staff hail from all over the world, bringing a diverse range of intellectual approaches, educational experiences, and research interests. This diversity represents one of the key features of our Center, creating an unusually stimulating, collaborative and innovative research and teaching environment. Alumni from our Center have gone on to take academic posts in universities, to become schoolteachers, and to serve as religious and community leaders as well as working in public sector vocations of chaplaincy and spiritual care.



What study programmes does the Center for Islamic Theology of the University of Tübingen offer?


We offer five different study programmes, both at undergraduate and graduate levels. Each programme is carefully designed to ensure that our students are well-prepared and competitive in their future careers. The primary goal is to meet the highest academic demands of a university education. We offer the following study programs: 


B.A. in Islamic Theology. This three-year programme provides students with a solid foundation in the classical disciplines of Islamic Theology. With a focus on critical reasoning, language training and systematic theological studies, students are given the tools to creatively engage with, and respond to, classical as well as contemporary theological debates.


B.Ed. in Islamic Religious Education. This three-year programme provides students with a unique opportunity to become teachers of Islamic Religious Instruction at German high schools. The aim is to prepare a generation of competent and socially involved educators.


M.A. in Islamic Theology in the European Context. The focus of this two-year study programme is on enabling students to engage in contemporary discourses, including interfaith and interdisciplinary studies. Contextualizing as well as debating Islamic Theology and its role within the realities of the modern world is amongst the primary objectives of this programme as well.


-        M.A. in Practical Islamic Theology for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care. This two-year programme is designed to integrate students’ theological knowledge with the varying demands of spiritual care within the German context. It combines classroom and fieldwork with the aim of training well-informed and caring contributors to society.


M.Ed. in Islamic Religious Education. Run in conjunction with the B.Ed. in Islamic Religious Education, this MA programme provides the skills to become a high school teacher in the German educational context. It aims to equip students with subject-specific and contemporary methodological capacity.


What subjects do students study?


The courses we teach range from classical theological disciplines, such as Systematic Theology, to Philosophy, Arabic Language, Doctrine, Legal Theory, Ethics and Scriptural Exegesis. There is an equally strong focus on Humanities, which include Philology, Theological Anthropology, Islamic Art and Aesthetics, Intellectual and Social History, History of Law, Prophetic Tradition and History of Education. Moreover, Comparative Theology and Interfaith Studies form an important component of our study programmes. As part of our inter-disciplinary modules, we encourage our students to take courses from the neighbouring Faculties of Catholic and Protestant Theology as well as Jewish Studies. There are several courses that we co-teach together with our colleagues, namely Catholic and Protestant theologians. Moreover, practical studies are part of the curriculum for those in the educational and chaplaincy degrees and include Religious Education (Teacher Training), Pedagogy, Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care, and Empirical Research in Religion and Education.  



What kind of Islam do you teach?


The Center for Islamic Theology is, naturally, dedicated to the study of Islam, taking into due consideration the religious context in Germany and in Europe. Hence a close cooperation in teaching as well as in research with our colleagues who work as Catholic and Protestant theologians at Tübingen University is needed. We are also unambiguous in emphasising that Islam, as any world religion or belief system, has polyvalent interpretations and manifestations across time and space. Our task, and one which we embody in both our teaching and research, is not to enunciate a single vision of Islam, but rather to acknowledge that theology is always the result of an historically emergent and intellectually discursive process. We believe that the fecundity of ideas takes root in the recognition of diversity within Islam.



A rather large Muslim community lives in Germany. What social role do these Islamic theology programs play in this context?


In both research and teaching we are interested in exploring contemporary issues which bear on theology, in conversation with theologians from other religious traditions. There is a number of joint research projects on which we as scholars of Islam work together with Christian theologians, such as issues related to theological anthropology, green theology, gender, and so forth. Also, co-teaching has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of this cooperation: next summer it will be the sixth year that I teach with my colleague professor Christoph Schwoebel, a renowned Protestant theologian, our Scriptural Reasoning seminar, where we read and discuss the Bible and the Qur’an with students from both departments. With its three theology departments, the University of Tübingen is one of the few European institutions that sustain a genuinely stimulating habitat for constructive and dynamic inter-faith collaboration.


Islamic Theology can potentially be a great catalyst for social betterment through positive academic, social, and cultural activities. We see the Center as a generational project to continue the production of world-class scholarship, better intercultural relations and foster greater religious understanding to ultimately reflect the complex and changing demands of Germany in the 21st century. Our students are socially conscious and engaged, and they are active members in their communities. Our aspiration is that our students, as intellectually curious members of the university, will be helped by their studies in Islamic Theology to realise their potential as thinkers and as citizens.


Most Muslims living in Europe have a double belonging: on the one hand there is the country of residence, on the other the country of origin. Does this feature affect the way your students understand Islam?


Overwhelmingly our students see themselves as Europeans because Europe is their place of birth. But I would say that the sense of belonging which you cite is intricate and extends beyond any straightforward concept of ‘dual belonging’ to include a variety of ways in which young people may define themselves. Our goal as an institution is not to limit how people see themselves but to expand their opportunities to see the world and their place in it in more nuanced ways. However, context plays an enormous role in how we teach Islamic theology, as students must be able to apply their studies to the societies in which they live. Our context is the 21st century globalised world, and the study of religion must reflect the challenges and opportunities which it presents. To this end, an inherent pluralism is embedded in our programmes with a focus on comparative theologies, inter-faith dialogue and literature. All of this, alongside compulsory overseas study programs, aims at helping students converse with diverse contexts and broaden their theological training. University years are always, regardless of one’s origins and background, a time of questioning and forging personal identities and life goals, and we certainly see ourselves as a space for young people to learn, thrive and decide how they will lead fulfilling lives as empowered citizens.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation