Dr. Willemien Otten is the Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor of Theology and the History of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

In this conversation we discuss:

  • How Dr Otten became a medievalist

  • What is missed by skipping church history between Augustine, Aquinas, to Luther

  • What Augustine gets right about sex and bodies

  • How it took to the 12th century before Priests were really celibate

  • The role of scripture in Medieval culture

  • The origin of the doctrine of Creation out of Nothing

  • How the revival of Bonaventure and the Franciscan tradition is generating a more lively account of nature

  • How theology changes when the doctrine of nature is more than the canvas of salvation history

  • Why Dr. Otten finds the Barthian rejection of natural theology unconvincing

  • The role of nature for theological reflection in a secular age

  • The problem of Protestantism doctrine of “stewardship”

  • How to talk about books you haven’t read and become a strategic non-reader

  • Returning to Schleiermacher without Barthian blinders

  • The unique gift of the American philosophical tradition and its religious naturalism

  • Why more theologians need to read Emerson

  • What’s the role of the received tradition for contemporary constructive theology?

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 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. She has worked on the Carolingian thinker Johannes Scottus Eriugena, on twelfth-century humanistic thinkers including Peter Abelard and, most recently, has ventured into the thought of R.W. Emerson and William James.

Her co-edited volume Religion and Memory (Fordham, 2013; with Burcht Pranger and Babette Hellemans) addresses how best to conceive the pastness of religion. Her co-edited volume Eriugena and Creation (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014; with Michael I. Allen), brings together selected papers on medieval nature. Besides her medieval work Otten maintains an active interest in Tertullian, Augustine, and the broader patristic tradition. With Editor-in Chief Karla Pollmann, she edited the three-volume Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (430–2000) (Oxford, 2013) and with Susan Schreiner she co-edited Augustine Our Contemporary. Examining the Self in Past and Present (Notre Dame, 2018).

Reflecting her interest in natural theology beyond the medieval period, Otten’s latest study Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking: From Eriugena to Emerson (Stanford, 2020) approaches ideas of nature and human selfhood across 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 is an ally and co-worker of the divine

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