People have always been preoccupied with questions that relate to God and "the eternal things", and the history of theology as an academic discipline extends back to the birth of the university. In today's world, the academic processing and critical scrutiny of the ideas, practices, and institutions of religious traditions play an important role in the interpretation of religious teachings and documents in the contexts of modernity and postmodernity.
Theological research is conducted on and within different religious traditions, but in a Western context theology is often associated with the study of the Christian tradition and its critical-constructive development. The research currently being conducted in this field is multifaceted, and it comprises numerous different specialisations. Historical, hermeneutic, behavioural and philosophical methods are combined with traditional theological methods to work through research problems that may be of very different characters. Theological study may have to do with everything from the Bible, church history, and the church with its practices, to the critical analysis of the Christian tradition's truth-claims and relationship to contemporary culture.
Theological research at Umeå University
At Umeå University, theological research is characterised by an awareness of the existential, cultural and intellectual relevance of religious texts, phenomena and issues today, a willingness to critically and self-critically respond to the ideas and practices of the Christian tradition, and an openness to constructive and creative interpretation. Within the PhD education program, the theological specialisation is called "historical-systematic theology".
Several research specialisations
In Umeå, research is conducted within several different specializations, namely biblical studies, historical-practical theology, church history, religious education, and systematic theology. These specialisations each have their own methods, but sometimes converge around a common subject of study, which is thus illuminated from different perspectives. As a research area, theology can therefore be seen as an integrated whole, the sum of which is greater than its parts.
Current research at Umeå University in the field of biblical studies is of a reception-historical character (relating to how biblical texts are used and interpreted in different contexts). One recent example is a research project about how the Gospels are interpreted and portrayed in films, and which problematizes such interpretations from an intertextual perspective. Other research projects address historical issues, such as the relationship of New Testament texts to non-biblical Jewish writings, the context of the Epistles of Paul, and the Dead Sea Scrolls as a background to the Gospel of Luke.
Historical-practical theology includes the study of ecclesial practices, change processes and identity constructions. For example, the relationship between church and state in Sweden is studied from both a historical and an ecclesiological perspective. "Ministry and democracy" is another current focus.
In the field of church history, research is conducted on, inter alia, the church history of Norrland, in which the Swedish Church's relationship with the Sami is a prominent theme. The manner in which church history is used by individuals and groups is another area of research.
The specialisation of religious education studies the church's importance for education and archival culture from a Swedish and comparative international perspective. Research projects relating to method development within religious education, especially in relation to the ongoing digitalisation of archival material, are also conducted. One current international research project is about socialization through media.
In systematic theology (which includes philosophy of religion and ethics), research is conducted that investigates the possibility of knowledge of God in relation to the traditional concepts of natural theology and revelation. One current research project addresses the interpretation of the so-called theodicy problem in light of our knowledge of evolution. Another focus is the issue of church unity and ecumenical dialogue. Ethical research is conducted regarding, inter alia, the influence of modernity on Lutheran ethics, and on the relationship between theory and practice in ethics.
In the subject of theology, collaboration and outreach activities are seen as an important part of the work. The faculty communicate their research to the general public and to various organisations through many different channels and in cooperation with different actors. Lectures, symposia and seminars are organised frequently, and research results are presented in various written, speech-based, and image-based media.