Christine Helmer

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2012/2013
discipline Religious Studies
Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Adjunct Professor of German in the Department of German at Northwestern University

Research project

Theology and the Modern Study of Religion: Compelling Origins, Ambivalent Legacy


The study of the Luther-Renaissance at the turn of the 20th century coincided with the origins of the modern study of religion. Yet the deep, at times bitter, division between the disciplines of theology and religious studies today obscures the mutually constitutive relationship between the two fields and prevents fruitful conversation between them about their shared subject matter. The project “Theology and the Modern Study of Religion: Compelling Origins, Ambivalent Legacy” aims to reconstruct the intellectual history of early 20th century theology as it was simultaneously concerned with the recovery of the historical Luther and with new explorations into human experience that led to the creation of the fields of comparative religion and the history of religions. My aim is both constructive and historiographical, examining the inheritances of this rich moment in the history of modern thought and looking towards future possibilities for constructive work. I will also diagnose the reasons for the contemporary divide between theology and religious studies.
The investigation is organized into three areas of study. The first is the reception of Schleiermacher in Luther scholarship at the turn of the 20th century. Luther scholars were interested in the relation between history and religion in their efforts to reconstruct the development of Luther’s religious experiences and the grounds of his theology. But the missing link in this reconstruction has been the thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher, who established for theology the conceptual relations between history and religion one hundred years earlier. The second area is the study of the philosophical framework of neo-Kantianism that framed the ways in which Luther scholars sought the religious categories to reconstruct the “historical Luther” and to develop comparative concepts for the comparative study of religions. Although research on this philosophical movement is only in its beginning phase, it was the predominant conceptual influence for the development of the field throughout the 20th century. The third area is the look at how the major thinkers of this era—Otto, Troeltsch, Soderblom, Christiansen, Müller, and Holl—related history and religion. The enterprise of connecting the two was the product of several factors: the favorable reception of Schleiermacher at the time, which was closely linked with neo-Kantianism; the new research on Luther that precipitated interest in historical methodology; and the interest in the phenomenology of experience.
My goal is to explain the reasons for the ensuing divergence of theology and religious studies. I also propose possible avenues for future reciprocity between the two disciplines that would facilitate a non-reductionist view of religion and an empirically robust view of theology to the humanities and social sciences.



Christine Helmer is Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Adjunct Professor of German in the Department of German at Northwestern University. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies (theological studies) from the Yale University.


Her research fields of interest are Christian studies, German intellectual history, theology and the study of religion, Luther and Schleiermacher.

Selected publications


‘Bible, Theology, and the Study of Religion’, in K. Finsterbusch and A. Lange (eds), What is Bible?, Peeters, Leuven, 2012, pp.81-94.


Transformations in Luther’s Reformation Theology: Historical and Contemporary Reflections, with B. Holm (eds), Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig, 2011.


‘Theology and the Study of Religion: A Relationship’, in R. A. Orsi (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2011.


‘Schleiermacher’, in D. Fergusson (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Nineteenth-Century Theology, Blackwell, Edinburgh, 2010, pp.31-57.


‘Liberal Love: A Theological Perspective’, in A. Fabris (ed.), Metamorfosi dell’ Amore/Metamorphosis of Love, Edizioni ETS, Pisa, 2010, pp.165-175.


The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times, (ed.), Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2009.


‘Introduction to Luther’s Theology in Global Context’, Religion Compass, vol.3, no.3, 2009, pp.1-13.


‘Real Presences: The Life of Theological Concepts’, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, vol.35, no.2, 2007, pp.60-69.


The Trinity and Martin Luther: A Study on the Relationship Between Genre, Language and the Trinity in Luther’s Works (1523-1546), Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 1999.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Islamic studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Social Anthropology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Art History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Anthropology