Dr. Ulrich Lehner received a letter last fall that caused him to whisper, “Oh, my.” The letter notified the associate professor of theology that he was nominated to join the European Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Lehner attended a ceremony in Salzburg, Austria, as one of seven inductees to the academy’s world religions class and is now listed on its roster of 1,200 scholars, a membership that includes 25 Nobel Prize winners. “I was deeply honored,” says Lehner. The director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Theology was recognized for his research of the Enlightenment and Catholicism. “The challenge now is to live up to the expectations,” he says.
The academy was founded in 1990 by heart surgeon Felix Unger; Franz Cardinal Koenig, former archbishop of Vienna; and University of Munich emeritus professor of philosophy and political science Nikolaus Lobkowicz to build a “knowledge pool” of European scholars who bring the insights of their disciplines to bear on critical questions affecting Europe. Scholars join as members of classes comprising the disciplines of humanities, medicine, arts, natural sciences, social sciences/law and economics, technical and environmental sciences, and world religions.
In the 1990s, the academy expanded to fold in scholars worldwide who have European roots — Lehner is German and joined Marquette’s faculty in 2006 — or who work at universities with strong ties to European universities. Only standing members can nominate new members to the exclusive body. Lehner was nominated by Rev. Hans Waldenfels, S.J., a former holder of Marquette’s Rev. Francis C. Wade Chair in Theology, and a Catholic theologian and scholar of interreligious dialogue between Buddhist and Catholic traditions.
One of the major tasks of the world religions class, according to Lehner, is to foster dialogue and peaceful coexistence between religions. “I talked with the dean of my class, who is at the forefront of the Christian pacifist movement in Europe, and he said we want your expertise especially on Catholicism and modernity, on important questions such as ecumenism, tolerance and world religions,” Lehner says. “I would like to contribute to the discussion to what extent Catholicism and modernity are compatible because there are a lot of conservative theologians who think that you cannot be Catholic and embrace major areas of modern thought. I believe that is not the case. You have to be in dialogue with modern philosophies and worldviews so that you can communicate your faith tradition in ways that are relevant to a modern audience. That question of Catholicism and modernity, I think, is a never-ending question.” • JMM
Lehner’s latest book, Enlightened Catholicism: The Forgotten History of a Global Movement, will be published in 2015.