Ecumenical News International

EKD Council Chairperson Schneider: Religion and Culture Belong Together

June 17, 2010

Essen (epd). The acting chairperson of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Nikolaus Schneider, sees culture and church as inseparably connected. Religion needs culture and culture needs religion, said Schneider on Thursday in Essen, Germany: "Just as religion without learning would fall prey to barbarity, without culture it could also only be called barbaric." Schneider was giving a lecture at the invitation of the Institute for Protestant Theology.

He referred to French sociologist Oliver Roy, who has recently observed in fundamentalists of all religions a separation from culture. Roy sees a line leading from the "deculturation" in religious fundamentalism to terrorist activities, explained Schneider. Such a development contrasted with a long historical process in which all religions, particularly monotheistic ones, had integrated into a culture or identified with it.

Schneider conceded that the present relationship between art and church in our own society was not always bereft of tension. It was, on the one hand, characterized by the church's great commission of proclamation and, on the other, by the claim of contemporary art to remain "non-commissioned". Yet it was the church's task, "to be a muse to the arts. "Precisely because art is and must remain autonomous, it can inspire the church," he claimed.

The course the encounters between church and culture take cannot be imposed, Schneider underlined. He cited experiences with the consultation process for the EKD Memorandum "Räume der Begegnung-Religion und Kultur in evangelischer Perspektive" (Spaces of encounter-Religion and culture from a Protestant perspective) as an example. Yet art, perhaps in connection with the social responsibility of the church, can shed light on societal abuses in an unconventional way.

Schneider, who is also the president of the Evangelical Church in the Rheinland, referred here to the church's prison project "Shadow culture". It may be viewed [in the Altes Hafthaus] in Moers in the context of this year's cultural capital RUHR.2010. A further example was the mobile exhibition "Art defies poverty", which raised the issues of homelessness and social exclusion.

The EKD, which has run its own cultural office since 2006, estimates the financial expenditure for cultural promotion of the Protestant and Catholic churches at approximately EUR 4.4 billion a year. Here the churches are at about the same level with the regional (€3.4bn) and local authorities (€3.5bn). "That is an impressive figure which had escaped attention even in the church," stated Schneider.



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