The overall theme – University of Copenhagen

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Faculty of Theology > Sections and centres > The research project In-visibilis > The overall theme

The overall theme

  1. Examples of the overall theme
  2. Theses
  3. The four sub-themes
  4. Research design and method

1. Examples of the overall theme

In 1519 the German theologian Martin Luther claimed that the peace and grace from God is invisible and incomprehensible, invisibilis et incomprehensibilis. According to Luther the divine truth transcends humanity and is unreachable, while at the same time it can be reached by man. Absence and presence, concealment and disclosure stand next to each other, not subsequently, but simultaneously. These reflections produced Luther's radical critique of medieval piety (the demonstration of good deeds), of the worship of images, and of the concept of church as identical with the institution. The whole agenda for Luther was to come to terms with the dialectic between the visible and the transcendent.

Five hundred years later Martin Heidegger also reflected on the mediation of truth, or "Being". He rejected the integration of art as a mediation of truth from the divine to the human, changing the scene to a philosophy of finiteness. He redefined art as an occurrence of the truth of being itself. Art does not reveal an existing truth, which was simply not seen or known before. In art something new comes into existence ontologically. Being is not before or behind the artistic expression, but is in it. At the same time, it is beyond. In Heidegger too, disclosure and concealment are simultaneous.

These two examples are sought out in order to demonstrate and capture the theme of the project being a reconsideration of the relations between visibility and transcendence and the role of images and visualization. Til toppen

2. Theses

The project contains three interwoven theses. First, it presupposes that the reformatory approach to the distinction between visibility and transcendence in its diverse forms should be portrayed as one of the continuous strands of religion, art, and ethics in Europe. Secondly, this approach applies both to the representations of ideas and mental content in theology and philosophy and to the expressions of them in religious life, community, institutions, art etc. Thirdly, the relationship between the visible and the invisible is regarded as dialectic. The hyphen of the project's title is the visible expression of this dialectic: In-visibilis.Til toppen

3. The four sub-themes

Four sub-themes, which both in tradition and in recent research are of central importance to the questions on visibility and invisibility, are covered.

(1) Human existence between visibility and invisibility.
The project takes its starting point in Martin Luther, who articulated the relation between visibility and invisibility with particular sharpness and pointed to its dialectical structure. Relating to Luther the distinction can be traced down the centuries in Europe, leaving an imprint on different contexts, one being the understanding of human existence. Thus, the project focuses, at the anthropological level and with reference to the notion of man as a visible image of the invisible God, on the distinction between visibility and invisibility present in a concept of the human being as visible (outer, body, matter) and invisible being (inner, soul, spirit) and as imagining him- or herself  through images, signs and language, until death interrupts this imagination.

(2)  Language as mediation between the visible and the invisible.
Reflections upon the importance of metaphorical language are conspicuous in the theological tradition. Considering the metaphor as a primary function of language, and not just an ornament, has been crucial to several thinkers when pondering upon "the word of God creating what it says" (Psalm 33,9). The project encompasses a study into the metaphoricity of religious language pointing to the dialectic between visibility and invisibility: when that, which becomes visible, created by the word, is transcendent and thus refers to or even incorporates the invisible.

(3) Images, liturgical inventory, and architecture as mediation between the visible and the invisible.
It is not only words that serve as mediator between the visible and the invisible. The reformatory agenda had, so to speak, a graphic and further audible offshoot in the religious implementation of the arts, such as images, music, liturgical inventory and architecture. In connection to these media, considerations upon what can and cannot be seen, heard and unheard have been numerous and varied. The project's synchronic historical studies of these theories of representation thus create an extensive picture of the possibilities within the dialectic between the visible and the invisible.

(4) Visible community and invisible transcendence.
Finally it is clear that considerations upon the visibility and invisibility of the religious subject individually and in community have influenced and shaped these aesthetic endeavours and, in turn, have been influenced by them. The religious community in different ways has been considered to be the visible representation of the invisible, of transcendence. In order to come to terms with the visibility-invisibility dialectic as related to religious community, the project examines theories of church and community. Til toppen

4. Research design and method

The design of the project secures a strong theoretical and material synergy between the nine sub-projects. They share a common point of departure in that they all presuppose and discuss the dialectic between visibility and invisibility. Together the four main sub-themes, into which the sub-projects are subsumed, cover the central aspects of Reformation theology. Every sub-project has its own material, and through the selection of that material - from Luther in the beginning to modern theories of Church at the end - a chronology is drawn from Early Modern Europe to today. This chronology cannot lay claim to adequacy, but it represents the five centuries in a historical longitudinal cut. Thus the field of the project is as well covered in width as in length.

The synergy between the sub-projects is strengthened methodologically: some are historical with a systematic perspective (sub-projects 1, 5, 6, 7) while others are systematic with historical preconditions (sub-project 2, 3, 4, 8 and 9). Regardless of method all the projects share a basis of textual interpretation. They represent different disciplines, theological (church history, dogmatics, ethics and philosophy of religion) and humanist (art history and archeology), and these are brought into correlation by the project. Finally the project blends and applies methods of historical-genetics and historical criticism, cultural studies and reception history, art and architectural history, philological and hermeneutical textual interpretations, phenomenology, biblical exegesis and literary theory. This methodological diversity fertilizes and facets each individual sub-project and contributes to the composition of a diverse and polychrome picture of the overall theme. Til toppen