Portrait Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Naurath
Elisabeth Naurath is a theologian and religious educator. Professor of Protestant theology with a focus on religious education and didactics of religious education at the University of Augsburg since 2013, she works with a focus on peace education and interreligious education. She founded the Peace Education Centre for Interreligious Education and is involved in various interdisciplinary committees and interreligious organisations. She is a member of the international non-governmental organisation “Religions for Peace” (RfP). In March 2021 she was elected chair of RfP Germany
Ein Interview mit Elisabeth Naurath
Professor Naurath, you wanted to become a pastor. How did you end up pursuing a university career?
First of all, there was the motivation to study Protestant theology and to critically examine my faith within the framework of a university study course. I wanted to know what was really true. Immediately after my exams, I was asked whether I would like to work as a research assistant at the University of Augsburg and do my doctorate. That was a very good option for me to delve deeper into my 'favourite subject', pastoral care.
What was the topic of your doctorate?
My topic was “Pastoral care as care of the body. Perspectives of a body-oriented hospital pastoral care.“ I have always been very interested in the topics of body and health and found the connections between body and soul to be particularly exciting. Therefore, after my clinical pastoral training, I volunteered in hospital pastoral care at the central hospital in Augsburg and gained practical experience and knowledge of my research topic. The fact that, especially in the situation of being ill, the body also quasi-thematises itself for the soul, led me to the discovery that pastoral care should always include the physical side of the human being. My aim was to show this for the practice of any pastoral work.
What do those in your private environment say about your profession?
From my parents' home I was not socialised religiously and have therefore long been practised in representing my protestant position clearly, but also through dialogue. Perhaps this has led to a strong emphasis on the understanding of freedom, so that I like to enter into a dialogue with other world views and religions.
For those in my non-academic environment in my youth, it was surprising and also irritating that I became a professor. In my experience, it is important to very critically question such demarcations that limit our thinking and our possibilities. This is not only about restrictive gender images, but also about social prejudices - on both sides, i. e. between the those who have 'studied' and 'those who have not-studied'. I have experienced these stereotypes again and again and try to counteract them, especially since these prejudices also generate educational injustices.
What are you particularly proud of?
When I answer this question, my three children immediately come to mind, and that we have managed, as a family team, to lead a very close and cooperative family life and still give each of us the freedom to do our own things. Since I have been a single parent for more than ten years, I am very happy in retrospect that the balance between family and work worked out well in spite of this. Precisely because it was not always easy, I am very grateful that my children have always supported me on my way and that we see ourselves on the road together.
Did you have to overcome any major obstacles in your professional career? Is there an incisive event that you remember?
The most decisive event was indeed my divorce, because since then I have had to completely reorganise and reorientate myself. In concrete terms, this meant that, compared to my colleagues, I always had to provide support structures myself in order to be able to continue working well and successfully. To put it somewhat provocatively: I didn't have a wife who could take care of the children and the house for me. The organisational difficulties with regard to the frequent business trips that were part of my job as a matter of course before the Corona period were particularly stressful.
Who are your role models?
For me, role models are certainly the biographies of strong women, who, in addition to their children, always insisted on their own right and freedom to work. Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel was very important to me in this regard .She continued to work theologically and wrote numerous books despite her four children at a time when pastors' wives were banned from working. Unfortunately, as a woman of her generation, it was hardly possible at that time for her to gain her own professorship herself. But my doctoral supervisor, Prof. Lämmermann, was another a role model for me, and also supported the compatibility of family and career as my boss, encouraged me and gave me the freedom to research even during stressful family times.
What significance does religion / religiosity have for young people in our society?
Although we live in a secular society, which makes the phenomenon of religiosity appear less significant, with a clear decline in commitment to the church among the younger generations, I believe that both children and young people ask very important questions for their lives, about meaning and about life. It is important to me to emphasise the right to religious education in order to be able to discuss these existential questions of life, which are important for every human being, with competent interlocutors in religious education classes in schools. It is important for young people to find their own orientation with the help of good religious education programmes and, above all, to learn the ability to engage in dialogue and plurality in the social concert of attitudes to life.
How do you see the role of religious education in society?
The last Protestant memorandum for religious education, 'Gaining Religious Orientation' (2014), on which I worked, emphasises the ability to deal with plurality as an educational goal of religious education in the current social situation. For me, school in particular is such a place of crystallisation, where social transformation processes are reflected. This means that in the context of many world views and religions we should teach the ability to talk and the willingness to engage in dialogue, so that on the one hand one can find one's own attitude and stance and on the other hand be appreciative but also critical of other positions. I see this as a central peace education task in religious education as a subject from early childhood education to school education and education for older people.
You have been appointed as a delegate from the Federal Republic of Germany to the board of Religions for Peace Europe. What are your tasks and where do you see opportunities for this organisation?
For six months now I have been involved at the international level in restructuring of the work of 'Religions for Peace Europe' and, in the concert of different religious, but also national and cultural ideas of the member countries, I am trying to advance a European unification process that emphasises the common interest of peace despite all the differences. As the newly elected chair of 'Religions for Peace Germany', it is very important to me to make the peace potential of religions and interreligious dialogue more visible for our society.
I am guided by the motto of the world conference in Lindau in 2019 "Caring for Our Common Future". I think that all religions - and I understand this across genders and generations - will only move forward in mutual dialogue and in working together to preserve our livelihoods ('Saving Mother Earth') and for a more just society. The profile of my subject, namely advancing peace education on the path of interreligious education, means for me that I would like to use my options, both with a view to research and teaching, but also to the transfer of knowledge into society, to commit myself to social peace in the coexistence of world views and religions.
What kind of projects do you have in the near future?
As the newly elected chair of 'Religions for Peace Germany' as well as on the board of 'Religions for peace Europe', we first have to restructure processes that can give us a good basis for joint action. In addition to these organisational and structural issues, my real aim is to fill the substantive issues and fields of action that were adopted at the World Conference as 'action points' with concrete life and to put them into practice. Here, questions of a more just coexistence in society are particularly important to me (especially with regard to educational injustices, but also the more harmonious coexistence of men and women in the sense of optimising the educational opportunities of both sexes).
One focus of my work in the coming years will be linked to the research project “Religions and Nature”, i. e., I see a special opportunity in the religions discovering their common interest in environmental protection, the conservation of biodiversity and the dignity of animals . Here I see a synergy of affirming the diversity of religions and the biodiversity of life as a whole.
What else would you like to bring to life / realise?
I have many visions that ought not just to remain dreams. When I start teaching teacher training, I hope that in the future, teacher training students of all subjects will have the opportunity to acquire a basic education in interreligious learning during their studies, for example with prevention work against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I simply believe that teachers need more basic skills here in order to be able to face the interreligious and intercultural conflicts of living together in a pluralistic context, with peace education and mediational knowledge and skills at school, as a place of learning and living.
Another goal for me would be to set up concrete learning workshops for interreligious education at schools, so that both the pupils of religion and ethics classes can talk to each other about their different ideas in cooperation projects and work together to develop a dialogue-based attitude of appreciation. Indeed, I see this as an evident contribution to the building of democracy.
Furthermore, one of my great visions would be to network the interreligious educational work of the most varied institutions and organisations more closely with one another and to be able to optimise it with a view to central goals for the future (such as climate change as a theological task for the preservation of creation). The greatest goal would actually be that all people of different worldviews and religions learn from an early age to be able to see the diversity of their characteristics, contexts and life orientations in mutual appreciation and to work together towards common goals on the basis of the skills they have acquired for dialogue and plurality.
How do you see the role of the city of Augsburg with its tradition in the process of peace building?
Profiling the city of Augsburg as a city of peace is particularly important to me: precisely because the composition of the population in Augsburg is so heterogeneous with regard to the different religions and world views, the city can take on a pioneering role in terms of peace education. It would be particularly important to me here to link the ecological goals with the peace education goals of interreligious dialogue. Mutual fruitfulness of scientific research and social engagement is also a central concern of mine. In concrete terms, I also wish for the future that our Muslim children and young people can be offered religious education in their own religion, i. e. in a confession-oriented Islamic religious education, and, with the help of an equivalent offer in schools, on the one hand, they can be better integrated and, on the other hand, interreligious dialogue projects can also be implemented more easily. Since we would have to train far more religious education teachers in the field of Islamic religious education than before, I personally have a vision that in the future. especially in the city of peace Augsburg. a course of study for Islamic religious education teachers could also be offered.
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