Moltmann on Seminaries, Privatization, and Marketing

In honor of Patheos’ ongoing conversation of posts on the future of seminary education, today’s Moltmann Monday excerpt comes from God for a Secular Society in his chapter “Theology in the Modern University.” He’s been describing how theological faculties began as central and primary to the university when there was a religion of the state, but since the Reformation there has been an uneasy separation that has grown in isolation over the years until now we find ourselves in a multifaith society where only “religion departments” preside in universities and theology is relegated to privatized spheres of faith in seminaries. What that says for theology’s scope is rather grim. Here’s where he gets good and soapbox-y:

The privatization of religion has as its presupposition its de-politicization and as a consequence its marketing. What is called modern multifaith and multicultural society is nothing other than the total market society. Religions and cultures are on display in this market in just the same way as political options, commodities and services. Religions become the spiritual services on offer in the religious supermarket of the modern world. Individual religious liberty is certainly a powerful protection for every person’s own human dignity, but because of the typical Western concept of the consumer’s freedom to choose or dispose, that same freedom has turned religion into a commodity, where the customer is allegedly always right. Marketed religions take on the characterisitcs of goods on sale…

In the multifaith consumer society, peace reigns between the religious communities. That is a fact. But this religious peace is achieved through the political shut-down on religion, its privatization and marketing- not through recognition and esteem, but by reducing religion to insignificance. One does not have to be a fundamentalist to see this as practiced atheism.


This quote isn’t in reference to any particular post in that Patheos conversation, but I believe it’s an important discussion for those considering the future of the seminary. If the C/church is currently becoming locked down and even pigeonholed into a market-based enterprise in a multifaith world, what does that mean for how we prepare students and pastors? Where is the prophetic voice inside those competing forces and what is it saying? If a church doesn’t want to live as isolated as its seminaries, nor as marketed as the mall nearby, what kind of creative space must it find? How can we differentiate between the “peace” of insignificance and the peace of shared life?

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