18 April 2019 | Story Eugene Seegers | Photo Stephen Collett
Prof Chris Hermans
Prof Chris Hermans, extraordinary professor at the UFS, presents his inaugural lecture, titled Theology in an Age of Contingency.

“The road ahead is empty / It’s paved with miles of the unknown.”

Prof Chris Hermans quoted these lines from the song The Road Ahead, by Dutch vocal group City to City to introduce his inaugural lecture in the Faculty of Theology and Religion on 27 February 2019. Prof Hermans, a veteran researcher in pastoral theology, empirical, and practical religious studies at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and an extraordinary professor at the UFS, chose as his theme Theology in the Age of Contingency, stating that the uncertainty of life has affected all disciplines in the academy, from the sciences, philosophy, and pedagogy, to theology itself.

Although contingency is often defined as a “future event ... which is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty” (Oxford English Dictionary), Prof Hermans stated that, in the context of theology, it has more to do with complexity, unpredictability, coexistence of cultures, and an increasing number of decisions people need to make in modern-day life. 

Changing lanes

Prof Hermans recounted a memory from his childhood to illustrate some aspects of contingency: “Growing up, my parents told me to cycle on the right side of the road. They knew what the right side was. Everything had a right side: What norms and values to live by, what was right or wrong, when to pray and which words to use. ... We now live in a different world.”

Prof Hermans’ inaugural lecture reflected on four tasks of practical theology and missiology. He further asserted that the content and aim of these tasks change from the perspective of contingency.

Contingency perspectives

From a sociological perspective, said Prof Hermans, contingency is a characteristic of the age of modernisation in which we live. He stated that in the modern age, people have a much greater choice of individual ‘action options’ as well as a growing number of experiences as a result. Expounding on this, he said, “The fact that I am a Christian, and another person Hindu or Muslim, is largely due to the fact that I was born within a Christian family. The fact that I am Christian is a possibility and an actuality, but not a necessity.”

Prof Hermans also helped listeners to understand other areas in which contingency plays a role, such as the binary logic used when determining modalities of truth, or changing world views and philosophies of being, or even in our ethos, our art of living, and outlook on life.

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