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About usFaculty of Theology and Religious StudiesResearchColloquiumsThe Gods as Role Models (2009-2011)

Research Colloquium

The Gods as Role Model: Imitation, Divinization, Transgression

Outline of the Topic

In many religious systems the differentiation between the divine sphere and the human sphere plays an important role. When it comes to the relationship between those spheres, however, religious systems provide a cornucopia of different solutions and interpretations. At one end of the spectrum we find religious traditions that try to secure the strict ontological difference between the divine and the human, thus regarding any human attempt to reach the divine as forbidden and as a transgression of the human limits. At the other end of the spectrum there are traditions that encourage the human being to actively engage the divine in order to merge with what is considered the ultimate source of existence.  

It is sometimes assumed that the scriptural religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are strong representatives of the first model. A closer look at historical material reveals that it is not that simple, though. It is true that the imitation of the divine, ultimately leading to the possibility of divinization of the human, has been regarded as a human transgression in theologies of scriptural religions. At the same time there is strong evidence of alternative interpretations within these religious frameworks, not only in mystical, experiential traditions that attempt to unite with the divine, but also in philosophical and theological contexts that look at the human as being created in God’s likeness and at the Book of Nature as a mirror of the Book of God. Although not necessarily aiming at melting with God, the concept of Imitatio Dei (‘imitating God’) is another example of the divine as a role model for the human being. With regard to Eastern religious traditions we witness a similar diversity. In many respects Hindu gods can act as role models for human beings—at times resembling the Western concept of Imitatio Dei in a remarkable way—whereas the idea of transgression of human boundaries takes on quite different connotations in Indian philosophy and religion. Yet another tension between identity with the divine and ontological differentiation can be found in Buddhist systems of thought. 

The Research Colloquium aims at exploring the many facets that are related to the overall topic of “the gods as role model” in analytical, historical, and comparative perspectives. Within an interpretational framework that operates with the concepts of imitation, divinization, and transgression, positions and examples of various religious traditions will be discussed and related to one another. In addition to historical and comparative approaches, the Research Colloquium will also include interpretations that focus on contemporary religious and cultural discourses. This includes religious role models in modern political discourse, as well as the religious dimensions of modern natural sciences; consequently, the Research Colloquium will address religiously motivated terrorism and the discussion about the ‘life-sciences’ and their discourse of creation that ultimately seems to put the human being on the same level as the divine creator. 

One conspicuous form that imitation of the gods takes—at least in Islam and important strands of Christianity—is through mediatory figures. One imitates God by imitating Muhammad, Jesus, the martyrs, the famed ascetics, etc. This aspect of the overall topic will be explicitly addressed in a workshop organized by Prof. Dr. Anders Klostergaard Petersen from the Faculty of Theology, Aarhus University (Denmark). 



Last modified:03 September 2012 10.09 a.m.