The RSCS Institute (Religions, spiritualities, cultures, societies) was founded at Louvain-la-Neuve on February 1st, 2010, after a preparation period during the year 2009, under the direction of Professor Eric Gaziaux, within the perspective of the University’s development plan. This institute is the result of collaboration between professors of the theology faculty and those of other faculties teaching in areas related to religions. Thus was born the idea of founding an interdisciplinary research institute uniting competencies from different horizons and using different methodologies.
Indeed, the Institute’s title: “Religions, spiritualities, cultures, societies”, signifies this ambition well. The first task is that of studying religions and spiritualities, meaning not only in their official presentations, but also the spiritualities, with their more ungraspable side, with their mystical dimension, their local or historical anchoring, and their aspect – at times external to instituted religions. As to religions, the task is to treat them with the expertise a faculty of theology implements in relation to Christianity, all the while valorising the procedure of Christian theology via the stimulus of studying other religions. By adding to the institute’s title the words “cultures, societies”, the members wished to signify the importance of cultures for the study of religions and the social impact they exert. We thus open the door to a method of analysis which is not limited to approaching the study of a religion through the study of its internal sources, but which provides specific tools (like sociology, anthropology, history, literature and aesthetics) and places them in the service of studying religions.
The presentation of the RSCS Institute made here is accomplished along three axes: positive, systematic and practical; this partitioning is functional; it does not imply a hermetical boundary between these three approaches. This presentation leads to the question of the evolution of religions, their mutations and their identities, which will be the object of the colloquium launching the RSCS Institute, as well as the question of implementing interreligious dialogue.
Positivity : sources, sacred texts
The positive axis posits or establishes the elements. This approach as regards religions proceeds in rigorously and critically analysing and interpreting the sources of the great religions, i.e. their founding documents and subsequent texts, produced by their history and institutions. It thus puts both exegesis and history to work.
Exegesis involves more specifically the Bible. It is studied in all its forms: establishing the text is at the heart of the project of the Research Centre on the Latin Bible (CRBL), which uses the writings of the Church Fathers to reconstitute the ancient Latin Bible’s translation. Other research work relates to the Greek Bible of Alexandrine Judaism (Septuagint) and the patristic commentaries (Research Group on the Song of Songs).
The permanent, 3rd/doctoral cycle seminar on biblical interpretation analyses and interprets the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek text of the New Testament based on major themes or significant pericopes. The Research Network in narrative analysis of biblical texts (RRENAB) approaches these texts with the resources of narratology and brings nine universities together around this project; Jewish and Greek para-biblical literature is also involved. Here stress is placed not on the text’s history but rather on its meaning aspect, in the light of linguistic analysis.
Similar work is also done on Syriac sources. For Islam, this work is accomplished by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Islam in the contemporary World (CISMOC), particularly within the framework of “Continuing education in religious sciences: Islam”. This Centre works in hand with the Eurislam network. For the sources of Buddhism and Hinduism, the work is done thanks to the Voies de l’Orient network. For all religions, a comparative historical approach, ranging from Antiquity to the history of Christianity, is done by the Cardinal Julien Ries Centre for the history of religions.
The historical approach to modern times targets the cultural dimension, particularly the history of religious ideas; this is the goal of the Group for early modern cultural analysis (GEMCA), whose basic material is the image and the literary and spiritual texts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Study of the contemporary period is done thanks to the Archives of the Catholic World Research Centre (ARCA), which uses and develops a vast archives repository, centred on the social dimension of Catholicism and its intellectuals. Built as a technological platform, this repository serves the entire institute.
Systematic Axe : rationalities, narrative coherence
The systematic axis brings these elements together coherently. This means approaching religious discourse hermeneutically, i.e. in beginning with its sources, we reveal the contents and meaning dimensions that emerge, more specifically in elaborating the rational and intelligible dimensions, without, for all that, pretending to eradicate either the aspect of mystery or the ineffable. This procedure is used particularly on the Christian faith – in its theological approach. This allows it to deepen its own tradition, particularly the status of the Word of God, the message of Jesus Christ, how it is lived in the Church, and the interpellations coming from the ambient culture, with which it is in a relation of dialogue or tension. Thus the bond with philosophy develops and the opening to every human’s search for meaning appears.
The Research Centre in Theology (CRT) prioritizes these questions in targeting its research around the images of God in connection with the images of man. The Adolphe Gesché Research Network (RRAG) concretizes this prospective: it contributes to studies on this great Louvain theologian, stimulating research based on his work and offering new documentary resources. The goal of the Research Group on Theological Rationality (GRRT) is to confront theological discourse with recent evolutions in the scientific approach, the democratic order and spheres of convictions, in seeking a schema of articulation adjusted to contemporary methods of knowing, acting and believing. The Lumen Gentium Centre studies the contemporary Church’s life and development during Vatican Council II, preserving major archives of it. It is supported by the international network of the theological hermeneutics of Vatican Council II. The Belgian network of the European Association for Catholic Theology (AETC) allows this research to be shared and enriched. Ethics is explored in both its fundamental dimensions and in its social, familial, medical and personal implications. Members of the Research Group of Health, care and Spirit (RESSPIR) work within these perspectives. The Association of theologians for the study of morals (ATEM) network offers a stimulating arena for ethical reflection. Religious language in general is dealt with by the Research Group on the figures and forms of spirituality in literature and artistic expressions, which analyses the artistic expressions of spirituality and underlines the interest of such research on interiority, and particularly its presence in literary works. It develops theme series like evil, violence, the idol and rite. It works in hand with the International Seminar on Aesthetics and Spirituality, which studies the status of aesthetics in literature in relation to the spiritual. The Research Centre on the Imaginary (CRI) explores the wealth of creativity in religious discourses and pursues the study of representations bearing the traces of historical and cultural facts.
Thus we pass from the approach to the contents of faith to that of the languages and images in which a given faith is expressed. The whole of this research allows an interdisciplinary approach which leads to the study of the interreligious dialogue, in its historical bases as well as its current practice. That is done with the assistance of two networks: the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (DIM) and the European Network of Buddhist Christian studies (ENBCS). The philosophical approach to the religious fact is done through the Penser network religion in Europe (the FNRS contact Group).
Practical Axe : behaviors, institutions, customs
The practical axis studies concrete implementations. Thus we move from religious contents to their applications. This study involves both practical Christian theology as much as the sociological and anthropological study of all religions. The practices include a privileged place for codification: the rights of religions. And a place for communication: didactics.
The study of Christian practices tackles the questions of communication of the faith, of organization of Churches, pastoral life, liturgical celebration, social engagement and the context of religious experiences, both from the point of view of general representations as to that of concrete systems of implementation. On the methodological level, these studies use first hand sources (interviews, observation…) or documents produced by the institutions (press articles, Church documents, State reports …). The approach is intendedly interdisciplinary and involves sociological, anthropological, psychological, theological and statistical points of views. The study of the local, Belgian or European reality is carried out by the Research Group in practical theology. The international approach, centred more particularly on Africa, is carried out by the Centre Vincent Lebbe (CVL), which takes its name from a Belgian missionary engaged in China. The international networks where members of the Institute in this area are engaged are the Research and exchange Centre on the dissemination and inculturation of Christianity (CREDIC), the Ecumenical French-speaking Association of Missiology (AFOM), the International Society for Practical Theology (SITP) and the International Society of Sociology of Religions (SISR).
The anthropological approach to symbolic systems and religions is carried out by the Laboratory of Prospective Anthropology (LAAP). It targets contemporary anthropology and perceives it as capable of exploring the evolutions and the societal stakes of the 2lst century. The study of contemporary Islam and its changes in Belgium and Europe is a speciality of the interdisciplinary Centre for studies of Islam in the contemporary world (CISMOC), through a socio-anthropological, political and legal approach. The expression of religion in a culture especially passes through the prime media in today’s culture: the cinema. This is why the CINESPI Research Group (Cinema, religions and spiritualities) was set up.
The purpose of the legal approach is to consider the religious object as a normative issue. It includes a state law prospective, which analyses the modes of worships, the guarantees of religious liberty and the principles of non-discrimination. It also envisages a perspective for the comparative rights of religions. Finally, it includes an interdisciplinary perspective by which the normative approaches are re-evaluated as sciences of religions. This allows new investigations and encourages a capacity for innovation reflected in the governorship of the religious factor. This work is ensured by the Chair in religious laws. It is also supported by the network of the Group of French-speaking canonists of Belgium.
The didactical dimension tackles initially the question of meaning and its implementation in teaching. It then reflects on the installation of clear priorities in a course: as much on the level of anthropology (promotion of diversity) as of theology (the grammar of religion, the bond between religious pedagogy and the ecclesiological model). It is then a question of trying out didactical procedures to study founding texts and support inter-religious or inter-convictional dialogue. Finally it is necessary to establish an analytical framework intended to typologize scholastic approaches to the teaching of religion. This work is carried out within the Research Group on education and religions (CRER). They are supported by two international networks: the Institute for Training in the study and teaching of religions (IFER) and the inter-University Observatory on pastoral practices for youth.
The doctoral research work accomplished within the RSCS institute is disseminated through the European doctoral Network of French language theology faculties (THEODOC), which indexes the French-speaking doctoral candidates in theology and supports common research by a bi-annual theme oriented meeting.