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Islam, Christianity and Judaism side by side in new Master's degree

Theology, religious studies and religions united in new Nordic co-operation

A new master’s programme uniting the study of early Judaism, Islam and Christianity is building bridges between both academic fields and faiths. This is according to students interviewed for the Faculty of Theology’s newsletter eTeol.

The new programme, Religious Roots of Europe, which has been up and running since September, is a co-operation between the University of Copenhagen (U of C) and the five other Nordic universities: Aarhus, Bergen, Helsinki, Lund and Oslo. Seminars are organised at all these institutions as well as in Nordic institutes in the Mediterranean area.

24 students, Danish and international, started on the programme in September, and the response from students is positive: They say that the international course breaks down the barriers between the study of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Other religions can give perspective on history

»Although Christianity is of course the core of Theology, I believe that it is important to compare it with other religions. Especially since Islam is so important to our society today,« explains Mette Juul Vedel, a student of the new course. She holds a bachelor degree in theology from the U of C.

Another student, Rakel Jacobi, points out that the new Master’s plays an important role in bridging two subjects which are traditionally at odds:

»The History of Religions and Theology have not drawn on each other’s resources. The History of Religions has often taken an almost confrontational stance towards Theology, and Theology has not taken the opportunity to include other religions as a new perspective on Christianity,« she says.

Not all about 9/11

»On the new Master’s course, Christianity, Islam and Judaism are side by side and are all taken equally seriously,« Rakel adds.

She points out that the course is not primarily about modern day religious conflicts:

»You have to be prepared for a heavy academic subject. It is after all a study of the formative period of these religions. We don’t just sit around and discuss 9/11 or the Israel/Palestine conflict the whole time!«

Online academics

The international nature of the course means that online teaching tools such as ’E-forum’ are indispensible. The students do not have classroom teaching, and academic discussions take place online.

»People upload their papers and questions. Then we can discuss them and say ‘I disagree with you,’ or ‘I hadn’t thought of that, now I have changed my mind’ and in that way we get a whole lot of input,« says Rakel Jacobi to the theology newsletter.

Troels Engberg Pedersen of the Faculty of Theology in Copenhagen is the academic co-ordinator for the course. The University Post talked to him about the new Master’s programme on an earlier occasion, where he explained that the e-forum is supplemented with two compact seminars, where students interact face to face.

»We just got back from Rome, where all the students got together with two teachers,« he explained.

Back before the Middle Ages

Rome is of course, a perfect location for a compact seminar. As Troels explained to the faculty newsletter:

Our focus is »on the period in which the three religions have their origin, namely Antiquity. And we will attempt to cover partly the Jewish religion in this period (that is, in the Greco-Roman period) where it gradually developed into a religion that competed with early Christianity, partly early Christianity in its formative period, and finally early Islam in the period when it was still in close contact with the Greco-Roman world«, he says

»In short, before the Middle Ages (no matter where you let the Middle Ages start) – or Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Greco-Roman period: This is interesting!«

See the University Post article Taking Paul seriously where Troels talks about his own research in this area.