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Developing a Theological Anthropology for the 21st Century: An Introduction to the Anthropos Research Project (Catholic University Leuven)

Developing a Theological Anthropology for the 21st Century: An Introduction to the Anthropos Research Project (Catholic University Leuven)



Supported by the theological expertise of the day and in reference to the human and natural sciences, Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes cleared the way for bringing traditional Christian perspectives on the human being into dialogue with modern thought. Nearly fifty years on, new views of humanity have taken hold both of public opinion and of the socio-cultural context in which people and communities establish their identity. Recent developments in the bio-medical sciences and technology, psychology, economics, sociology, and philosophy appear to overthrow once and for all the traditional conception of humanity. Indeed, who/what is humanity? From a (moral-)theological perspective, the challenge is twofold: (1) What are the insights which current theology has to offer, in close dialogue with the social and natural sciences, towards a credible and relevant reformulation of Christian anthropology? (2) How can concrete form be given to the credibility and relevancy of such a renewed Christian anthropology in discussions concerning contemporary ethical problems?

The project: A book to start with

It is with a view to addressing these pressing questions that the Anthropos project was launched at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) with an exploratory expert seminar in 2011.  Twelve leading international scholars, with backgrounds in systematic theology and/or theological ethics, investigated the state of the art and the future of theological anthropology. Three overarching themes arose: the challenges related to the classical natural-law tradition in the context of scientific developments; the challenges to the modern conception of the subject as an autonomous center of consciousness and agency, and the challenges to the postmodern awareness of diversity in a globalizing context. The discussion of these themes, and of possible responses to them, has issued in the volume Questioning the Human: Toward a Theological Anthropology for the 21st Century, eds. Boeve, De Maeseneer and Van Stichel (Fordham University Press, 2014). [ ]

Focus on love

A few years into our research, the most fundamental development of the Anthropos project is an increasing emphasis on love. In editing the book, we had become aware that none of the theologians present at our first expert seminar thematized the concept of love – a lacuna which appears to be representative of contemporary theological anthropology at large. We found this regrettable, not least because love seems to be a promising conversation-starter for dialogue between Church and world, both within and outside the academy. Popular atheist philosophers like Luc Ferry and Alain de Botton recently praised the concept of love as Christianity’s most precious heritage. However, where Church and world are supposed to be closest, the communication breakdown is often at its most severe. The perception of the world is that the Church no longer knows what love is, or that it even acts ‘anti-love’. Facing this fundamental crisis, our major current research question may be framed as follows: in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Christian thinkers critically appropriated the philosophical and cultural notions of love in their time, but what are the frameworks to help us forward today?

Research topics:

The research conducted by Anthropos’ (post)doctoral researchers is very diverse and broad, bridging systematic theology and theological ethics, including:

-        The future of personalism in the context of beginning of life issues

-        Trinitarian anthropology as a framework to approach the global socio-economic crisis

-        A dialogue between Aquinas and Nussbaum on the passions

-        Evolutionary perspectives on religion and the notion of the image of God

-        A political-theological encounter with Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer project

-        Frantz Fanon’s decolonial praxis as a challenge to Christian theologies of love

-        The dialogical nature of the Catholic identity of schools and organizations

-        The notion of selfless love as spiritual disposition critical to human fulfillment

-        The retrieval of pre-modern mystical anthropologies of love


Contact and network opportunities

Please visit our website ( and our blog ( – if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact us!).

At this stage Anthropos is ready to reach out towards other researchers and groups for developing a worldwide network of researchers sharing the same concern to renew theological anthropology. For any further information: 



Biographical note

Ellen van Stichel is a postdoctoral researcher in theological ethics. Inspired by her dissertation entitled Out of Love for Justice: Philosophical Ethics and Catholic Social Teaching on global Responsibilities (2010), she works on definitions of justice, their implications on public debates regarding national and international solidarity and on the implications of a relational , trinitarian anthropology for socio-economic and biomedical ethics. The latter reflects her work as an ethicist  at a pregnancy counselling centre, making her keenly interested, in connecting academic study with ethical practice.