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How research communication can succeed in theology

On 16 January, the Department of Catholic Theology at the University of Passau hosted a panel discussion on the subject of research communication in theology. Especially in church contexts, it is necessary to achieve a reduction in complexity without trivial simplification.

Image credit: Theologians from Passau want to introduce new formats in research communication, including comics, for example. Graphic: Isabel Groll

Research communication is one of the “third missions” of universities, alongside research and teaching. Highlighting key findings from scientific research and communicating complex content to the interested public in an understandable way is an exciting and challenging task for researchers in all fields. The discussion on how this can be achieved in theology was moderated by Professor Christian Handschuh (Chair of Ecclesiastical History and Christian Identities) and included Passau-based Professor Sandra Huebenthal (Chair of Exegesis and Biblical Theory), Barbara Leicht (Katholisches Bibelwerk) and Professor Markus Weißer (Chair of Dogmatic Theology and Contemporary Theological Issues).

The dialogue between the panelists showed that research communication is already part of everyday practice. Whenever theological content and insights are communicated to specific target groups, they must be translated into a different format and often into a different language as well. A particular challenge is to convey the content in new and creative formats that are factually accurate but more concise. Barbara Leicht used a practical example to illustrate that omitting information is often the most difficult part: When texts are published in the Katholisches Bibelwerk’s journal “Welt und Umwelt der Bibel” (“World and Environment of the Bible”), it is frequently necessary to perform a balancing act, as the magazine is aimed at readers in the public interested in biblical themes, but often without a religious or church background.

Professor Christian Handschuh emphasised that it is sometimes necessary to first understand the needs and language levels of readers. Professor Markus Weißer agreed: “Otherwise we are working in theology for target groups that do not exist.” It became clear that research communication also means experimenting with new formats. The Passau-based lecturers dream of a dogmatics comic, a podcast series or substacks.

The lively discussion that evening was not limited to the panel. Many attending members of the audience work as multipliers in schools or churches and face the challenge of explaining complex issues in a way that is easy to understand. Collaboration with media professionals and coaches, as well as with publishers, has proved successful. In this context, reference was made to Bible Fun Facts – Bibelwissen für Besserwisser (Bible Fun Facts – Biblical Knowledge for Know-It-Alls), an entertaining and informative book published by Professor Sandra Huebenthal and Dr Bernhard Klinger. The panel of participants agreed that there is a need to reduce complexity without trivial simplification, especially in the church context.

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