DM SHRetrouver Stanley Hauerwas à Genève, quel bonheur et quel étonnement sans cesse recommencé ! Désigné par le Times Magazine, juste avant le 11 septembre 2011, comme le meilleur théologien d’Amérique, il eut cette réponse typique: « Best is not a categorical theology » ! Auteur d’une oeuvre immense, engagée, originale, excessive et controversée, Stan, petit homme de 71 ans, nous a fait cadeau de sa gentillesse, de sa disponibilité, de sa simplicité, tout cela avec un accent texan à décorner les boeufs – pas toujours facile de le comprendre auditivement, certes (voir sa conférence publique sur le site de la facullé de théologie (, sa voix douce et son rire tonitruant !).


65 étudiants et doctorants pour un séminaire doctoral ouvert; 150 personnes à la conférence publique sur les liens entre la guerre, le sacrifice et la paix; 50 participants à un colloque interdisciplinaire de haut niveau, sur paix, guerre et justice. Une belle expérience, intellectuelle, spirituelle, humaine.


A la fin du séminaire doctoral, je lui pose une dernière question (voir ci-dessous). Il me répond: nous travaillons et nous publions trop  parce que nous sommes anxieux et que nous avons peur de devenir anonymes ! Autre manière de dire l’absurdité du principe Publish or perish.



A conversation with Stanley Hauerwas

Geneva, November 3, 2001


Denis Müller

Theological Ethics, University of Geneva



Dear Stan, dear Friend, and Colleague,


I remember visiting you at Duke in 1994 when we met for the first time. You welcomed me as an old friend from the very beginning – one of thousands, I am sure. You picked me up in the morning at the motel, shared breakfast with me, invited me to your lessons on James Gustafson and Paul Ramsey. I remember also a intense discussion with you and Reinhard Hütter – at this time still a Lutheran  ! – about your understanding of Barth and Pope John Paul the Second – the « best » theologians of the century, in your opinion, if « best » would have been a theological category ! You were very surprised and almost shocked by my own way to come back from Barth and Bultmann to Troeltsch and Schleiermacher as new inspirations for a critical approach to theology and ethics. I then perceived that your way  has been quite the opposite, leaving the fatal deadlocks of modern theological liberalisms to rediscover and reinvent the ways of  good, classical, « catholic », « evangelical » and « orthodox » theology and faith. You had already and maybe always « to work against the grain of modern theology’s great temptation to make what we believe as Christians intelligible on terms set by the world »[1], as you write now in your Memoir.


Your own theological position reminds me not only of Karl Barth’s famous objections against Brunner, Bultmann and even Pannenberg, supposed to have reduced theology to anthropology and secular reason. It reminds me indeed of the passionate and one-sided theology of my youth, and that for me is a double reason to be both grateful and sceptical towards your impressive and widely recognised achievements.


I know you like conversation, not in the sense of a pale and forseeable  dialogue, but in the spirit of joyful, open and serious controversy. And you have showed with great persuasive strenghth, in your Memoir, how theological and political disagreements can threaten friendship and personal relations.


I like controversy too. It is not only a question of temperament or psychological disposition, neither is it a sheer question of inhabiting the right virtue or to show the convenient appropriate caracter. Controversy belongs in our opinion to the core of christian theology.Rabies theologica is unsane, because it produces or reinforces violence and intolerance, both personal and social. But free discussion, controversy in the best sense, is co-substantial to Diskursethik as well as to true democracy, genuine political liberalism and critical theology – at least in my view and formulation, I confess !


I will try to summarize my main questions to you today in the next 4 points :


  • Why do you oppose in such an absolute way the « basic grammar »[2] of christian faith and theology and the so to speak  « worldly or secular grammar » of the present modern time ? Is it theologically necessary and unavoidable to make such a radical opposition and to erect such a transcendantal dualism, rather than assume and develop the claim that the apocalyptic transcendance of God and Christ, as it occured in the heart of our history, has the potentiality to render intelligible the events of this world, like September Eleven or Fukushima, as irrational and apocalyptical as they are ? Don’t theological and historical apocalypse has a dialectical and analogical connexion, in the sense of an a-symetrical correlation ? To fight  against the grain of the world means also to walk and proceed with the grain of the Universe – to be inthe world without being of the world, in johannic terms. The very interpretation of Karl Barth for today should go in this direction, and not in the sense of your first opposition.


  • In your book about The State of the University, you have made a strong contention in favour of a christian university[3]. For sure, your analyses in these very informed, illuminating and engaged chapters are deeply connected with the huge differences concerning the organisation of religions, Churches, denominations, theological seminaries and Divinity Schools in the States. A comparison with Europe in general and Switzerland in particular is therefore fragile and limited. But my question remains : Which advantages do you see in the idea of a christian university ? Wouldn’t the witness of faith, churches and theologians  be much more clear – much more difficult and much more promising ! – in a secular and liberal university than in the possible ghetto of a christian university as such ?


  • In your Primer in Christian Ethics, ch. 2, you make also a strong distinction or even opposition between ethics or bioethics as a universal and secular project and christian and theological ethics as a qualified ethics with narrative character. I totally agree with you on the necessity to think, promote and expose a qualified ethics. But christian ethics, as qualified, has also a universal contention, as the last Bonhoeffer for example (already in some fragments of the Ethics and not only in the Letters from Prison) has clearly recognised it. How do you see the dialogue between these two universalisms ? What does it mean for the rational and human quest of truth, as opposed to any kind of moral or doctrinal relativism ? In other words, are you not sometimes too typically a sceptical and nominalist protestant, instead of accepting more optimistic and balanced views about faith and reason, as we can find for instance in Thomas von Aquin, Calvin, Schleiermacher or contemporary systematic theologians ?  Frankly spoken, I have the impression that the same problem exists in your chapter 4.2 (Reason and Revelation) and in the more recent State of the University.


  • My last question is more personal and also more auto-critical : in your beautiful   conclusion of The Peaceable Kingdom, you insisted « on the grace of doing one thing ». That seems to me to be fully coherent with your passion for concreteness and narrativity. But why do we do so many things at the same time ? Why do we write too much and too many things ? Why don’t we accept to do less and better?



[1] Hannah’s Child. A Theologian’s Memoir, Grand Rapids-London, Eerdmans Publishing, 2010, p. 263.



[2] Ibid., p. 264.


[3] The State of the University. Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, Malden-Oxford-Carlton, Blakwell Publishing, 2007.

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