Practical theology

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Friedrich Schleiermacher as a frequent reference person for practical theological drafts
Karl Immanuel Nitzsch

The Practical Theology is a discipline of established since the 19th century and taught at the universities of theology .

Essence and definition

The task of practical theology lies in the critical mediation between theological science and Christian practice in church and society. However, this programmatic definition is controversial in the past and present of this discipline. The controversy relates primarily to the question of its scientific status within theology and its actual subject. As many believe, practical theology emerged as a scientific discipline at the beginning of the 19th century. Practical theology would thus be the youngest among the academic theological subjects. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) is generally considered to be its founder . The driving force was the experience of the gap between a theology that was far from practice and ecclesiastical-religious practice, in which scientific theology was hardly relevant. However, as early as the early 17th century a (failed) attempt was made to establish a chair for practical theology at the University of Leiden. Since the late 16th century, a number of Latin writings on practical theology ( theologia practica ) appeared, which dealt primarily with ethics and / or asceticism. According to Gisbert Voetius (1589–1676), practical theology, in addition to ethics and asceticism , also included questions of church order ( politica ecclesiastica ) and homiletics .

As a mediator between theory and practice, practical theology should make theology as a whole open to experience and relevant to action, whereby the last aspect mostly came to the fore. Practical theology was then understood as applied science, which reformulated exegetical and dogmatic statements into practicable instructions for action. In contrast, since Schleiermacher, Philipp Konrad Marheineke (1780–1846) and Karl Immanuel Nitzsch (1787–1868) attempts have been made to establish the theological, theoretical function and necessity of practical theology. At present one sees in the scientific analysis of the really lived Christian religiosity in church and society the special task of practical theology, which increasingly sees itself as an empirical-analytical science in analogy to the social and human sciences. The paradigmatic , scientific theoretical orientation of practical theology ( phenomenologically , theoretical critical empirically hermeneutically) still remains controversial. In contrast, the question of a description of their subject has been answered relatively clearly since the middle of the 19th century.

The decisive step from sapientia ( Latin for “insight”, “wisdom”) to scientia (Latin for “knowledge”, “knowledge” - to: scire “to know”, “understand”) was to overcome a rather ethically oriented “wisdom” pastoral theology . In contrast to this pastoral theology, which is limited to rules for the administration of the pastor's office and which only passed on (valuable) professional knowledge from mentor to candidate, practical theology represents a more comprehensive understanding of practice; However, it remains a matter of dispute whether only the explicitly ecclesiastical practice or the overall connection between religion and social action should be the subject of practical theology. The specific subject area of ​​practical theology can be divided into functions (communication, education, counseling and help, management and organization) as well as their fields of activity (worship, sermon, casualia , church journalism, religious instruction , confirmation instruction , youth work, adult education, pastoral care, diakonia, community leadership , Canon law). Practical theology works as an empirical science with the established methods of social research , with those of psychology / depth psychology and with hermeneutic procedures .


Course of study

At the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Mainz , the sub-disciplines belonging to practical theology are bundled in the "Practical Theology" course. In addition, the course also includes the contents of Biblical, Historical and Systematic Theology.

Lecturer in practical theology in German-speaking countries

Professor emeritus of practical theology


  • Christof Bäumler , Gerd Birk, Jürgen Kleemann: Methods of empirical social research in practical theology. An introduction . Munich 1976.
  • P. C. Bloth, K.-F. Daiber u. a. (Ed.): Handbook of practical theology . 4 vols. Gütersloh 1981–1987.
  • K.-F. Daiber: Outline of practical theology as action science . Munich 1977.
  • A. Goudriaan: Theologia practica : The Diverse Meanings of a Subject of Early Modern Academic Writing, in J. J. Ballor u. a. (Ed.): Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism . FS RA Muller. Leiden 2013, 443-455.
  • W. Gräb: life stories - life plans - meaning interpretations: a practical theology of lived religion . Gütersloh 1998.
  • W. Gräb and Birgit Weyel: Handbook of practical theology . Gütersloh 2007.
  • Christian Grethlein , H. Schwier (Ed.): Practical Theology. A history of theory and problems , APrTh 33, Leipzig 2007.
  • G. Lämmermann: Introduction to practical theology. Theories of action and fields of action . Stuttgart u. a. 2001.
  • Norbert Mette , H. Steinkamp : Social Sciences and Practical Theology ( Guide to Theology 11 ). Düsseldorf 1983.
  • M. Meyer-Blanck et al. B. Weyel: Workbook practical theology. A companion book for studies and exams . Gütersloh 1999.
  • M. Nicol: Basic knowledge of practical theology: a workbook . Stuttgart 2000.
  • G. Otto: Foundations of practical theology (= "practical theology"). Vol. 1, 1986.
  • G. Otto: Fields of activity in practical theology (= "practical theology"). Vol. 2. Munich 1988.
  • D. Rössler: Outline of Practical Theology , Berlin / New York 1986.
  • H. Schröer: Compendium of practical theology . Stuttgart 1998.
  • F. Schweitzer u. J. A. van der Ven (Ed.): Practical Theology - International Perspectives (= "Experience and Theology: Writings on Practical Theology"). Bd. 34. Frankfurt am Main u. a. 1999.
  • D. Sinnema: The Attempt to Establish a Chair in Practical Theology at Leiden University (1618-1626), in JJ Ballor et al. a. (Ed.): Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism . FS RA Muller. Leiden 2013, 415-441.
  • D. Sinnema: The Discipline of Ethics in Early Reformed Orthodoxy, Calvin Theological Journal 28 (1993), 10-44.
  • W. Steck: Practical Theology: Horizons of Religion - Contours of Modern Christianity - Structures of the Religious World ( Practical Theology I ). Stuttgart u. a. 2000.
  • J. van der Ven: Paradigm Development in Practical Theology . Kampen 1993.
  • E. Winkler: Practical Theology - Elementary. A textbook and workbook . Neukirchen 1997.

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