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SU researcher receives prestigious international award
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 23/12/2021
​​Stellenbosch University (SU) alumnus and research associate at the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology Dr Calvin D Ullrich recently received a prestigious international award for early career scholars, the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise, 2022.

The award, bestowed by the Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdisziplinäre Theologie (FIIT) at the University of Heidelberg in Germany is given to 10 scholars each year whose first book or doctoral dissertation in some way concerns the topic “God and Spirituality" (broadly understood). Applicants from all over the world and of all religious traditions and various academic fields are encouraged to apply. The 10 awardees are selected by an interdisciplinary and multi-religious board of 20 distinguished scholars from 15 countries.

Ullrich will receive the award for his first book, Sovereignty and Event: The Political in John D. Caputo's Radical Theology (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2021), based on his doctoral research completed at SU in 2019 which examined the philosophical and theological work of John D. Caputo.

The book delves into the question surrounding the notion of sovereignty, a concept imbued with philosophical, theological and contemporary political significance. “I'm honoured to receive this award and encouraged that such a distinguished international consortium would affirm the importance and quality of this work for theology, philosophy and our common political life," says Ullrich.

In May 2022, Ullrich will join a three-day colloquium at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where he and the other recipients will receive their award, a monetary prize and give presentations on their forthcoming research.

Ullrich, who besides graduating with a PhD in Theology from SU in 2019, also obtained bachelor and master's degrees in Theology cum laude in 2014 and 2016 respectively, says the award also serves as an acknowledgement of the high quality of theological education at SU.

“Historically, the winners (of the award) come mostly from Europe and North America, and from their top universities (e.g. frequently cited are Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame, Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews and Heidelberg). So, to see Stellenbosch among these names makes me very proud."

Ullrich explains that Sovereignty and Event is an attempt to re-think with philosophical seriousness “the theological underpinnings that inform our received ideas of religious and political authority".

“God's sovereignty is a contested concept. It played such an important theological role in resisting the authorities of the apartheid regime. But what I wanted to do in this book is deconstruct the very idea of a sovereign God altogether, that is, to think about the possibility of a God without sovereignty."

He says that the implications of this for politics are important: “A God without sovereignty does not mean that God is impotent but that the very idea of power must be re-defined to one of responsibility toward others. And since we have this old concept of power built into our secular institutions, these too ought to be re-thought according to an 'ethics of obligation' – Caputo's work, I think, helps us think about this possibility."

Ullrich, a current research fellow in the Ecumenical Institute at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), Germany, says his research has focused on the contemporary 'turn to religion' in continental philosophy and political theology. His next book will now move into the phenomenology of embodiment, new materialist studies and affect theory, and will offer further insight into the 'religious body' within a framework of Christian anthropology. Ullrich is convinced that “contemporary theology must enter interdisciplinary dialogue with the sciences and humanities, not to do so isolates it from fascinating insights that do not take away from but enhance the life of faith".

Ullrich took up his postdoctoral position at RUB in 2018 while still in his final year of the PhD at SU. Earlier this year, he was awarded a three-year (2021–2024) extension to his contract with RUB (externally funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) / German Research Foundation). As part of the agreement, he is to write a second book or, in German, a Habilitation thesis.

 “I am looking forward to discussing this upcoming project funded by the German Research Foundation, which I have tentatively entitled, A Critical Phenomenology of Christian Bodily Affect," he says.