What is Love?

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Inaugural Annemarie Schimmel Lecture at the University of Bonn

Bonn Minster - witnessed the start of the Annemarie Schimmel Lectures on questio
Bonn Minster - witnessed the start of the Annemarie Schimmel Lectures on questions of inter-religious dialogue and comparative theology, which are now to be held at the University of Bonn every June. © Photo: Barbara Frommann/University of Bonn all images in original size .
What is love? And how does love work? What is beauty? These were the questions tackled in the inaugural Annemarie Schimmel Lecture. Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a professor of philosophy, explored the topic on three consecutive days - an evening talk in Bonn Minster followed by two further events in the University of Bonn’s Grand Hall. 

The Annemarie Schimmel Lecture series explores questions of inter-religious dialogue and comparative theology and will now be held at the University of Bonn every June. It will provide a framework for the world’s leading minds in comparative theology to present their latest research to a wide audience. Following in the footsteps of Annemarie Schimmel, from whom the series takes its name, the aim is to promote excellence in religious research as well as inter-religious dialogue on the big questions in theology.

Love has long been an important theme to Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, even as far back as his open letter to Benedict XVI and other Church leaders, " A Common Word Between Us and You ", whose title was inspired by the Koran. In his lecture, Prince Ghazi framed it as a theme common to all of humanity and called it the foundation of Christian-Muslim dialogue. He began by highlighting the importance of the work done by Annemarie Schimmel, whom he knew personally: "I am particularly honored to be giving the first Annemarie Schimmel Lectures, because her book, ’Mystical Dimensions of Islam,’ had a profound effect on me personally, when I first read it in 1989."

Prince Ghazi’s talk tackled the topic of love from a philosophical angle and described it as a predisposition toward beauty. As well as stressing the prominent role that love plays in the Koran, he also established links to Christian theology, such as the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Prinz Ghazi also talked about the significance of the venue chosen for his lecture: "It’s an act of humility, generosity and goodwill that you should come and listen to a Muslim speaker from a faraway land who’s speaking in English in your own church. I appreciate that deeply and am moved by it."

The event also marked the official opening of the collaboration platform for the societal transfer of comparative theology based at Paderborn University and the University of Bonn, which is to receive approximately ¤2 million in funding over the next four years from the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Klaus von Stosch, Head of the International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues (CTSI) at the University of Bonn, commented: "The main reason that Prince Ghazi came specially to Bonn to give these inaugural Annemarie Schimmel Lectures was because he has been touched by Ms. Schimmel’s work and is keen to respond to her commitment and dedication from a Christian perspective as a Muslim." In the same way as Annemarie Schimmel, he explained, Prince Ghazi also tried to use key elements from the respective other religion to express his own faith. "In so doing, he embraces central concepts of comparative theology - just like Ms. Schimmel did - and attempts to advance an understanding between Islam and Christianity."

What made a particular impression, von Stosch said, was how Prince Ghazi expressed his Muslim faith in the rich language of love, while making repeated and highly respectful references to Biblical texts and works by the Church Fathers. "I felt that our audience were moved and inspired by the events, with many of them engaging us and the Prince in lively discussions in the cloister afterward. And many people told me how touched they were by his comments on love." A real highlight that struck a chord with many of those present was the final musical offering: Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy," played in an arrangement imbued with Arabic sounds at the express request of the prince.

Prof. von Stosch added: "We wanted to take the concerns of comparative theology and the religious harmony that we have fostered at the University and are strengthening further through our intensive research and bring them into the city of Bonn while also involving its local religious communities." With the International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues based at the Faculty of Catholic Theology, he explained, it was most important to show a clear sign of solidarity with the Catholic Church in the city - and to do so somewhere that epitomizes the very first beginnings of monotheistic religion in Bonn and impresses visitors with its deeply spiritual atmosphere. "What could be a better place here than the Minster?"

Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal

Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad is Professor of Philosophy at Jordan University and one of the world’s most eminent figures in Islamic-Christian dialogue. He holds doctoral degrees from the University of Cambridge in the UK and Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he had already chosen the subject of love for his theses. In 2007, he penned a widely acclaimed open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders entitled " A Common Word Between Us and You." Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad is also an advisor to the King of Jordan on matters of religion and culture.

About Annemarie Schimmel

Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003) was one of the 20th century’s most prominent scholars of Islamic studies. Her works and translations, particularly on Islamic mysticism, have served to build bridges between East and West and between Islam and Christianity. She spent many years as a professor at Harvard University and lectured all around the world, and continues posthumously to enjoy a major reputation in Islamic countries, being considered an inspiring figure in the field of academic theology. Annemarie Schimmel is buried in Poppelsdorf Cemetery in Bonn.

The International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues

Part of the Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Bonn, the International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues (CTSI) is a hub for interdisciplinary research projects in the field of comparative theology. https://www.ctsi.uni-bonn.de/en