Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities, Professor of German and Religious Studies, Department of German and Department of Religious Studies
Christine Helmer (Ph.D. Yale) is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities at Northwestern University, and Professor of German, with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Religious Studies. In 2017 she was awarded an honorary doctorate in theology from the University of Helsinki for her work on German reformer Martin Luther, as well as for her commitment to theology as an important contributor to the intellectual life of the university. During the academic year 2017-2018, she was Visiting Corcoran Chair in the Center for Christian-Jewish Relations at Boston College, researching Luther’s anti-Judaism in his biblical interpretation.
Professor Helmer’s area of research and teaching specialization is Christian theology from historical, systematic, and constructive perspectives. Her work is focused on German intellectual history with primary interest in the theology of Martin Luther, the philosophy and theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, and the flourishing of scholarship on Luther and on religion in early twentieth-century Germany, known as the Luther Renaissance. Her recent book How Luther Became the Reformer (Westminster John Knox 2019) traces the story of how early twentieth-century German theologians constructed the myth of the “Here I stand Luther” as prototype of modernity at the end of the First World War. Professor Helmer argues that the construction of this myth was decisively anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish in addition to bearing the seeds of fascism that would become full-blown in 1932. The book closes with a prescription to study the medieval Catholic Luther to reorient contemporary culture to the value of human dignity in community. She is also interested in ways in which theologians can make knowledge claims about God; the emerging discipline of biblical reception; theology’s conversation with the modern study of religion; and how the theological perspective contributes to the humanities.
Professor Helmer has a longstanding interest in Christian doctrine. Her book, Theology and the End of Doctrine (Westminster John Knox Press 2014) offers a historical analysis of theology’s preoccupation with doctrine over the last century, of the disrepute into which doctrine subsequently fell, and a constructive proposal for renewing doctrinal production as a creative enterprise. Her collaborative work over the past years has focused on the reception of Luther’s thought in the modern world, represented in the published co-edited volume, Lutherrenaissance: Past and Present (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2015), as well as a forthcoming publication on the medieval Luther. She has recently founded a group called “Lutheran Scholars of Religion” that aims to articulate theologies addressing urgent cultural, religious, climatological, and political challenges.
Professor Helmer’s research has been supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Humboldt Foundation. During 2012-2013 she was the Marie Curie EURIAS (European Institutes of Advanced Study) Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies in Helsinki, Finland. During 2014-2105, she was a Research Fellow in the Philosophy and Theology of Humility Project, based at Saint Louis University.
Professor Helmer is Associate Chair of Willard Residential Hall. She teaches undergraduate courses on key religious thinkers in western thought, religion and sports, and the popular “Why College?” class. Her course “Luther and the West” is available as a free massive open online course (MOOC) at www.coursera.org/learn/luther-and-the-west. Students interested in applying for graduate work with Dr. Helmer should do so through the Department of German.
Photo credit: Veikko Somerpuro
How Luther Became the Reformer. Westminster John Knox Press, 2019
The Trinity and Martin Luther. Lexham Press, 2017
Theology and the End of Doctrine. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014
The Trinity and Martin Luther: A Study on the Relationship between Genre, Language and the Trinity in Luther’s Works (1523-1546). Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte/Abteilung Abendländische Religionsgeschichte 174. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1999.
Lutherrenaissance: Past and Present. Edited by Christine Helmer and Bo Kristian Holm. Forschungen zur Kirchen- and Dogmengeschichte 106. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.
LUTERO: Um teologo para tempos modernos. Edited by Christine Helmer. Translated by Geraldo Korndörfe. São Leopoldo: Sinodal, 2013.
The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times. Edited by Christine Helmer. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.
Transformations in Luther's Theology: Historical and Contemporary Reflections. Edited by Christine Helmer and Bo Kristian Holm. Arbeiten zur Kirchen- und Theologiegeschichte 32. Leipzig: EVA-Leipzig, 2011.
The Multivalence of Biblical Texts and Theological Meanings. Edited by Christine Helmer with Charlene T. Higbe. Symposium Series 37. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.
Biblical Interpretation: History, Context, and Reality. Edited by Christine Helmer with Taylor G. Petrey. Symposium Series 26. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.
Schleiermacher and Whitehead: Open Systems in Dialogue. Edited by Christine Helmer, in Cooperation with Marjorie Suchocki, John Quiring, and Katie Goetz. Theologische Bibliothek Töpelmann 125. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004.
One Scripture or Many? Canon from Biblical, Theological, and Philosophical Perspectives. Edited by Christine Helmer and Christof Landmesser. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Truth: Interdisciplinary Dialogues in a Pluralist Age. Edited by Christine Helmer and Kristin De Troyer, with Katie Goetz. Studies in Philosophical Theology 22. Leuven: Peeters, 2003.
Schleiermachers Dialektik: Die Liebe zum Wissen in Philosophie und Theologie. Edited by Christine Helmer, Christiane Kranich, and Birgit Rehme-Iffert. Religion in Philosophy and Theology 6. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003.
Biblischer Text und theologische Theoriebildung. Edited by Christine Helmer, Stephen Chapman, and Christof Landmesser. Biblisch-theologische Studien 44. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2001.
Interviews, Web Audio/Video
Podcast: “Luther and the West,” with Tripp Fuller, posted by Homebrewed Christianity, Feb. 2, 2017.
Conference video: “What is Distinctive about the Fifth Centenary of the Protestant Reformation?,” at Georgetown University, Sept. 15, 2017.
Podcast: “Luther in America,” at the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, Oct. 5, 2017.
Conference video: “Luther, the Age of the Individual: 500 Years Ago Today,” at Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, Oct. 31, 2017.
Blogpost: “Martin Luther and the History of Human Rights,” Pozen Family Center for Human Rights at The University of Chicago, Oct. 30, 2017.
Blogpost: “The Protestant Reformation and Human Rights,” The Immanent Frame, Nov. 8, 2017.
Podcast: "Conversation about Theology and the End of Doctrine," with Tripp Fuller, posted by Homebrewed Christianity, Oct. 9, 2014.