Honorary Doctorates

Bernadette J. Brooten

has published groundbreaking work on early Jewish and Christian women and sparked important debates on social issues. The Roman Catholic theologian and professor from the US made a name for herself with her study of the apostle Junia, a work which is now celebrated as a landmark achievement in biblical research and classical theological women’s studies. The Faculty of Theology is honoring Bernadette J. Brooten for her groundbreaking work on the history of early Jewish and Christian women, which has sparked a new wave of discussions on economic and social matters.
Brooten is a celebrated feminist scholar of gender studies who works with a tireless passion to facilitate the interdisciplinary study of the history of discrimination phenomena in the context of ancient and modern slavery. For instance, she is the founder and director of the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project that aims to create Jewish, Christian and Muslim sexual ethics rooted in freedom, mutuality, responsibility and female (as well as male) pleasure. Meanwhile, this framework is intended to be free of the “slaveholder values” that are found in the sacred texts and traditions of these three religions and are frequently associated with the sexual exploitation of women and girls.

Kathrin Utz Tremp

Lecturer Kathrin Utz Tremp has conducted detailed analyses of esoteric historical sources, paving the way for further research. The speech given to mark the awarding of her honorary doctorate highlighted her tireless work in “illuminating and opening up to an international audience” the history of Christianity in Switzerland, specifically in Bern and Fribourg, during the Late Middle Ages and the early modern era.
The speech went on to mention how her research consistently focuses on the “minorities and the forgotten characters of history,” such as those accused of being witches or the Waldensians, a Christian movement whose members were deemed to be heretics and persecuted. Utz Tremp shares her research findings in her lectures.

Willi Nafzger

The 2012 honorary doctorate was awarded to prison pastor Willi Nafzger V.D.M. Born in 1942, Nafzger has devoted himself to humanizing the penal system, transforming the face of pastoral care to include not only the prisoners but also the prison staff. He has also mentored prison officers both in Switzerland and around the world and is considered one of the most prominent figures in Swiss prison chaplaincy. He is the co-founder of the further education program “Pastoral care in the penal and correctional system” at the University of Bern, a program to which he has been contributing for twenty years.

Rudolf H. Strahm,

who has dedicated his life to campaigning for fair development policies and committed efforts to aid the Third World, never giving up hope that global change is possible. Strahm has spearheaded the pioneering endeavors of “Erklärung von Bern” (“Berne Declaration”), an organization founded by a group of theologians. Through this work, he has made a vital contribution to the development of civil society institutions whose mission it is to spread an undogmatic and prophetic message, promoting political action within the social, ecological and ethical battlefields of the globalized economy. He has also made his expertise on civic responsibility available to broad segments of the population in the form of textbooks, media reports and lectures.

Hannah M. Cotton,

a dedicated philologist, papyrologist and epigraphist who has contributed to her field through exemplary first edition publications on the history of Israel and Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman period. This inspirational historian has played a significant role in illuminating the history – in particular women’s history – of law, economy and religion in Israel/Palestine and Arabia under Roman rule. She is one of the main research partners in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae project, which aims to document the ethnic, religious and linguistic pluralism of the Holy Land between the fourth century BC and the seventh century AD.

Lic. phil. Rifa'at Lenzin,

who has campaigned for many years, both inside and outside of Switzerland, for open and respectful dialog between people from different religions and cultures. As an independent scholar of Islam and a publicist, she has championed a pluralistic understanding of Muslim identity, particularly through tackling gender issues in Islam. Through her diverse activities, she has contributed to a culture of peace and tolerance.

Prof. Dr. Susan Ashbrook Harvey,

who has been publishing outstanding research in the field of early Syrian Christianity for thirty years. Her work has broadened our knowledge of hagiography in the early church, while her research on the significance of the sense of smell in early Christianity has created a new, original chapter in the history of Christian spirituality. Her thorough and empathetic studies of women in early Syrian Christianity and gender aspects in the theology of the early church have shed new light on the role of women past and present in the Eastern Christian church.

Hans Rudolf Lavater,

who has been publishing the outstanding results of his academic research on church history for more than thirty years, providing the impetus for new insights and investigations into the history of the Reformation in Zurich and Bern and the history of Swiss Baptists. In his activities as a pastor and teacher, he has encouraged and adopted a theologically diverse and reflective approach to educating churches, schools and the general public on church history and theology. He has also dedicated a great deal of time to voluntary work, helping the churches and people of the city and Canton of Bern.

Tamara Grdzelidze,

the Georgian theologian and philologist who has battled an atheist and patriarchal society in Georgia to become a pioneer in restoring theological studies as a discipline. Through her research, teaching and publications, she has forged a link between Orthodox theology and spirituality and the problems faced in modern society, and has successfully reached out to a Western audience. Her critical study of the Georgian Orthodox Church and her commitment to the World Council of Churches have breathed new life into the stagnant dialog between Orthodox and Western churches.

Daniel Glaus,

a composer, researcher and teacher who combines disciplines and connects cultures. This church musician and organist has redefined contemporary worship, walking the line between disciplines to challenge the traditions of theology from an outside perspective.

Iren Meier,

a radio journalist who has made outstanding contributions to society through her intercultural and interreligious media work. Her nuanced and sensitive reports on political and religious conflicts have highlighted the plight of the people affected while preserving their dignity. Her profiles of conflict victims – in particular women and children – illuminate the fate of these individuals, giving a unique angle to the call for resolution and peace-building from an evangelical perspective.

Jan Visser,

a theologian whose teaching and research activities have tackled new ecclesiological and pastoral issues in a number of Christian traditions and the human sciences. Visser’s endeavors have been vital to the witness and mission of the church in modern society, and have made a significant contribution to clarifying the mission of an Old Catholic theology and the related ecumenical issues.

Claude Lagarde,

a Catholic religious educator and pioneer of the “Catéchèse Biblique Symbolique” organization. Through his academic research and commitment to teaching, he has played a significant role in revitalizing religious education in the context of modern multicultural and multireligious society, helping to eliminate the teaching approaches that have alienated children for many years. 

Prof. Dr. Christine Burckhardt-Seebass,

a scholar who takes a unique approach to the religious dimensions of cultural phenomena, combining innovative questioning and methodical precision. As a folklorist, she challenges the tenets of theology by looking at her own fields of research from an outside perspective. Meanwhile, as a university lecturer, she encourages in others a careful, undistorted and accurate perception of even the most unassuming elements of reality.