Christine Helmer (Ph.D. Yale) is Professor of German in the Department of German at Northwestern University. She also has 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 the German reformer, Martin Luther, as well as for her commitment to theology as an important contributor to the intellectual life of the university. Professor Helmer’s area of research and teaching specialization is 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. She is also interested in ways in which theologians can make knowledge claims about God, theology as the production of doctrine, theology’s relation to the modern study of religion, and how the theological perspective can contribute to the humanities and social sciences.
Dr. Helmer’s recent book, How Luther Became the Reformer (Westminster John Knox Press 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.
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, 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 moern 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 is the founder of a group called “Lutheran Scholars of Religion” that meets regularly at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. This group’s aim is to articulate theologies addressing urgent religious, cultural, climatological, and political challenges.
Professor Helmer was Visiting Corcoran Chair (2017-2018) in the Center for Christian-Jewish Relations at Boston College; Research Fellow (2014-2105) in the Philosophy and Theology of Intellectual Humility Project, based at Saint Louis University; and Marie Curie EURIAS (European Institutes of Advanced Study) Fellow (2012-2013) at the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies in Helsinki, Finland. Her research has also been supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Humboldt Foundation.
Professor Helmer is Associate Chair of Willard Residential College. She teaches undergraduate courses on key religious thinkers in western thought, the theology of love, religion and sports, and introduction to theology. Her graduate courses focus on the history of theology in relation to the study of religion. She welcomes applications to the Ph.D. program through the Department of German.
Photo courtesy Veikko Somerpuro