News and events Tilburg University

Valedictory address Marcel Poorthuis: The importance of understanding religious rituals in other religions

Published: 12th May 2022 Last updated: 12th May 2022

0 votes.

In his valedictory address on May 19, theologian Marcel Poorthuis, professor of Interreligious Dialogue, argues for a reflection on religious rituals that are not always understood anymore in modern society, but in which, on the contrary, much wisdom lies. In times of corona, however, the question of rituals has arisen anew. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic rituals seem to be able to take on a new meaning here. Thus, rituals teach not only how to mourn, but also how to stop mourning without guilt.

A theologian's task is to think through the ways in which events can be meaningfully seen as an appeal from God to change your life, Poorthuis argues. In doing so, we can also look at how other religions deal with these events. We can learn a lot from the pandemic: the heroic efforts of so many people in healthcare show us how human beings are meant to be, from God's perspective. The disease gives us a chance to break the scapegoating mechanism: blaming precisely those who are affected by misery.
A second perspective: we can also see in the pandemic a message that only becomes meaningful if we really pay attention to it. Nature is not there to be exploited and animals are not industrial products. Man is a steward of creation. Eastern religion looks more to a joyful recognition of God as the owner of everyone's possessions, including the harvest. 

Learning from rituals of other faiths

These differences manifest themselves in rituals, which we can learn from, not to adopt, but to fathom. Sometimes these are accompanied by an obligation that runs counter to the Western sense of life in which things are determined by the individual. Also, religious rituals are not "useful" in the sense in which efficient actions are "useful." Add to this the fact that we often regard "authentic" religion as something internal, not an external act, and the crisis of ritual was complete. Now we can learn to see that taking medical action can count as a source of gratitude to God who endowed humanity with that knowledge and with doctors and nurses who provide care.

Prof. Dr. M.J.H.M. Poorthuis studied theology at the Catholic Theological University Utrecht and at the same time music at the conservatory. He started his career at the secretariat of the Dutch Catholic Church. Poorthuis obtained his doctorate in 1992 with a thesis on the commentaries of the French-Jewish philosopher Levinas on the Talmud. From 1992 to 2010 he worked as associate professor at the Catholic Theological University Utrecht and then as professor of interreligious dialogue at Tilburg University.
The farewell address is on May 19 at 16.15 in the auditorium with live stream.
The speech is titled: The hidden wisdom of rituals.
For more information, please contact science editor Tineke Bennema, tel. 013 4668998 and via