Marius Timmann Mjaaland new professor in philosophy of religion
His primary interest is in philosophy and theology. But his interdisciplinary orientation has already led him to new and innovative fields of research. This fall, Mjaaland returned to his Alma Mater.
Photo: Marte Garmann
Marius T. Mjaaland is originally a philosopher who studied in Oslo, Göttingen, Heidelberg, and Copenhagen. He has worked extensively on Plato and Kant, Hegel and Søren Kierkegaard - the Danish philosopher who argued that "death is a mighty thinker who is able not only to think through every illusion but can break it down to pieces, think it unto nothing."
“There is such existential intensity in Kierkegaard's philosophy, which has influenced a number of philosophers and authors in the 20th and 21st century, such as Heidegger, Arendt, Ricoeur, and Derrida. And me too, I have to add”, Mjaaland tells us. He says that Derrida's philosophy plays a key role in his analysis of Hegel and Kierkegaard in his book Autopsia (2008).
After finishing his PhD, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow in Tübingen, Oslo, and Chicago, and later as Humboldt scholar in Hamburg and Rostock. After one year in Halden (HiØ), he was appointed professor at the University of Oslo and academic director of the inter facultary research area Religion in Pluralist Societies (PluRel).
“I am attracted by the interdisciplinary approach to religion and theology at the University of Oslo, hence I was happy and honored to be offered the Chair for Philosophy of Religion, a position which invites further co-operation and research in this field”, Mjaaland says.
His interdisciplinary interest is clearly visible in his publications as well. Since he has studied the history of religions, history of ideas and theology, he has become increasingly interested in questions of Christian doctrine, political theology, and the notion of the hidden God (Luther). His book on Luther is simply called The Hidden God (2016).
“The original idea of this book is to read Luther as a thinker of scripture and writing, and hence also of deconstruction. It is also a critical analysis of the metaphysical foundation of politics and violence in Luther's theology”, Mjaaland explains.
“Another question that has occupied me for years is the foundation and current relevance of Christian doctrine. In Systematic Theology (Systematisk teologi, 2017) I give a contemporary interpretation of key topics in Christian thought and faith, often with reference to philosophical or literary texts, and with numerous references to the Bible, of course.”
The Big Questions of Life
His interest in this field of research started at the age of 16, when his father had a serious brainstroke.
“I began reading philosophy and literature about questions of life and death, meaning, deception and truth” he tells us, and continues: “This interest was deepened by his death a few years later and I extended my reading to various religious texts, in particular the Bible, theology and philosophy.”
“Actually, since then I have never thought it was boring. You can continue delving deeper into the big questions of life as long as you keep on reading good texts - and leave the bad ones in your bookshelf”, he says.
First love, and a new love?
We asked Mjaaland why he wanted to come to the Faculty of Theology in Oslo.
“Could it be what they call, hum, a 'first love'?”, he asks with a smile.
“I started studying at this university in 1990 and I have always returned to Oslo. I have enjoyed visiting other universities, and I will encourage all our students to do so, but this is definitely a great place to study philosophy and theology.”
So, what about the future? What will be the primary focus of his research?
“Some of the questions I have dealt with will keep on haunting me, like the question of the hidden God, life and death, and the mysteries and challenges of Christian life and thought.”
“But for the moment I have also found a new field of interest: The Life Sciences and the co-operation between neurobiology, medicine, and phenomenology. I will continue studying life under the headline of neurophenomenology, as I suggested in my inauguration lecture: Life and Death. Time and Space”, Mjaaland concludes.