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Swedish Theological Institute, Jerusalem - Theology students ‘on site’

17 December 2010

Professor Jesper Svartvik with his group of students in Jerusalem

“In the same way that medical students work in hospitals during their studies, theology students should do a work placement in Jerusalem! It was here it all started and today several world religions converge here.” So says Ingrid Norén-Nilsson, a future priest and temporarily studying in Lund in order to have the opportunity to study theology ‘on site’ in Israel.

On the Street of the Prophets in Jerusalem, both research and education are conducted. Behind the beautiful walls of Tabor House, where the Swedish Theological Institute (STI) has its premises, is also the office of Professor Jesper Svartvik from Lund. He has two doctoral students who come here in turns and a couple of international researchers who are here through an American donation. At the moment, Jesper Svartvik also has his student group from Lund here, who are taking the course “Theology of Religion in Jerusalem”.

“Here what we learn becomes real and very relevant”, says Lund student Benjamin Ulbricht, who has just been to a lecture on “Embarrassing Jewish texts in the Bible”.

The lecture was held by Debbie Weissmen, an Orthodox Jew and one of the most significant bridge builders in Jerusalem, according to Jesper Svartvik, who has been here for 18 months.

STI has long been a place for meetings of religions, particularly between Christianity and Judaism.

“It is not until now that the Institute has gained a clear research profile”, says Jesper Svartvik, explaining about his doctoral students. One of them is specialising in the school system in Israel and the other in Christian Zionism.

The doctoral students and students liven up the Institute.

“There is a lot of discussion at mealtimes and wherever we bump into one another – in the library or here on the veranda. That is how it should be”, says Jesper Svartvik.

The Lund students have an intensive time during the two weeks they are here. The days are filled with lectures and excursions to holy and historical sites. They have prepared well through earlier course components in Lund.

“It is very good to have done it so that we are already thinking about how we interpret Biblical texts and how we interact with other religions”, says Benjamin Ulbricht, who is in his second year of a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and would like to become a priest.

Like Ingrid Norén-Nilsson, he thinks the Jerusalem course should be compulsory on the Bachelor’s degree in Theology. Ingrid also wants to become a priest, but coursemate Annika Wenemark does not plan to. She has previously taken the courses “Children of Abraham”, which is also partly taught in Jerusalem, and “The role of religion in the Middle East”. She is very interested in the political and religious conflict and has rewarding conversations later the same evening, at a dinner at STI for the Swedish Ambassador Elinor Hammarskjöld and Consul General Axel Wernhoff.

Jesper Svartvik says that every day in Jerusalem is an adventure.

“Every meal, every meeting, every lecture. We both learn and teach. And we also try to make you employable”, he says, addressing the students. “You become better theologians if you study in Lund, and even better if you take theology courses in Jerusalem”, he says jokingly.

For the students’ excursion to Qumran, he is helped by Head of STI Håkan Bengtsson, who did a PhD on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“He is a very inspiring guide”, confirms Annika Wenemark.

Back in Lund, it was not so long ago that the Faculty of Theology was criticised for mixing confession and academia by cooperating too closely with the Church of Sweden. Jesper Svartvik says that theology is about reflecting on people’s experiences and that the cooperation with STI only brings good.

“Churches need research and we all work for a better climate for cooperation in the Middle East. There are Christians among the students, but the courses we give are academic and all that is required to take them, besides the formal entry requirements, is curiosity and interest”, he says.

Through the planned cooperation with the Israeli university Ben Gurion and the Palestinian Birzeit, in which Jesper Svartvik and STI have an intermediary role, the cooperation between STI and Lund University is further strengthened, he says.

“We also want to be here for researchers from other disciplines who have an interest in the Middle East.”

– Maria Lindh

FACT BOX

Jesper Svartvik’s chair was made possible by a donation from the Church of Sweden and Lunds Missionssällskap. It is named after Krister Stendahl, who was a legendary Swedish theologian at Harvard University, Bishop of Stockholm and active at STI in broadening and deepening the Jewish-Christian dialogue.

An agreement with the donors makes Lund University the employer of the professor and gives it responsibility for both the recruitment and contents of the chair.

FACT BOX

The Swedish Theological Institute, STI, is a study institute focusing on meetings between religions, particularly between Christianity and Judaism. The Institute is headed by Director Håkan Bengtsson, who did a PhD on the Dead Sea Scrolls. STI is run by the Church of Sweden.