When Holger Zaboworski came to Erfurt in 2020, he was no stranger: He had already been a fellow at the University of Erfurt's "Theologische Forschungskolleg" (Erfurt School of Theological Research) in 2011. Here, he researched the "Justification of Tolerance and Recognition". He recalls this time vividly: "I think of many encounters with faculty and students, stimulating discussions, and a scholarly and personal culture at the Forschungskolleg and the university that impressed me very much. I felt very much at home here."
The German philosopher is a cosmopolitan. Zaborowski's academic paths have already taken him to England and the USA: After studying philosophy, Catholic theology and classical philology in Freiburg, Basel, and Cambridge, he earned his D. Phil. at Oxford University in 2002 and his Dr. phil. at the University of Siegen in 2010. He also held positions as a lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge before taking up a chair in philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 2005.
In 2012, the North Rhine-Westphalian eventually returned to Germany. He took up the professorship for the History of Philosophy and Philosophical Ethics at the Vallendar School of Philosophy and Theology. In 2017, Zaborowski also became rector of the institution. His new position in Erfurt also means a farewell to Vallendar. What he will miss there is "on the one hand, the special atmosphere and the people who make up this institution of higher education," he says, "but also, in terms of scholarship: the conversation with Health Care studies, which is taught alongside theology at Vallendar, and which has greatly enriched and also changed my own theological and philosophical thinking."
In Erfurt, the philosopher, who works in the fields of 19th and 20th century philosophy, phenomenology, ethics, and philosophy of religion, intends to find new partners for discussion and cooperation. At the Faculty of Theology, he would like to set up a research centre on phenomenology, focusing, among other things, on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as well as of Eugen Fink. Among other things, the International Eugen Fink Archive for Phenomenological Anthropology and Social Philosophy will relocate from the University of Mainz to the University of Erfurt. In addition, Zaborowski will focus in particular on two scholarly focal points: the question of God and the question of the human condition. Both questions are closely related to each other, but are also strongly interwoven with related disciplines, the professor explains. Philosophy has an important bridging function in this regard, "because it starts from a shared practice of reasoning, which is common to all human beings, and thus facilitates conversations between different academic disciplines, but also between theology and society".
Holger Zaborowski is very concerned about precisely this kind of dialogue - and not only inside academia. In addition to his responsibilities in research and teaching, "science to public" is a central pivot in the philosopher's activities. Since 2015, together with Martin Ramb, head of cultural affairs in the diocese of Limburg, he has been running the event series "DENKBARES. Begegnungen mit Menschen und Büchern" (Encounters with People and Books). What once began as a "literature and philosophy touring salon" turned into a successful series of book presentations, discussions with authors, and art exhibitions as part of the "Rhineland-Palatinate Summer of Culture". "It all started in a restaurant basement in Koblenz," Zaborowksi recalls. "Since then, we have taken the format onto new spheres and places beyond academia and religious institutions in order to address people who may have reservations about such traditional venues. I am convinced that we will also discover exciting locations for such activities in Erfurt."
For Holger Zaborowski, DENKBARES has already produced a great range of synergies. In addition to the lively and sometimes very personal encounters with people, which always inspire questions for his research, the series has initiated the project "Koordinaten Europas" (Coordinates of Europe). This format began in 2019 with the publication of the book "Heimat Europa?", which explores the question of how Europe can be the home of a modern and multicultural society. One copy of each book was sent to all members of the German Bundestag. The President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, also invited Zaborowski and Ramb to Berlin to personally distribute the book.
"The huge and positive resonance to this book has encouraged us to continue working on this issue," says the professor, describing the further course of the project. With this in mind, the next six years will see the six forthcoming books on Europe-related issues along with an related one-week summer schools for students and young educators. In 2020, the "Coordinates of Europe" will initially - regardless of and yet in line with Corona - have the theme of "Solidarity and Responsibility". "In Erfurt, it is also a great concern of mine to see how we can promote Europe-related topics in academia, for example through conferences. But also how we bring this issue into everyday civil society in the sense of a transfer, so that we don't talk about Europe in a university bubble."
Zaborowski's activities aim at an active dialogue between academia and society and are driven by his firm belief that theological and philosophical questions are of utmost relevance beyond church walls, in political and social contexts, as well as in a secular environment, such as the theological engagement here in Thuringia. The current corona crisis makes this very clear: "We have a whole series of crises at the beginning of the 21st century," he explains. "The financial crisis, a global justice crisis and now the Corona crisis. It is precisely such challenges that need a broad coalition of people who care about human dignity - especially the dignity of the human being in his or her limitedness, the dignity of the suffering and the sick human being." Christian theology and a philosophy developed in dialogue with Christianity can provide important contributions here, says the philosopher. The current situation also shows that most profound convictions of Christianity, such as the dignity of every human being, are also relevant in secular societies and must therefore be scholarly backed up by Christian theology.
"My profession is more like a vocation," says the Catholic thinker Zaborowski with a laugh when asked if there are actually other things beyond research, teaching and "science to public" that he likes to do in his free time. "A lot of what I like to do - reading, art, theatre - is ultimately also somehow related to my research," he says. And then the full-blooded philosopher does think of something that, for once, requires less academic than epicurean qualities. "I love to cook. Because there - unlike in research - you usually get a very nice result directly on your plate very quickly." But then Holger Zaboworski smiles and remembers that in 2007 he published a book entitled "Essen und Trinken ist des Menschen Leben - Zugänge zu einem Grundphänomen" (Eating and Drinking Is Human Life - Approaches to a Basic Phenomenon). Because here, too, it is not entirely possible for him to act without remaining a philosopher.