University of Erfurt

Theological research seminar

Brigitte Benz: Doktorandin

Research projekt

Memorial services and commemoration ceremonies involving ecclesial participation in secular-societal contexts following major disasters. A liturgical-theological study.


In recent years, a growing number of memorial services and commemoration ceremonies after major disasters, so-called disaster rituals, can be observed in Germany and other (western) countries. Each one is prepared for a specific reason, but all vary according to form, place and statement. Additionally, they are connected in different ways with various religions and worldviews, and thus constitute a new form of ritual. These rituals have not yet been systematically researched and reflected on within the field of Catholic theology. However, a systematic study is highly relevant and necessary, as these forms of rituals have a great social effect in crisis situations.

My project aims to research disaster rituals from a liturgical studies point of view. The focus is primarily on the ceremonies and rituals of grief and remembrance after the so-called “Erfurt massacre”, a school shooting at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in 2002. The memorial service immediately after the tragic event and annual memorial services carried out for ten years after the shooting are understood as paradigmatic for the role of Christian churches within disaster rituals. The project looks at whether and how liturgy-scientific considerations played a role in these rituals. Is also asks after the theological concepts of such rituals in a secularized society, the anthropological, liturgy-theological and ecclesiological implications.

Special attention will also be paid to the fact that in so-called disaster rituals, a large part of the participants often define themselves as non-Christians. The project thus also looks at what effect their participation has - from a theological view - on the design of the rituals, with especial regard to the question of the intelligibility of symbols and language (that are inherently religious/Christian).

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