Keynote: Jan-Olav Henriksen


Jan-Olav Henriksen is Dean of research as well as Research Director for systematic theology at the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo, Norway.

He has a keen interest both in evolutionary and cognitive theory as well as postmodern philosophy and focuses on different dimensions in understanding the relationship between God and human experience. His current research project understands religion as “a human mode of being in the world that is in need of being interpreted in the light of human evolution and cultural history. Against this backdrop, constructive Christian theology can identify “God” as the main symbol around which different aspects of this being in the world clusters, and provide a systematic account of how this symbol shapes the interpretation of human development and phenomena like life, embodiment, sex, culture, language etc. Crucial for providing a viable understanding of God is, accordingly, to show how God is related to different realms of human experience. Hence, God becomes the specific topic of concern for a theological anthropology.”

This has resulted recently in the publication of Life, Love, and Hope: God and Human Experience, Eerdmans, 2014. The three keywords that have become central in our own project are very much present in this book. Jan-Olav Henriksen clearly opt for a Trinitarian and thus a relational approach, in which the self can be seen as emerging out of God’s and Other’s love. This idea of the Other and Otherness playing a constitutive and important role in the understanding of what it means to be human – not only in moral terms, but also in terms of how the human being is constituted is key. But likewise, this emphasis on being human in the encounter with the other leads him to understand human life as an opening up through the lives of others, through community, through hope, love and faith. Vulnerability, then is not only a matter of human finitude but also of an exposure, an interruption that allows for new life. There is a strong emphasis on love in Henriksen’s thought, not only understanding God as Love/r but also understanding human life in light of it: love as the telos of life, the world as a creative process of love to which human beings can relate, in which we can live ‘as if love is the deepest meaning of it all’ and in which we find our place as ‘free lovers of the universe in which God is at work’.

“the essence of God (and the world – including human experience) is to be in relation…the fullness of human experience is also realized in relation, especially in relations shaped and marked by love” (Life, Love and Hope, 342).

Some of his other important publications are:

  • Finitude and Theological Anthropology: An Exploration into the Theological Dimensions of Finitude (Peeters, 2011)
  • Difficult Normativity.  Normative issues in Research on Religion and Theology. (Peter Lang 2011).
  • Saving Desire (Eerdmans 2011)
  • Crisis and Change: Religion, Ethics and Theology under Late Modern Conditions (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2012).

Some of the many relevant articles are:

  • ‘Eros and/as Desire – A Theological Affirmation: Paul Tillich read in the Light of Jean -Luc Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon,Modern Theology (2010), 26(2), 220-242.
  • It’s Personal–Or Not At All: On God as Love/r,’Dialog, (2011), 50(1), 63-70.

  • ‘Distinct, unique, or separate?: Challenges to theological anthropology and soteriology in light of human evolution,’ Studia Theologica – Nordic Journal of Theology, (2013), 67(2), 166-183.

  • ‘The Role of Experience in the Assessment of Human Nature’, Theology and Science, (2014), 12(4), 324-337.

Jan-Olav Henriksen’s talk on Desire, Gift, and Recognition: Christology and Postmodern Philosophy, published in 2009, can be heard on Homebrewed Barrel Aged podcasts


“Love is thus a pathway to knowledge about God. Experience of love is, in one way or another, an experience of God, even if this love is experienced as finite… Love is the positive experiential horizon within which it makes sense to speak of and relate truly to God” (‘It’s Personal, 2011:64).