Fakultäten » Theologische Fakultät » Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie, Institut für » Prof. Dr. Ingolf Ulrich Dalferth (emeritiert) » Dalferth

Completed research project

Title / Titel Prayer as Embodied Understanding
Hermeneutical Approaches to the Experience of Prayer
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Original title / Originaltitel Beten als verleiblichtes Verstehen
Hermeneutische Zugänge zum Ereignis des Gebets
Summary / Zusammenfassung According to the most recent empirical studies, prayer – in its various forms, Christian, Muslim, Jewish,
Buddhist, Hindu and outside formal religions – belongs to the daily life of many people in Switzerland. The
research literature dealing with this manifold practice of prayer is sparse and suffers from serious onesidedness.
There are only a few studies which, in addition to the verbal forms of prayer, also consider its preverbal and transverbal aspects and its aesthetics and examine not only its active but also its passive dimensions. This being the case, the ecumenical research project Prayer as Embodied Understanding is entering
new territory for hermeneutical research on prayer. The project is based on the supposition that in prayer the possibilities and limits of religious understanding can be explored and examined in a paradigmatic and exemplary manner. On one hand, we ask what significance the bodily and sensuous dimension of prayer has for this understanding. We investigate in what way religious understanding is actualized, stabilized or transformed in prayer. On the other hand, we will analyse how religious self-understanding resp. understanding of the other and the articulation of non-understanding are intertwined in the process and experience of prayer. We pay special attention to the problem that in prayer the limits of understanding get expressed: the absurdity of suffering as well as the inability to understand oneself and the incomprehensibility of God.
We assume that the special hermeneutical quality of prayer is manifest particularly there where religious
understanding reaches its limits. In the process of praying a lack of understanding can be articulated and a
new understanding can arise. The apophatic language of prayer that explores the possibility of speaking at
the edge of silence contains a critical potential in relation to fixed religious expressions of meaning. The
silence that such a prayer language opens into can be described as a process in which that can be expressed which can no longer be said.
The project consists of a hermeneutical study and two conference projects. The first conference will
concentrate on the methodology of interdisciplinary prayer research, whereas the second will examine the
commonalities and differences between Jewish, Christian and Muslim practices of prayer and evaluate
them for a hermeneutic of prayer.
This research project of the Zurich Institute for Hermeneutics and Philosophy of Religion is innovative in
both its methodology and its content and contributes to an understanding of the multireligious character
of contemporary prayer life. By considering aspects of prayer activity hitherto neglected, it not only
corrects the one-sided perception of the complex phenomenality of prayer, but also, using the example of
prayer, it explores the effectiveness and the limitations of a hermeneutic of a lived religion.
Publications / Publikationen Weitere Informationen
Keywords / Suchbegriffe Prayer, Meditation, Liturgy, (Non-)Understanding, Hermeneutics, Aesthetics, Experience, Philosophy of Religion, Embodiement, Embodied Expression, Voice, Phenomenology, Attention, Silence, Interreligious Dialog, Judaism, Islam, Incomprehensibility of God, Apophatic Language, Interdisciplinary Research, Event of Response, Gestures, Pathos, Mindfulness, Affectivity, German
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
Prof. Dr. Ingolf Ulrich Dalferth (Project Leader)
PD Dr. Simon Peng-Keller, Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter/Koordinator
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
SNF (Personen- und Projektförderung)
In collaboration with /
In Zusammenarbeit mit
Prof. Dr. Pierre Bühler
Universität Zürich
Institut für Hermeneutik u. Religionsphilosophie
Theologische Fakultät
Kirchgasse 9
8001 Zürich
Dr. Andreas Hunziker
Universität Zürich
Institut für Hermeneutik u. Religionsphilosophie
Theologische Fakultät
Kirchgasse 9
8001 Zürich
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Jan 2014 to Jan 2017