Johannes Hoff's Research

Research project granted by Austrian Science Fund (FWF): 4e Cognition in Theological Anthropology

Hoff's earlier research focused on the post-phenomenological discussion of the 20th century and the late medieval mystic, philosopher, cardinal, and bishop of Brixen Niklaus von Kues (1401-1464). These works aimed at exploring the significance of spiritual and performative practices for our modern understanding of art, science, philosophy, and theology. Many of his publications in this field arose out of his collaboration with leading representatives of contemporary art, such as the performance artist Christoph Schlingensief, who died in 2011.

Hoff became known to a broader, interdisciplinary readership in the Anglo-American world through his monograph "The Analogical Turn. Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa," published in 2013. In this monograph, Hoff develops a media-based alternative to modern secularization narratives by reconstructing Nicholas of Cusa's alternative vision of progress and innovation. According to Hoff, the latter vision allows us to formulate a new perspective on the challenges of our present time.

His most recent research builds on this thesis and focuses on the anthropological challenge of the Digital Revolution.  An important role is attributed here to the posthumanist discussion on 'self-technologies', in which Hoff discovers the key to a critical revision of our modern-humanistic concept of man. In doing so, Hoff ties in with contemporary, neuroscientific, post-analytical and post-phenomenological thinkers such as Thomas Fuchs, Charles Taylor, Hilary Putnam, Bernard Stiegler, Bruno Latour and Hartmut Rosa, as well as pre-modern theologians and philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine, Dionysius Areopagita, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa. The theological goal of this research project is to free the holistic thinking of Eastern and Western Christianity of the first millennium from its modern overpaintings, and to discover the nerve of Christian doctrine in spiritual 'self-technologies'. In this way, Hoff aims to merge the theological and philosophical transformation program of French and English Ressourcement theologians such as Henri de Lubac, Andrew Louth, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Sarah Coakley and Rowan Williams with the anthropological discussion of the German interwar period and the beginning of the 21st century, which goes back to Max Scheler.

In his German monograph Apology of the Sacred. Anthropology of the Digital Transformation of 2021, Hoff has presented a first synthesis of this research.  According to Hoff, the digital transformation represents the greatest rupture of civilization since the Axis period of world history, in which the religious and philosophical traditions of the world history originated (around 500 B.C.): "Everyone knows today what the greatest threat to humanity is: the economically caused and technically accelerated devastation of biodiversity and the accompanying ecological climate change. The parallel digital transformation provokes an analogous threat: the economically caused and technically accelerated devastation of spiritual diversity and the accompanying spiritual climate change." This challenge, according to Hoff, requires an uncompromising revision of the theological background assumptions that made our modern view of humanity seem plausible in the wake of the media technological innovations of the Renaissance.  According to Hoff, the spiritual practices that were fundamental to the once-dominant premodern tradition of philosophical and theological thought allow us to recover potentials of scientific and pre-scientific intelligence that distinguish humans from computing machines and mark them as intellectually gifted, personal beings. Hoff's monograph culminates in an anthropologically grounded reformulation of the theological grammar that emerges when these technologies of the self are used in a philosophically disciplined way: The Creed of the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the first Millennium.

Against this background, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) granted the research project "4e Cognition in Theological Anthropology" proposed by Johannes Hoff in collaboration with Enrico Grube at the Board of Trustees meeting on October 3, 2022. The project explores the significance of the body / lived-body problem (Körper-Leib-Problem) for Christian doctrine from a historical and systematic point of view, with special emphasis on the doctrine of redemption and the patristic doctrine of the deification of man (theosis). In doing so, the results of contemporary phenomenology of the body and the neurobiological concept of embodied intelligence will enable a reorientation of Christian anthropology in the light of its historical sources. The project is planned for four years and will start in September 2023.

Part of this research is Hoff's research cooperation with the "Institute for Information Systems & Society" at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and his participation in the research group ''Ethics in Action for Sustainable Development'', which was convened by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia University) on behalf of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Hoff's first publications were devoted to bioethical questions and arose from his cooperation with Jürgen in der Schmitten, who today teaches as professor of general medicine at the Medical Faculty of the University of Duisburg-Essen. From this research cooperation sprang the book When is a Person Dead? Brain Death and Organ Transplantation, which was awarded “Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres” (Science Book of the Year) in 1994.

Reviews for:
Hoff, Johannes: Verteidigung des Heiligen. Anthropologie der digitalen Transformation. Freiburg i. Br. - Basel [u.a.]: Herder. ISBN 978-3-451-38966-5. (Weblink) 

  • Mark Coeckelbergh, In: Zygon (01.11.2021), 1132-1133 (Weblink)
  • Harald Walach, In: evolve 32 (01.11.2021), 82-84 
  • Jean-Claude Wolf, In: Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 68 (2022), 689-691
  • Günter Bader, In: Theologische Literaturzeitung 147 (2022), 252-254
  • Joachim Valentin, In: Theologische Revue 118 (2022), 1-5 (Weblink)
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