Institute of the Weltethos Foundation
at the University of Tübingen

First slide

Conference on Sources of Hope

Our global situation, currently marked by wars and crises, overshadowed by ecological destruction and self-destruction, offers much cause for despair. “But where there is danger,” wrote German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, “the saving also grows.” For this reason, the Global Ethic Institute invited experts from science and practice to a conference on July 12, 2023, as part of its annual theme “Sources of Hope“. In three blocks, the participants looked at theological, philosophical and psychological aspects of hope. Here you will find short summaries of the contributions:

The conference opened with an introductory presentation by Prof. Dr. Dr. Ulrich Hemel entitled “Sources of Hope from a Theological and Philosophical Perspective”. Therein, the institute director outlined several aspects of hope: the cognitive-psychological and philosophical aspects (hope that is associated with both a search for meaning and an emotional as well as action-enabling efficacy). The theological component, which addresses the question of what we can hope for after death or at the end of the world. And the socio-political dimension, which arises from the great global uncertainties. Here, according to the theologian, religions could make a central contribution to peace and hope (also with non-believers) through a secular ecumenism of action and must therefore also be taken into account in the sustainable development goals. Ulrich Hemel therefore pleads for the addition of a sustainability goal on “Good Religious Practice,” which is to be promoted as a dialogue in partnership between the religious and the non-religious.

“Gaudium et spes” – about joy and hope, but also about the role of the Catholic Church as a church turned toward the world, giving hope, was also the topic of Professor Dr. Johanna Rahner’s presentation. She seized the pastoral constitution “Gaudium et spes” of the Second Vatican Council as an opportunity to reflect jointly on the extent to which the Church’s turning to the world, to the pressing issues, the questions and the suffering of all (not only Christian) people described there, has actually been implemented. “The full potential of the Pastoral Constitution has not yet been exhausted,” said the holder of the Chair of Dogmatics, Dogma History and Ecumenism. What is needed, she said, is a shift in the location of faith: out of the ecclesiastical retreat of internal church discussions, into the living world of believers and non-believers, into engagement with their issues, their fears, their real problems and their suffering. There, according to Rahner, it is the task of the church to create hope through sincere dialogue.

If you want to understand Hindu piety, you first have to leave behind the concepts and mindsets of the Abrahamic religions, Dr. Stephan Schlensog (Secretary General of the Global Ethic Foundation) sent out before his lecture “Hinduism – Hope for Order, Orientation, Liberation”. His intensive examination of the multi-layered reasons for hope religious ideas, practices and philosophies, which are summarized under the term “Hinduism”, was inspired by a long journey many years ago. He learned that Hindu groups believe in complex and multifaceted divine orders for human coexistence. That they perceive their world as surrounded by chaos but held and ordered by gods. This order also includes Samsāra, the cycle of living, dying and being reborn. Experienced suffering in life is an indication of accumulated guilt through one’s own deeds (Karma). In Hindu beliefs, hope is directed toward moksha, the redemption of Samsāra, which can be achieved through the path of knowledge (Jnana-marga), the path of ethical action (Karma-marga) and the path of love for God (Bhakti-marga).

After the lunch break, the focus was on secular perspectives on sources of hope. Here, many people certainly first think of the philosopher Ernst Bloch, even more so in the city of Tübingen. Prof. Dr. Dr. Matthias Mayer from the Ernst Bloch Archive at the University of Tübingen spoke about his “Principle of Hope”. Bloch’s first aim was to describe the inner connection as well as the equal originality of dreams, hope, longing, freedom and future and to generate a principle of hope without revelation from religion. In a Blochian manner, this was also recently attempted by Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer in her June 22 speech in Tübingen, Mayer said. “The perseverant adherence to “fossility” (Neubauer) paralyzes the human imagination to ‘thinkingly transcend’ it as a ‘quasi-natural given’ as well as a general ‘state of culture’ (cf. Bloch, Prinzip Hoffnung, p. 2). The world, however, certainly contains the possibility of changing, of being changed, toward a ‘better state.'”

Ontologically, hope refers to the longed-for identity of subject and object, of nature and man, to what the author calls “home” at the end of Das Prinzip Hoffnung (Bloch, Prinzip Hoffnung, p. 1628) and which seems to be “all in childhood” (ibid.). For him, disappointment even forms a necessary ingredient of hope, insofar “saying what is” (Neubauer) is perhaps the necessary starting point for the same. In this regard, Mayer also quotes Sigmund Freud at the end with a passage, which also from Bloch, to Neubauer, even builds the bridge to the project global ethic:

“Why the individuals of nations actually despise, hate, loathe one another, even in times of peace, and each nation the other, is, of course, mysterious. I do not know how to say it. In this case, it is just as if all the moral acquisitions of individuals were extinguished when a majority or even millions of people are taken together, and only the most primitive, oldest and crudest mental attitudes remain. Only late developments will perhaps be able to change anything about these deplorable conditions. But a little more truthfulness and sincerity on all sides, in the relations of men to each other and between them and those who govern them, should also pave the way for this transformation.”

Sigmund Freud, “The Disappointment of War.” In: Questions of Society. Origins of Religion. Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer, 1974 (Studienausgabe; 9), 35-48; 47f.

The vision of hope for a better world needs ethical drive, dialogue and unifying values and principles for its realization. This was the basic impulse that led Hans Küng to publish and thus to found the Global Ethic Project, recalled Dr. Christopher Gohl (Global Ethic Institute) right at the beginning of his lecture. In “Project Global Ethic” Küng professed to the colloqium partner Bloch:

“Man must become more than he is: he must become more human! What is good for man is that which allows him to preserve, promote and succeed in his humanity – and this in a completely different way than before. Man must exploit his human potential for a society that is as humane as possible and for an intact environment in a different way than has been the case up to now. For his activatable possibilities of humanity are greater than his actual state. In this respect, the realistic principle of responsibility and the “utopian” principle of hope (Ernst Bloch) belong together.”

Hans Küng, “Project Global Ethic” Munich: Piper, p. 53

Hope, according to Gohl, can thus also be practiced as a learnable social competence and democratic practice if desirability can be combined with participation, problem solving, and self-efficacy. Democracy as a humanistic project aimed at improvement requires hope for improvement. This, according to Gohl, finds a model in the example of John Dewey’s pragmatism and further theoretical foundation in the theory of responsible freedom by Claus Dierksmeier.

Dr. Andreas M. Krafft from the University of St. Gallen spoke about the connection between hope, self-efficacy or external circumstances and the psyche. The author of the book “Unsere Hoffnung, unsere Zukunft” (“Our Hope, Our Future”, published in German in 2022) presented results of the annual hope barometer survey he initiated, which has collected data in 12 countries since 2009.

It is striking that the feeling of hope is often less strong in countries with a high level of prosperity than in countries with greater poverty. Thus, he said, a correlation can be seen between the stability of both material and political security and the sense of hope. “In countries where people look back on more crises and shocks, we tend to see more hope that conditions will improve, while in many richer countries, fear of loss of prosperity in particular also shapes the picture of the future.” For example, the Barometer’s mean value for hope in Nigeria for the year 2022 is considerably higher than that in Austria.

He also found that when the survey looked at hope for a desirable future in 2043, the majority of respondents in Switzerland envisioned a different society. One that is oriented less toward individual development opportunities in a competitive society and much more toward sustainable development.

What is there to hope for when all hope vanishes at first with a terrible diagnosis? This is exactly what psychologist Heike Sütterlin, head of the Psychosocial Cancer Counseling Center at the University Hospital of Tübingen, talked about.

After introducing the cancer counseling center and its fields of activity, she vividly described the different phases of dealing with hope and hopelessness after a cancer diagnosis and also the extent to which the social environment is also shaken here.

Hope, according to the physician and philosopher Giovanni Maio, is: “An openness to what is yet to come and which we cannot change, and a confidence in being able to cope with it.” Hope thus comes into its own in particular in crises and borderline situations and is thus something different from confidence, which relates primarily to effectiveness within the framework of one’s own capacity to act.