Institute of the Weltethos Foundation
at the University of Tübingen

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One of the Greatest Visionaries of Our Time – We Mourn the Death of Hans Küng. The Global Ethic Project lives on.

The Global Ethic Institute mourns the death of its inspirer, the founder of the Global Ethic Project, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Hans Küng. The theologian was born in 1928 in Sursee, Switzerland, studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and completed his doctorate at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In 1954, Hans Küng was ordained a priest. In 1960 he was appointed professor of fundamental theology at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. After Küng’s criticism of the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope, the Catholic Church withdrew his ecclesiastical teaching license in 1979. The state of Baden-Württemberg then made it possible for him to hold a faculty-independent professorship in ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen from 1980. As director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at the University of Tübingen, Küng deepened his research on the world’s great religions.

Aware of epochal planetary challenges, the Tübingen theologian raised the question of humanity’s survival with his book “Projekt Weltethos” in 1990 (published in English in 1991 as “Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic”): How can we live together peacefully in the 21st century with different historical experiences, beliefs and values? He answered the question himself with the appeal to develop a planetary consciousness, to reflect on the idea of humanity, which is characteristic for all religious, philosophical and moral traditions, and to use the potentials of cooperation instead of getting lost in a conflict of cultures.

With this publication, he gave the Global Ethic Project its foundation. Motivated by his conviction that there was to be “No peace among nations without peace among religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. No dialogue among religions without basic research in religions,” Küng became a researcher, pioneer, and practitioner of interreligious dialogue. His declaration “Towards a Global Ethic” of 1993, affirmed in 2018, remains the unifying manifesto of the World Parliament of Religions. It is also the basis of a 1997 Declaration on Human Responsibilities by the InterAction Council of former heads of state and government and of the 2009 Manifesto on the Global Business Ethic. Küng promotes a planetary and humanitarian consciousness, encourages reflection on the globally proven principles of humanity and reciprocity in the Golden Rule as well as the values of truthfulness, non-violence, justice and partnership between the sexes, and calls on all people of good will to be capable of dialogue in order to assume responsibility for their fellow world, the environment and posterity.

A few weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Küng promoted his vision of a global ethos before the UN General Assembly:

A few weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Küng promoted his vision of a global ethos before the UN General Assembly:

Globalization needs a global ethos, not as an additional burden, but as a basis and help for people, for civil society. Some political scientists predict a ‘clash of civilizations’ for the 21st century. Against this we set our different vision of the future; not simply an optimistic ideal, but a realistic vision of hope: the religions and cultures of the world, in interaction with all people of good will, can help to avoid such a clash, provided they realize the following insights: No peace among nations without peace among religions. No peace among religions without dialogue among religions. No dialogue among religions without global ethical standards. No survival of our globe in peace and justice without a new paradigm of international relations based on global ethical standards.”

Hans Küng on 9.11.2001 before the United Nations General Assembly on the Dialogue of Civilizations.

The Global Ethic Project lives on

At the latest in view of the climate and corona crises, questions of global responsibility, human togetherness and peaceful survival have become topics of everyday life. With the Global Ethic project, Hans Küng facilitated a basic consensus on values and norms that is valid regardless of culture, religion, or nationality, and found internationally renowned advocates: Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Shirin Ebadi, Kofi Annan, Helmut Schmidt, to name but a few.

Most recently, in October 2019, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier affirmed the need for global ethics in the face of global challenges in the 21st century. The idea of a global ethic is of unheard-of historical urgency, Steinmeier stated at the 14th Global Ethic Speech:

“There is in it a categorical imperative that binds people of good will, that binds us all. And that is to persevere, even arduously, to work purposefully, even if often in small ways, toward understanding and peace.”

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in his Global Ethic speech in Tübingen on October 15, 2019.

Steinmeier had accepted the invitation to give the Global Ethic speech “with pleasure, but above all out of respect for and veneration of Hans Küng, the great scholar who – although he is still a Swiss citizen – has for decades strengthened Germany’s reputation worldwide as a place of theology and university scholarship. The University of Tübingen, as well as the German humanities as a whole, have every reason to be grateful to Hans Küng.”

This is exactly how we, the staff of the Global Ethic Institute, feel. As part of the Global Ethic Project, our respect goes to the great life achievement of Hans Küng. And our deepest sympathy to his relatives. It is our honor and remains our mission to continue Hans Küng’s ideas and commitment to values, world responsibility and dialogue.

If you have any questions or would like to arrange an interview, please contact the Public Relations Officer of the Global Ethic Foundation, Ms. Nadja Dornis (dornis@weltethos.org).

Copyright Photos: Erich Sommer; Universität Tübingen – Friedhelm Albrecht; Manfred Grohe; Schwäbisches Tagblatt aus dem Fundus Hans Küngs