Walter Hollenweger

The Swiss theologian Walter Hollenweger passed away August 10, 2016. In the academic world of theology and religious studies, he is known as the founding father of Pentecostal Studies. His Pentecostal background and early career as a Pentecostal pastor and evangelist set the stage for his later career when he devoted more than half a century to the study of Pentecostal history and theology. As a pioneer, he was among the first to study Pentecostalism at a time when Pentecostalism was of little interest of scholars and regarded as a marginal topic. He gained his Doctor in Theology from Zurich University in 1966 with his dissertation on the world wide Pentecostal movement Handbuch der Pfingstbeweging. He became member of the Swiss Reformed Church and was appointed as Secretary for Evangelism in the Division of World Mission and Evangelism of the World Counsel of Churches (WCC) in 1965. With his ecumenical experience he played a significant part in establishing dialogue between groups within the WCC and those outside (evangelicals and Pentecostals). In 1971 Hollenweger moved to Birmingham where he became Professor of Mission until 1989. There he introduced the term intercultural theology, relativizing the dominance and normativity of western theology for all cultures. Also, he was among the first theologians to broaden the concept of theology by emphasizing the relevance of oral culture and narrative theology. This is next to his extensive academic work, demonstrated in his enthusiasm for drama, plays and performance as he wrote many plays most notable the Bonhoeffer Requiem at the 1987 Kirchentag in Berlin.

Out of his encouragement, several research networks have been established such as the European Network on the study of Global Pentecostalism (GloPent) and the European Pentecostal Charismatic Research Association (EPCRA). The University in Birmingham honors him annually with the Walter Hollenweger lecture. At the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Hollenweger Center was established in 2002 in his honor as the book- and magazine collection of Hollenweger was housed in the library of the university.

Hollenweger uniquely was able to integrate the heritage of his Pentecostal background in his academic career by adopting a critical approach to Pentecostalism, facilitating dialogue within the larger Christian community and developing the study of intercultural theology. With the passing away of Hollenweger, a remarkable scholar has gone.

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