Eugen Drewermann

Eugen Drewermann (born 20 June 1940) is a German church critic, theologian, peace activist and former Roman Catholic priest. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Drewermann was born in Bergkamen near Dortmund. He is best known in Germany for his work toward a non-violent form of Christianity, which, he believes, requires an integration of Depth psychology into Exegesis and Theology. Trained in philosophy, theology, psychoanalysis, and comparative religious studies, he criticized the Roman Catholic Church's literal and biologistic interpretations of miracles, the virgin birth, Ascension, and Resurrection as superstitious and medieval. He called on Rome to understand biblical stories symbolically in such a way that they can become present and healing to readers today. Drewermann's controversial opinions on Catholic dogma, especially the Virgin birth of Jesus lead to a letter expressing "deep worry," in 1986 by Cardinal Ratzinger,[1] later Pope Benedict XVI, to Drewermann's archbishop, Johannes Joachim Degenhardt.

The struggle propelled Drewermann into the public limelight and culminated in 1991 after he published a radical critique of what he considers to be the Vatican's psychologically cruel and mentally enslaving clergy ideal (Kleriker: Psychogramm eines Ideals [Clergy: Psychogram of an ideal]). Archbishop Degenhardt of Paderborn and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Germany engaged in a long drawn-out and heated debate with Drewermann which was closely followed by media and public. As a consequence, on 7 October 1991, the Archbishop disallowed him to teach at the Catholic Seminary of Paderborn and, shortly afterwards, revoked his license to preach 1992.

Drewermann has uttered strong and controversial political opinions. He was against the Gulf War, the Iraq War, German participation in the NATO war against Afghanistan, and Israeli Air Raids during the 2006 Lebanon War. In the name of the German Peace Movement, he asked to abolish not only Walter Mixa's office as Military Bishop of Germany but the German military, the Bundeswehr, as such.[2] Drewermann has signed public calls to support the "Linkspartei"[3] and delivers speeches on conferences and protest demonstrations of the left.[4]

Drewermann left the Catholic Church on his 65th birthday on 20 June 2005, a decision he broadly announced on Sandra Maischbergers Talkshow in German television.[5]

Early life

Son of a Lutheran father and a Catholic mother, Drewermann, after finishing grammar school (Abitur) in Germany, studied philosophy in Münster, theology in Paderborn and psychoanalysis in Göttingen.

Professional life

Ordained as a Catholic priest in 1966, he worked as a diocesan priest, student chaplain, and eventually began work in 1974 as assistant priest in the parish of St. George in Paderborn. At the same time, he worked as a psychotherapist, and from 1979 also held lectures in comparative religious studies and dogmatics at the Catholic Theological Faculty in Paderborn. He continues to hold lectures in Studium generale at Paderborn and talks at other universities.

Influenced by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and more recent psychoanalysts, Drewermann radically reinterprets biblical texts according to psychoanalytic, poetic, and existential criteria. His method of interpretation has been clearly outlined in the 1984-1985 two-volume work Tiefenpsychologie und Exegese. His interpretations are as immediate as poetry and aim to rediscover particularly the therapeutic message of Jesus and of the Hebrew prophets, both for the individual and for society at large.

A central topic of Drewermann is the specific way humans experience Angst (fear) due to our self-reflective capacity. He maintains that religion has as its central task to help calm our human anxiety and to stop its devastating effects on all levels of human life, in its personal, social, and global manifestations. Among his more than 80 books are dozens of titles presenting non-moralistic reinterpretations of nearly all biblical texts, including a monumental three-volume scholarly treatise on Genesis 2-11 (Strukturen des Bösen, 1977-8) and a two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Mark; a number of titles on urgent social issues such as war (Der Krieg und das Christentum, 1981), the environment (Der tödliche Fortschritt, 1982), and burning moral issues such as abortion, the will to live, suicide (Psychoanalyse und Moraltheologie, 1982-4, 3 vols); and, most recently, half a dozen volumes on the question of God in light of the findings of modern anthropology (1998), biology (1999), cosmology (2002), neurology (2006–2007); a depth psychological analysis of more than twenty of the most well-known fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and one by Hans Christian Andersen.

Since 1992, Drewermann has been working as a freelance author and speaker. He has frequent appearances in German TV talk shows and is invited to lecture all over Germany, Europe, and the world. While his popularity as a church critic was at its maximum when Der Spiegel ran a cover story on him in its 1993 Christmas issue, he continues to be a highly sought-after commentator on spiritual, religious and social issues.

He currently has his own monthly call-in radio show titled Redefreiheit (Freedom of Speech) in Bremen , which was preceded by a prior regular call-in radio show in Berlin.

Drewermann has appeared twice with the Dalai Lama in Zurich, and has written a book with him on the dialogue among religions. After the 11 September 2001 attacks he described the attacks as the result of complex dynamics in which both sides in the terror war had contributed to the conflict. In agreement with the Dalai Lama, Drewermann called on the West to turn the attacks into an opportunity for peace not revenge.


Some Catholic scholars criticised Drewermann for focussing in his work on individual psychology without taking into consideration Christian communities and Christian tradition,[6] arguing that Drewermann's approach had the effect of reducing the historical relevance of the Gospel and Revelation to a mere collection of texts used to cure individual anxiety. A similar approach to Drewemann's work came from psychological scholars Albert Görres and Helmuth Benesch.[7]

Catholic scholar Klaus Berger[8] accused Drewermann of using outdated ideas and research methods and of subscribing to ancient misunderstandings of the Old Testament. A pseudo Marcionism and using of biblical and other religious texts out of context is pointed out by Protestant scholar Manfred Oeming.

The political views of Drewermann have been sharply criticized by theologians Uwe Birnstein and Klaus-Peter Lehmann as being based on a traditional German antipolitical and romantic view and reducing all social aspects to individual fear and personal understanding and goodwill.[9] Peter Neuhaus, in his comparison of the Political Theology of Johannes Baptist Metz and the theology of Drewermann, counters that Drewermann's theology is imminently social in its critique and does not share in antipolitical or romantic views of politics.[10]

Henryk M. Broder referred to Drewermann and other German intellectuals as reason for a book,[11] in which he denounces Drewermann and others as underplaying the role of Islamic terrorism and putting the blame solely on the west, especially Israel and the US.[12]

Josef Isensee, a Catholic German lawyer and specialist for Constitutional law, sees in Drewermann the prototype of a self-proclaimed church critic using strong opinions to gain profile and public awareness and profiting on the very organizational body he was member for the most time of his life.[13]


  • 2019 Prize of the International Hermann Hesse-Society
  • 2018 Peace Prize of the City of Bautzen (Bautzner Friedenspreis)
  • 2017 Löwenherz – Honorary Award of the NGO Human Projects for Peace, Freedom, Enlightenment, Integration and a more Just World, together with Michail Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow
  • 2013 Medal of Honor of the City of Bergkamen
  • 2013 Culture Prize of the Internationale Paulusgesellschaft
  • 2011 International Albert Schweitzer-Prize, together with Raphaela and Dr. Rolf Maibach.[14]
  • 2007 Erich Fromm Prize, together with Konstantin Wecker, for his work against war and antisemitism.[15]
  • 2000 Integration Prize of the Apfelbaum Foundation for Co-evolution (Cologne).[16]
  • 1994 Urania-Medal for his contribution to popular education.
  • 1992 Herbert-Haag-Prize (Swiss) for his contribution to a radical reform of the Church.

Selected works

In English

  • 1991: Open Heavens: Meditations for Advent and Christmas (1st German edition, 1990). Trans. by David J. Krieger. Ed. by Joan Marie Laflamme and Bernd Marz.
  • 1993: Discovering the Royal Child Within: a Spiritual Psychology of 'The Little Prince' (1st German edition, 1984). Trans. by P. Heinegg.
  • 1994: Discovering the God Child Within: A Spiritual Psychology of the Infancy of Jesus (1st German edition, 1986). Trans. by P. Heinegg.
  • 1994: Dying We Live: Meditations for Lent and Easter (1st German edition, 1993). Trans. by Linda M. Maloney and John Drury. Ed. by Linda M. Maloney.

In German

  • 1977-1978: Strukturen des Bösen (Habilitationsschrift)
  • 1981: Das Mädchen ohne Hände
  • 1981: Der tödliche Fortschritt: Von der Zerstörung der Erde und des Menschen im Erbe des Christentums
  • 1982-1984: Psychoanalyse und Moraltheologie (3 Bände)
  • 1984: Das Eigentliche ist unsichtbar. Der kleine Prinz tiefenpsychologisch gedeutet
  • 1984-1985: Tiefenpsychologie und Exegese
  • 1987/88: Das Markusevangelium
  • 1989: Kleriker: Psychogramm eines Ideals
  • 1989: Ich steige hinab in die Barke der Sonne. Meditationen zu Tod und Auferstehung
  • 1991: Die Spirale der Angst. Der Krieg und das Christentum
  • 1992: Giordano Bruno oder Der Spiegel des Unendlichen. Roman
  • 1992: Wenn der Himmel die Erde berührt. Meditationen zu den Gleichnissen Jesu
  • 1992: Die Botschaft der Frauen. Das Wissen der Liebe.
  • 1992: Lieb Schwesterlein, laß mich herein - Grimms Märchen tiefenpsychologisch gedeutet (enthält Interpretationen zu Das Mädchen ohne Hände, Marienkind, Der Trommler, Brüderchen und Schwesterchen, Die kluge Else und Frau Holle)
  • 1992: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, laß dein Haar herunter - Grimms Märchen tiefenpsychologisch gedeutet. (Enthält Interpretationen zu Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot, Der goldene Vogel, Die Kristallkugel, Rapunzel, Dat Mäken von Brakel, Meister Pfriem, Der Herr Gevatter, Gevatter Tod und Fundevogel)
  • 1992-1995: Das Matthäusevangelium
  • 1993: Dogma, Angst und Symbolismus (Glauben in Freiheit 1)
  • 1994: Was ich denke, Goldmann Verlag, München, ISBN 978-3-442-12532-6
  • 1996: Jesus von Nazareth: Befreiung zum Frieden (Jesus of Nazareth: Liberation for Peace). (Glauben in Freiheit 2 [Liberating Faith, vol. 2]).
  • 1998: Der sechste Tag: Die Herkunft des Menschen und die Frage nach Gott (The Sixth Day: The Origin of Humanity and the Question of God). (Glauben in Freiheit 3: Religion und Naturwissenschaft, Part 1 [Liberating Faith, vol. 3: Religion and Natural Science, part 1]).
  • 1998: Daß auch der Allerniedrigste mein Bruder sei. Dostojewski - Dichter der Menschlichkeit
  • 1999: ... und es geschah so: Die moderne Biologie und die Frage nach Gott (... And It Was So: Modern Biology and the Question of God.)(Glauben in Freiheit, vol. 3: Religion und Naturwissenschaft, Part 2: Biologie und Theologie [Liberating Faith, vol. 3: Religion and Natural Science, part 2: Biology and Theology]).
  • 2001: Wozu Religion? Eugen Drewermann im Gespräch mit Jürgen Hoeren (Herder spektrum)
  • 2002: Im Anfang ...: Die moderne Kosmologie und die Frage nach Gott(In the Beginning ...: Modern Cosmology and the Question of God). (Glauben in Freiheit 3: Religion und Naturwissenschaft, Part 3: Kosmologie und Theologie [Liberating Faith, vol. 3: Religion and Natural Science, part 3: Cosmology and Theology]).
  • 2003: Religiös bedingte neurotische Erkrankungen
  • 2003: Aschenputtel
  • 2003: Der Froschkönig
  • 2003: Eugen Drewermann - Rebell oder Prophet? Der unbequeme Theologe im Gespräch mit Felizitas von Schönborn (edition q)
  • 2004: Hänsel und Gretel
  • 2004: Moby-Dick
  • 2004: Wenn die Sterne Götter wären. Moderne Kosmologie und Glaube. Im Gespräch mit Jürgen Hoeren. Herder, ISBN 3-451-28348-4
  • 2005: Dornröschen
  • 2006: Heilende Religion - Überwindung der Angst
  • 2006: Atem des Lebens - Das Gehirn: Die moderne Neurologie und die Frage nach Gott. (Breath of Life: Modern Neurology and the Question of God: Section 1: The Brain) (Glauben in Freiheit 3: Religion und Naturwissenschaft, Part 4: Neurologie und Theologie, Section 1 [Liberating Faith, vol. 3: Religion and Natural Science, Part 4/1: Neurology and Theology]). Patmos, ISBN 3-491-21000-3
  • 2007: Atem des Lebens - Die Seele: Die moderne Neurologie und die Frage nach Gott. (Breath of Life: Modern Neurology and the Question of God: Section 1: The Soul) (Glauben in Freiheit 3: Religion und Naturwissenschaft, Part 4: Neurologie und Theologie, Section 2 [Liberating Faith, vol. 3: Religion and Natural Science, Part 4/2: Neurology and Theology]). Patmos, ISBN 3-491-21001-1
  • Eugen Drewermann. "Die Rechtlosigkeit der Kreatur im christlichen Abendland oder: von einer wichtigen Ausnahme". Interdisziplinäre Arbeitsgemeinschaft Tierethik (Hrsg.). Tierrechte - Eine interdisziplinäre Herausforderung. Erlangen 2007. ISBN 978-3-89131-417-3


  1. A Violent God-Image: An Introduction to the Work of Eugen Drewermann, p. 17.Beier, M. (2006).
  2. Speech held at Bremen Peace March Eastern 2008
  3. Archived 12 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine Call to elect Linkspartei 2005
  4. Linker Protest Spiel mir das Lied vom Sozialismus Die Linke hat in Bad Doberan zur Kapitalismuskritik geladen. Eugen Drewermann predigt, Oskar Lafontaine schaukelt sich auf, und die Menge singt dazu (Play it again, the song of capitalism. The lefts invites to criticize capitalism in Bad Doberan. Drewermann preaches, Lafontaine gets in the mood and the crowd sings along). In Focus (German magazine) - by Iris Mayer, Focus-online, 04.06.07
  5. Menschen bei Maischberger: 2005 - Schluss mit lustig? ARD-Sendung vom 13. Dezember 2005
  6. Gerhard Lohfink, Rudolf Pesch Tiefenpsychologie und keine Exegese. Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Eugen Drewermann. Katholisches Bibelwerk; Auflage: 2., Aufl. (1988) ISBN 3-460-04291-5
  7. Benesch, Helmuth, Enzyklopädisches Wörterbuch klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie. (Stichwort:) Angsttheorien, Weinheim 1995, Beltz, S. 89
  8. Spiel's noch einmal (Play it again), Klaus Berger in der FAZ, 21. November 2003
  9. Uwe Birnstein / Klaus-Peter Lehmann: Phänomen Drewermann. Politik und Religion einer Kultfigur, Eichborn Frankfurt am Main 1998 ISBN 3-8218-0457-2
  10. Peter Neuhaus: Erinnerung als Brückenkategorie: Anstöße zur Vermittlung zwischen der Politischen Theologie von Johann Baptist Metz und der Tiefenpsychologischen Theologie Eugen Drewermann. LIT Verlag, Münster 2001.
  11. Henryk M. Broder: Kein Krieg, nirgends: Die Deutschen und der Terror. Berlin Verlag 2002.
  12. Broder statements about Drewermann in the German Spiegel 26 March 2002, Broders Book about 11 September, The selection of the unpalatable (Die Auslese von Ungenießbarem, In German), by Michael Krechting
  13. Josef Isensee, Die Zukunftsfähigkeit des deutschen Staatskirchenrechts - Gegenwärtige Legitimationsprobleme (The future of the German state church law and ongoing problems of legitimization) in Isensee/Rees/ Rüfner Hrsg., Dem Staat, was des Staates - der Kirche, was der Kirche ist (Unto the State the things which are the State's, and unto the Church the things that are the Church's), Berlin 1999

Further reading

  • Beier, Matthias (2006). A Violent God-Image: An Introduction to the Work of Eugen Drewermann. Continuum International. ISBN 0-8264-1835-X.
  • Beier, Matthias (2010). Gott ohne Angst: Einführung in das Denken Drewermanns. Patmos. ISBN 3-491-72543-7.
  • Wise, R. Todd (2000). The Great Vision of Black Elk as Literary Ritual. Black Elk Reader. Syracuse University Press. (Essay applies Drewermann's hermeneutic approach to Black Elk's vision.)


Drewermann talks, videos & audio

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