Monday, 22nd April 2019Seminar Thursday 9 May 2019:
Hope and Health in ‘Larger Contexts’: Hans Mol, Jürgen Moltmann, and Viktor Frankl on Self-Transcendence

This seminar took place on Thursday 9 May 2019, 4.30-6pm in Seminar Room C
(D/TH107, Dept. of Theology & Religion, Abbey House, DH1 3RS, Durham).

Dr Adam Powell, Junior Research Fellow, Department of Theology & Religion, Durham University

This paper is a cross-disciplinary look at the wartime experiences and subsequent theories of the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, the theologian Jürgen Moltmann, and the sociologist Hans Mol. Each of these influential figures experienced imprisonment during the Second World War, and each went on to develop discipline-specific ideas about meaning-making, hope, and identity, respectively. Although their theories were distinct, and indeed aimed at different audiences, they overlapped in suggesting that the sources of human hope and meaningful identity came from beyond the self. These sources may include, for example, the love of/from another person or the objectified rituals and beliefs of a particular religion. Either way, for these three thinkers, the motivation to survive and the potential to flourish were not found in personal narrative but in something more transcendent. This cut against much western philosophy built on the sovereignty of the individual. What is more, this paper seeks to show that this similarity came, in part, from their first-hand encounters with the atrocities of war – devastating the individual both physically and psychologically. After drawing out the possible connections between their experiences and their academic contributions, the paper concludes with suggestions about what this may offer more contemporary discussions of human well-being within the medical humanities, psychiatry, et cetera which increasingly emphasise the mental and physical value of individual narrative construction.


Adam Powell is a junior research fellow in the Department of Theology & Religion of Durham University and a recipient of Durham’s International Fellowships for Research and Enterprise. As a member of the interdisciplinary project, Hearing the Voice, he researches religious experiences (supernatural voices and visions) among both 19th-century Mormons and 21st-century Spiritualists. He is the author of Hans Mol and the Sociology of Religion (Routledge, 2017) and Irenaeus, Joseph Smith, and God-Making Heresy (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015) and co-editor of Sacred Selves, Sacred Settings (Ashgate, 2015).