Oliver O´Donovan

Oliver O'Donovan © Oliver O'Donovan Oliver O´Donovan was born in London in 1945 and studied theology at various colleges in Oxford, where he obtained his PhD in 1975.

He took up his position as deacon of Oxfordshire in 1972 and was apointed priest in 1973. Alongside his clerical functions he taught theology in Oxford and Toronto. Since 2006 he is professor for Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at The University of Edinburgh. As well as teaching he campaigns for the ecumenical dialog and has published a wide range of theological works. He is married and lives with his family in Dunfermline (Scotland).


Three questions to Oliver O' Donovan

Why did you choose to become a translator? Is it the profession you always wanted?

I am not a professional translator, but a theologian whose primary literary work has been writing my own books. Personen is the only complete book I have translated, but I have also been heavily involved as an editor in supervising the translation of Bernd Wannenwetsch's Gottesdienst als Lebensform and Oswald Bayer's Freiheit als Antwort. I translated one of the essays in this last work. I have also translated articles out of French, and historic texts out of ancient Latin and Greek. The reason for taking on the task in each case was that I admired the material in question, and wanted very much to put it in the hands of an Anglophone public, especially students (whose school education in European languages is poor). I found it a welcome relief from the demands of my own scholarly work to enter into the thoughts of a thinker of high quality and consider how they might be made accessible in English.
Which German book do you like the best and why?

I think there are advantages in a translator who is primarily committed to the material itself, and has a good experience of writing in the specialist field in his or her own language. My observations have suggested that some very bad translations out of German in the humanities have been done by people who know the original language well, but understand the material only imperfectly, or at least lack a clear sense of how it could be expressed in idiomatic English. A generation ago there were a number of able people who specialised in translating German theology into English, but today there are few, and the need, given the degradation of the teaching of languages in the English educational system, is much greater. I was driven to translate, you might say, because I could not find professional translators capable or willing to translate the books I wanted to see in English.
Is there a particular book you would like to translate?

I have no present ambitions to translate more, but (who knows?) I could well come across a book that I could not resist!
My reading in German is largely specialist, and I have read only a little fiction in the language, but I keep a few books of classical German poems and hymns to hand for my pleasure. I would not dream of trying to translate them - I could only do them harm!

Selection of translated titles

  • Artikel in: Oswald Bayer: Freedom in Response (Freiheit als Antwort). Oxford University Press, 2007
  • Robert Spaemann: Persons (Personen). Oxford University Press, 2006