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Closer religious, cultural links sought in W. Germany

The Stuttgart Bible Society marked its 175th anniversary last week by spawning a new foundation called ``Church and Culture'' - and refueling some old debates about the proper relationship between religion, culture, and politics. The new foundation will be governed by a board of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish laymen and clergy headed by former West German President Karl Carstens. It will award an annual prize to an artist who works with Biblical themes.

The inaugural prize was given this year to Stuttgart's veteran Bach conductor, Helmuth Rilling. But, the judges reserve the right in the future to award the prize to younger and more controversial artists.

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The aim of the new foundation is in part to rekindle the kind of close links between religion and culture that so inspired previous artists and gave rise to the modern German language in Martin Luther's translation of the Bible. These links have diminished in the secular present.

In the tug of war between ``pietists'' and political activists that still strains today's West German Lutheran and Calvinist church, the Baden-W'urttemberg synod in Stuttgart has favored the pietist focus on pastoral and religious concerns to the exclusion of political issues.

But, controversy could arise over selection of future prizewinners.

Since its inception in 1812, the Stuttgart organization has published and distributed tens of millions of Bibles, New Testaments, Psalms, and other selections in German, Russian, French, and various African and South Pacific languages, along with picture Bibles and Biblical comics.

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