Why we need tertiary religious studies and theology

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The University of Sydney has recently announced that it is considering closing its religious studies department; a decision that comes off the back of major cuts to government funded universities, and a doubling of the cost to study degrees in the humanities. This closure, however, is not the first of its kind. Opportunities for Australians to pursue theology and religious studies at the tertiary level are shrinking, and many are looking to overseas institutions as a result. If this trend continues, it won’t take long for Australia to lose its ability to meaningfully contribute to global and local religious thought. 

 Main image: Empty auditorium (Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)

Enrolment in religious studies has always been comparatively low, even before the rise in degree price. In 2018, the faculty of Theology and Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University saw a total of 1,310 enrolments across their seven national campuses. The faculty of Education and Arts, on the other hand, saw 11,517. This discrepancy is felt in the lecture room, as many theology units are attended primarily by teaching students completing the requirements for working in Catholic schools. As for the secular University of Sydney, religious studies units were available only through a Bachelor of Arts, following the more anthropological tradition of studies of religion — as opposed to the typically faith based tradition of theology. 

Although it may be easier to understand why a secular university is more willing to liquidate its religion department than a religious university, the fact that very few public universities in Australia offer a PhD in theology or religion indicates that this is a problem that transcends the divide between religious and secular universities. This is a problem of a lack of forward thinking that stems from the misplaced priorities of Australia as a whole.

The current government has made no attempt to hide the fact that it views investing in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) as more lucrative for the Australian economy than the humanities. While this is ultimately the driving force behind cuts to funding, the culpability for reacting to these cuts by terminating studies of religion lies with universities. The closure of an entire faculty not only affects students, but narrows the job market for academics who are already short on opportunities.

In Australia, there are few avenues open for religious study graduates who are not looking to go into ministry or pastoral care; the predominant option being academia and research. Further limiting these by closing academic faculties decreases the research coming out of Australian institutions, incentivising religious thinkers to invest their expertise in other countries. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for Australia, there are many which do see the value in religious study.

Universities across Europe and America are still seeing steady enrolments into world-class religious study programs. Closer to home, the University of Otago in New Zealand offers a theology PhD programme, which a number of my theology teaching assistants opted to undertake remotely. The diversity of topics covered by current candidates is indicative of the broad application of theological studies, but what is particularly unique is the prevalence of Maori and Pacific Island theology, indicating that Australia is missing an opportunity to enrich its own Indigenous theology.

 

'Treating studies of religion as disposable dismisses the constructive influence religions have on conflict, legislation and community relations. Religious studies provides people with the tools and knowledge needed to engage in these areas and fosters a sense of individual and collective morality.'

 

The tertiary level is designed to promote change and innovation. If there is no tertiary level, there is no growth in our understanding of global religious systems, and no emerging individuals who possess critical thinking skills and historical knowledge of these systems. Without these individuals, there’s a risk that religious institutions will become more insular, regressive, disconnected and, most disastrously, unchecked. 

This is because religious studies is not just the abstract study of religion. It is the study of culture and the nature of existence. Theology directly created both mathematics and science out of the desire to explore religious concepts through different models and language. Religious study fosters skills in reason, argumentation, ethics, intercultural dialogue and critical reflection, and there is just as much reading, writing and textual analysis as any English degree. Theology is the oldest university subject — the first universities were created by European Christian monks in the Middle Ages for the purpose of examining religion at a deeper level. This is not an area of study that can, or should, just be forgotten.

Treating studies of religion as disposable dismisses the constructive influence religions have on conflict, legislation and community relations. Religious studies provides people with the tools and knowledge needed to engage in these areas and fosters a sense of individual and collective morality. Religious studies programs have the potential to produce graduates who are equipped to positively engage in charity and advocacy, as well as interreligious dialogue and relations.

But being aware of the wider value of religious studies is not enough. The reality is, recent high school graduates are not going to invest their time and money into studying religion only to be left without career options upon graduation. As a result, those who are concerned about the prospect of being jobless never pursue theology, while those who are dedicated enough to pursue it are left with limited employment prospects. This then results in both low enrolment and fewer qualified staff, and so the faculty is the first to go when funding is cut.

None of this is unknown to those who are doing the cutting. Scott Morrison himself even considered studying post-graduate theology in Canada, but the need for a steady job won out. But if the primary concern of Australian institutions is immediate return, not long-term cultural and moral enrichment, theology and religious studies is only going to continue on this downward trajectory.

This trajectory can only be diverted through innovative thinking. This starts by looking to the ways other countries are flourishing through their contributions in the humanities, with religious study being the meeting point of sociology, anthropology, philosophy and art. Australia as a whole must begin look to the far future, and the best way to do this is by learning from the past.

 

 

Caolan Ware is currently studying a double degree in Theology and Philosophy at ACU. His primary concern as a writer and academic is the integration of political philosophy and Studies of Religion. 

Main image: Empty auditorium (Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Caolan Ware, religious studies, theology, university, tertiary education

 

 

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Herman Melville, author of "Moby Dick", wrote that "A whaleship was my Yale College and my Harvard." In my faith journey I seek understanding and I rely on those teachers who have studied theology, those who point me towards such books as "Moby Dick". It would be a tragedy to lose such an important discipline.


Pam | 17 June 2021  

The other problem with all this is that without the availability of accredited and respected academics and courses in theology and religious studies at respectable institutions, the often unaccredited and deeply conservative and fundamentalist ‘evangelists’ and their institutions are the ones who have the most presence in society. This results in a biased and often dangerous environment. For example, consider our own home-grown Israel Folau and Margaret Court and their respective ‘churches’ and attitudes, and narrow reading of scripture and its teaching.


Thomas Amory | 18 June 2021  

I think that the biggest deterrent to doing theological degrees - for Catholic students anyway - is Rome. Not much point in studying theology if Rome is going to ignore any serious dissertations and findings, as it usually does. Or even risk having a teaching licence withdrawn, or even excommunication, if you propose something that will interfere with the cosy sinecures of members of the Roman Curia. The heavy hand of the 27 years of the papacy of John Paul II is still a dead weight on Catholic theology development.


Bruce Stafford | 18 June 2021  

Bruce Stafford | 18 June 2021. Very good point Bruce. Thank you. Although a Catholic, it is for this reason that I did masters level theology at a mid-church Anglican theological college. This enabled me to be presented with theological matters in order to evaluate with an informed and open mind, rather than being told what to believe and how things must be interpreted, as you observe here in your post.


Thomas Amory | 19 June 2021  

I would agree that “Religious study fosters skills in reason…and critical reflection”, with a proviso—it is taught properly. But since the 1960’s, humanities subjects have been taught with a narrow view of the world seen through the prism of class, gender and race. Universities seem more at home with what Lionel Trilling called the “adversary culture” of intellectuals, where the goal was rejection, not reflection. Overseas, UCLA replaced courses in Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, and mandated courses in Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Sexual and Postcolonial Studies. Harvard eliminated the music theory requirement for music majors. Music theory is to music what grammar and vocabulary are to language. Princeton has ditched Greek and Latin for classics majors. Some want classical music ditched for alleged racism (Nebal Maysaud). By contrast, 11 Chinese universities teach Greek and Latin. Peking University teaches Aristotle, Plato, and Kant. And 100 million Chinese students study classical piano. Religion taught properly attracts. Last year, the Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida converted 22 students through its RCIA program. Its secret? Its theology department adheres to Magisterium teaching, and it emphasizes beauty in its Romanesque-style Holy Cross Chapel.


Ross Howard | 19 June 2021  

In the UK it is possible to study Theology at a public university, where it is taught as a rigorous academic subject, where beliefs are tested and not taken for granted. These institutions include Oxbridge; King's College, London; Edinburgh; St Andrews; Leeds etc. These degrees are not considered soft options, nor just for potential clergy or religious teachers. James Norton, the actor, who was brought up Catholic, read Theology at Cambridge. He concentrated mainly on Buddhism, which you can do there. Of course, Christian Theology at Cambridge has theologians of a calibre beyond what is possible at any institution in this country, including at my alma mater, Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, whose theological hall is now affiliated with the MCD University. Trinners, in my time (late 1960s) boasted scholars of real depth, including the late lamented Rt Rev'd Dr Max Thomas, formerly Bishop of Wangaratta and the late, saintly Dr Harry Roberts-Smythe, formerly Rector of St James the Great, East St Kilda and Head of the Anglican Representative Office in Rome. Both Max and Harry had doctorates, the former from GTU, the latter Oxford. Both were eminently pastoral people, not just dry academics. Both had a grasp of genuine Christian Mystic Theology. Would we see their like again!


Edward Fido | 19 June 2021  

We need appropriate tertiary religious studies and theology of the kind Ross Howard and Edward Fido identify in order to let the heart and intellect breathe the air that will do justice to their scope in knowing and loving their Creator; His historical self-revelation in Christ; the teleology of creation; and our human place and roles within it. This will, of course, involve a liberation from the retarding '60s legacy, still very much with us, of generic sexist prejudice towards the contributions of all "dead white males" - particularly the prophets and patriarchs of Israel, the philosophers of Greece and Rome, and the Fathers and male Doctors of the Church.


John RD | 20 June 2021  

Empty lecture theaters follow empty pews, Caolan. Church attendances are below 10% and dropping, Bill says catholic funerals have dropped by 50%, half of catholic priest in Australia are imported from overseas and local priests are mostly old men, religious congregations are on the verge of extinction – the Christian Brothers (who brainwashed me) have no presence in Australia except for elderly brothers in retirement homes, 20% of brothers were (according to the RC) pedophiles, about 95% of young people have nothing further to do with the Church after about a year of finishing catholic education, according to the 2016 census 30% (and increasing) of the population identify as “no religion” with young adults its 40% and also increasing. A recent study in Australia aimed at distinguishing nominal from committed religious affiliation found that only 30% of the population fell into the “committed” category, and so on and so forth. I do not know the stats for Australia but in America (according to Pew Research) 20% self-identify as “catholic”, down from 25%, about 60% of self-identifying American Catholics on gender, sexuality and human relations issues do not agree with Vatican teachings, 70% do not believe in the Real Presence, 80% believe contraception is morally acceptable also contrary to Church teaching. Back in the mid 60’s John Lennon in a moment of prophecy said Christianity was dead. Those of us who joined the beginnings of the exodus have been vindicated by history. During the reign of St Pope John Paul II, the Great –Cardinal Ratzinger- Emeritus Pope Benedict (and not to forget our very own Cardinal Pell) “the People” have gone elsewhere.


Fosco | 20 June 2021  

Edward Fido 19 June, 2021. ‘Of course, Christian Theology at Cambridge has theologians of a calibre beyond what is possible at any institution in this country, including at my alma mater, Trinity College at the University of Melbourne… .’ Edward, it is with respect that I suggest that you make an extremely offensive observation here with regard to Australian theologians, and those currently at your alma mater of Trinity College, Melbourne. The theological school there has a number of fine theologians of the calibre of any Oxbridge or indeed Ivy League divinity schools and other international theological faculties. Their research and publication details are not insignificant, and thus I suggest you might like to investigate. There are of course other theological schools in Australia with many fine theologians on staff. I wonder would you like to do a little research and revise your post. Alternatively, if you believe that your observation is correct, it would be helpful to know how you come to that conclusion regarding our Australian theologians.


Thomas Amory | 21 June 2021  

John RD, 210 June, 2021. ‘This will, of course, involve a liberation from the retarding '60s legacy, still very much with us, of generic sexist prejudice towards the contributions of all "dead white males" particularly the prophets and patriarchs of Israel, the philosophers of Greece and Rome, and the Fathers and male Doctors of the Church.’ John, if I read between your lines correctly, I believe you are referring to the influence of feminism and the emergence of feminist theologies and theologians. Having recently completed six years of postgraduate and masters level theology in Australia, I can assure you that there is no undue prejudice and contemptuous disdain for the male groups you list here. On the contrary, they are, by male and female theologians and students alike, respected for their time, place and attitudes in terms of theological, philosophical or otherwise contributions. Of course, as we journey on toward the full entry into the Divine, we will need to be open to new and revised theologies and doctrines which assist us to grow into this Sacred. It is thanks to the many fine feminist theologies and theologians that we have the emergence of a far more balanced and non-patriarchal view of the Divine and the place of the human person, male or female, in the great plan of that Divine. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented your points, I would be happy to be corrected. Otherwise, I would respectfully argue that you have shown great disrespect to the said feminist theologies and theologians, and have made a gross generalisation about the so called ‘60’s legacy’, which is well out of date by now.


Thomas Amory | 21 June 2021  

Caolan might bemoan the loss of secular opportunities for theological studies and work opportunities, however, Australian dioceses are in urgent need of competent theological resources persons, if these local churches are to remain faithful to the Catholic tradition and reinvigorate their efforts at making known the message to the wider populace. For a thousand years, dioceses have enjoyed a scholarship subsidy from religious orders residing within their boundaries – but, at least in the short term, that support is rapidly receding. In the recent past, it used to take about 12 years to nurture a Catholic theologian (then, a clerical monopoly) – seven years seminary, two years licentiate and three years for a doctorate. But with today's needs requiring added competence in biblical studies, modern and contemporary philosophy, and a working knowledge of psychology and sociology it took some of us closer to twenty years. Hopefully, Caolan and confreres are up for the challenge for their good will, faith and competence will be essential to nurture the next generation of believers and leaders.


Bill Burke | 22 June 2021  

The observations by Thomas and Edward are very much to the point. I find it difficult to take seriously the theological and divinity degrees offered in Australia as much more than training in Christianity. Take for example those offered by Alphacrucis College whose aim is to give ‘a firm foundation in Leadership Principles and Christian Spirituality’, or that offered by Moore College which is ‘designed for men and women who want a biblical and theological foundation to prepare them for a lifetime of service in Christian ministry’. Even the degrees offered by ACU have a compulsory subject (THCP105) in which one of the learning outcomes is to be able to ‘prepare effective liturgical celebrations for a variety of different celebrating communities utilising official liturgical books’. These courses may or may not be 'fit for purpose' (I'm not in a position to judge) but can they really be compared favourably with those rigorous and questioning ones to which Edward refers?


Ginger Meggs | 22 June 2021  

Thomas Amory: I have in mind extreme feminists with whom I have worked in schools since the 1970s : ones who possess theological accreditation to teach Religious Education. I have experienced the same in the teaching of English, in curriculum revision conferences. Old prejudices die hard, as evidenced in their adoption in the new clothing 'woke' ideology, fashionable in some church groups, and its antipathy towards "white male supremacy".


John RD | 22 June 2021  

Hello Thomas: “the so-called ‘60’s legacy’, which is well out of date by now”. Sorry, but you are incorrect. Outside the St Pope John Paul II, the Great- Cardinal Ratzinger fortified (and re-enforced by Francis) siege walls, the 60’s are deepening ever more into the collective psyche of “the People”. It’s becoming the natural order. I agree that the revolutionary phase of the 60’s is over but that must be! As my Women’s Liberation friends would say way beck then: the women’s movement will not be successful when women become leaders of society but when it goes unnoticed that women are leaders. But that is just one of many changes. A most invisible change has been in the role of men: to be “a man” is now very different than a generation ago. Thank God for that liberation!!!! Who would want to return to be an emotional imbecile, brute thug? I worry about your female student companions, though. Are you sure they will get a fair go inside the siege walls as their sisters on the outside?


Fosco | 22 June 2021  

Ginger: "those rigorous and questioning ones", if they're authentic, are based on the acceptance in faith by the Church of a revelation from God; that's what distinguishes theology from philosophy.


John RD | 22 June 2021  

Must all theology be Christian, John, and must ‘faith’ and acceptance of credal statements be a prerequisite to the study of theology ? If so, then it’s really vocational training, not a true pursuit of truth where everything is open to question and previously held understandings can be replaced by newer ones. We’ve seen how dogmatic religious control over the study of the physical, cosmological and biological sciences inhibited progress toward new understanding in those disciplines. .


Ginger Meggs | 23 June 2021  

With your academic hubris, you remind me very much of what my late Headmaster Sir Brian Hone said about PHDs, when PhDs first began to sprout at Australian universities in the 1960s, Thomas Amory. Suffice to say he was underwhelmed. He himself had been a Rhodes scholar whose English tutor at Oxford was none other than C S Lewis. When I went up to Trinity from Melbourne Grammar I felt I was at a parody of Oxbridge. I had a cousin at both universities then, including Martin Fido, quite a well known author in certain fields, perhaps not to someone such as yourself, who seems to have intellectual tunnel vision, as well as hubris. One of my contentions about academic theology in Australia is that it has become a sort of rarified game, reserved for the self-elected and self-confirming elite who despise what they consider 'the common herd' i.e. normal intelligent people who haven't been 'privileged' to attend one of their 'approved' institutions. They seem, with rare exception, unable to engage with ordinary intelligent people and see their institutions as bulwarks against a society they fear to engage with. The likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and that superb Christian and 'white martyr', the late Beyers Naude, had all the academic publications, including profuse footnotes, someone like you would want, but, like Jesus, they did something to change their society for the better and their legacy lives. That is what is important.


Edward Fido | 23 June 2021  

Thank you guys for sharing your guide to elite theology schools. Very important for career management decisions. Of course I didn’t go to one. Started brainwashing school a month after arriving from a peasant village in much beloved Italia not knowing a word of English: couldn’t spell, couldn’t sentence construct. Thereafter I stayed away from all essay-writing subjects. Lucky I was good at maths. I have a question: will it be this century or the next that Dylan, Cohen and John Lennon will be taught at theology school – no women, of course? Will that be the sign that the 60’s are over?


Fosco | 24 June 2021  

Edward, you accuse me of academic hubris and intellectual tunnel vision, however, you give no explanations. Are you in agreement with Caolan Ware our author here, or would you be happy to see all religious studies and theology removed from Australian institutions? Do you really believe that as you say ‘academic theology in Australia … has become a sort of rarified game, reserved for the self-elected and self-confirming elite who despise what they consider 'the common herd' i.e. normal intelligent people who haven't been 'privileged' to attend one of their 'approved' institutions. They seem, with rare exception, unable to engage with ordinary intelligent people and see their institutions as bulwarks against a society they fear to engage with.’ I respectfully disagree with you here. Anyone can study theology at most theological colleges in Australia with the same prerequisites as entry into other tertiary disciplines. Few colleges are reserved for their own specialist groups such as clerics. Laity and clerics study side-by-side, and come from all types of backgrounds and ways of life and social classes. There is nothing of the elitism, self-election and self-confirmation of which you speak. An explanation of how you come to this conclusion would be helpful. The major theological institutions I have been involved with do not see themselves ‘as bulwarks against a society they fear to engage with.’ On the contrary, they are open to all for study, discussion and societal engagement and, due to the understanding that theology is “Faith seeking understanding” have open minds as to new theologies and so forth in order for renewed understanding. Some schools of course will reflect their denominational doctrinal teachings and so on, and thus will be less open than others. This is to be expected. So, I’m not sure what your stance on the subject matter of this article is. On one hand you seem to bemoan the lack of theologians of high calibre, and when presented with evidence that they do exist in Australia, you condemn theologians and the discipline as elitist.


Thomas Amory | 24 June 2021  

Ginger: The Catholic Church has long recognised the discipline of theodicy, or natural theology; namely, the exercise of reason unaided by faith in exploring the existence of God and the divine attributes, a quest at least as old as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. However, the Church regards the conclusions arrived at by such investigation as incomplete, given that the believing community accepts in faith that there has been a personal self-revelation of God in history - Christ - who reveals definitively who God is and calls all people into the reality of his own intimate relationship of life and love with the Trinitarian God in baptism. The Church also recognises the Incarnation of Christ and his Eucharistic presence as a mystery of faith, but not numinous to the extent that we can affirm and share nothing with truth and certainty of God. Since faith is a prerequisite of baptismal initiation into the life of Christ - a deeper knowledge of and relationship with God than creaturehood and reason alone provide - Christian theology, properly speaking, proceeds from faith, mediated through the Church. Regarding your point of truth changing, the Church affirms dogma as open to a developing understanding, the result of inquiry (fides quaerens intellectum) - but development in the sense of a deepening appreciation, one continuous - not disjunctive - with earlier understandings of truth in matters of faith and morals. As Vatican II's 'Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation' puts it: "The tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the reality of the words that are being passed on." ('Dei Verbum', II, 8). For the Christian, truth is more than abstract speculation: it involves relationship with the One Aquinas affirms as "truth Himself" and those who accept Him as such; it also involves love, and the commitment love elicits.


John RD | 24 June 2021  

Theology is, as it should be, for amateurs, and if the Great Commission is to be honoured as a just aspiration, Christian theology should be for amateurs of (not ‘in’) Christianity in numbers like the predicted progeny of Abraham. This also means that the behaviour of theological reasoning should be, like the behaviour in any vocation or hobby taken to heart, an innate or trained predilection expressed in both duties and recreations, beginning shortly after the crib and ending just before the grave. It’s not sufficient for a Christian to be an amateur theologian; s/he should be a theologian amateur. https://qz.com/990130/in-defense-of-amateurs/


roy chen yee | 25 June 2021  

Thanks John RD. I think I understand where you are coming from - I’v been there myself - and although you don’t actually address my questions directly it’s clear (at least to me) that you believe that all real theology must be predicated on a Christian, and maybe even Catholic, ‘faith’ and that it can proceed only on the assumption that certain basic ‘truths’ are not susceptible to change and that no attempt to question them would be legitimate. I start from the position that all knowledge is ‘contingent’ (if that’s the right word) or perhaps ‘conditional’ and therefore subject to both incremental revision and revolutionary replacement. And this where you and I differ and where, I suspect, that we will always differ. You probably see me as a poor benighted soul while I see you you as trapped in a belief system that prevents you thinking for your self. And both those views are probably too simplistic. It saddens me though that we are unable to communicate with each other at any depth. :)


Ginger Meggs | 25 June 2021  

Ginger Meggs, you ask two fine questions of John RD: ‘Must all theology be Christian… and must ‘faith’ and acceptance of credal statements be a prerequisite to the study of theology ? The answer would be no. Theology - the study of God/the Divine etc. - can be studied by anyone whether they are believers or not. We have Jewish, Christian, Islamic and other theologies, and all can be studied with or without faith. That said, the classic definition of Christian theology today, from Anselm of Canturbury (1033–1109) is that theology is: ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’. This does not mean that the person studying theology must have faith/belief in God before studying theology. Rather, it means that theology itself as an academic discipline begins with the understanding that God exists and then continues to explore all matters concerning God etc. However, as we know, some Christian denominations, particularly Catholicism, are reluctant to change on dogmatic and doctrinal matters, despite the fact that theology can often shed new light on a particular dogma or doctrine. Frustrating to be sure!


Thomas Amory | 25 June 2021  

Hello Ginger and John RD: I do not think John really answered the question; maybe I can help by re-calibrating. Back in the early days of the reign of St Pope John Paul II, the Great, just before the Stalinist purge of progressive Church intellectuals – not me, I was just an ex-pew sitter who got out before the siege walls went up – I was talking religion with a friend. Unlike me, he did not have Christian or religious heritage. He had just done a seven day Buddhist retreat in idyllic bush-lands at affluent personal development cost. It was all the rage in those days. He showed me the program: I burst out laughing! But he took no offense: he accepted my once bitten forever skeptical. I explained my disrespect: if he changed two words – Buddha to Christ and mediation to prayer – the retreat was the same as what was forced on us at catholic brainwashing schools. So, if we change Christ to Buddha, God to the non-Self and Eucharist to mediation in John’s answer would the two versions mean the same? Buddhism has a version of our baptism and community belonging version of Church. Is Buddha Christ in a Buddhist culture, and is Christ Buddha in a Buddhist culture? I hope I have clarified Ginger’s question.


Fosco | 25 June 2021  

Fosco, I think you are probably more aware of what the essence of Christianity is about than several processions of theologians. Jesus was extremely intelligent but he wasn't an intellectual in the sense many who get involved in intellectual hair splitting are. He got stuck into those and really gave them stick. I think you had your experiences with the Brothers and their methods and didn't like them. Louise Samways, a well known psychologist and author in Melbourne years ago, treated many ex-Christian Brothers pupils for the difficulties their schooling had caused. When on a secular Buddhist retreat I was told there was a support group for Recovering Catholics in Northern NSW. I was fortunate in my seconday schooling to be encouraged to think. Many Catholics were not and encouraged to follow the party line to the letter. It was a dreadful tragedy. As for treatment of women in the 1950s and 1960s!


Edward Fido | 25 June 2021  

The focus, in my view, of university courses in theology, religion etc is not on conversion nor is it to provide training in Christianity; nor is it about relationship with the One. As one completed a PhD, and several Masters Courses at different universities, it's inconceivable to me that academic rigour, scholarship, reason and evidence would not, too, underpin a course in tertiary religious studies. I completed a GradDip in Religious Education at ACU in the nineties and it was imbued with academic rigour. I also appreciated units on Comparative Religion - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism - taught by experts. Teaching in a Catholic Senior High School, one is obviously committed to a Catholic ethos but one needs to recognise that faith and commitment to Catholic values emanates from other parts of the school ethos and curriculum: experience of Christian community, mass and liturgy, retreats, involvement in social and community projects, encounter with people etc - caught rather than taught. My experience in Adult Religious Education, RCIA, Lenten programs etc is that Catholics could prioritise ongoing religious education more highly; and recognise that faith and reason can be complementary.


Peter Donnan | 25 June 2021  

I have to wonder, Ginger, if you really do understand where I'm "coming from" if you think that basic truths of the Catholic faith cannot be questioned: the development of dogma occurs by means of a process of "inquiry, as I've said, which necessarily involves questioning. However, not "questioning" in the sense of a radical disconnection or rejection of what, based on sacred scripture and tradition, is dogmatically taught by the Church as "de fide". It might be asked by what criteria do other believers who hold contrary teachings proceed to justify their theological truths? Further, thinking for myself, or originality, is not something I consider a priority, as I regard thinking as an exercise that inevitably involves a dependency on - though not necessarily agreement with - the ideas of others; and perhaps no more so than in theologising.


John RD | 26 June 2021  

Thomas Amory: Indeed it's possible for anyone to study theology, but I suggest there is a difference between familiarising oneself with and critiquing theological ideas and actually doing or practising theology. I say this because the starting point for Catholic theology is a relational, self-revealing God whose grace inspires faith, love and conviction, an existential as distinct from an only academic response. St Ignatius Loyola encourages personal savouring, rather than simply a knowledge about God. The same can be found in the intimate hymns of Thomas Aquinas, among others, whose theology finds full expression in the act of worship, especially the Eucharist.


John RD | 26 June 2021  

Peter Donnan: The "One" of whom I speak (24/6) is the One whom Aquinas calls "truth Himself"; a bold and distinctively Christian claim. Without relationship in faith with Christ, "the way the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6) there would be no Church, no Christianity, and no Christian theology, which, proceeding from faith in revealed reality, cannot avoid the radical issues of Christ's identity, authority and its transmission. As Protestant and Catholic theologians have recognised, the first locus of this faith-based articulation is among the community of faith He called and calls into being. All the activities you rightly identify derive from the Church's belief in him and the teachings which express this primary relationship and its implications. Theology can, I think, justifiably be called reason working on the data of faith, whose subject is the Word; and its proper impetus is God's love as revealed and given uniquely in Christ and his Holy Spirit, in word and action.


John RD | 26 June 2021  

Thomas Amory: ‘‘‘Must all theology be Christian… and must ‘faith’ and acceptance of credal statements be a prerequisite to the study of theology ? The answer would be no. Theology - the study of God/the Divine etc. - can be studied by anyone whether they are believers or not. We have Jewish, Christian, Islamic and other theologies, and all can be studied with or without faith.’ What is the point of studying a theology without having faith in the religion which it is about unless for the purpose of apologetics, to prove that the religion is right or wrong? An atheist studies theology to prove that there is no God. An agnostic studies theology just in case, like his peers on Mars Hill, there is an unknown God. A denominational believer studies the theology of his inherited or acquired denominational belief to get to know it better, having made the prior decision from faith that the belief is the most correct of all the available beliefs and deserving of the invested time in deepening his understanding of it. If you study theology from a religious posture that is tabula rasa, you are, absurdly, asserting that rationality can assess supra-rationality.


roy chen yee | 26 June 2021  

Fosco: The early Christian writers ("Apologists" or "Fathers") of the Church, like St Justin, a philosopher and martyr, understood it as their calling, as Pope Benedict XVI writes: " . . . to defend the newborn Christianity. . . and to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries" ('The Fathers', 2008, p.19). Justin was in the vanguard of the Catholic option " . . . for philosophy, for reason, rather than the religion of the pagans" (ibid., p.21). He decisively oriented philosophical truth to Christ, "the Logos", recognising how classical "philosophy also aspired to Christ and the Gospel, just as the part strives to be united with the whole." (loc.cit). The Church chose ". . . the truth of being against the myth of custom" (p.22), affirming Tertullian's "lapidary sentence that still applies . . . 'Christ has said that he is the truth, not fashion.'"(loc.cit). Accordingly, insofar as anyone - Christian or other - expresses truth in this light, their insight is compatible with the truth who is Christ. While I think some lyrics of the the trio you mention (24/6) are consonant with this tradition, particularly those that uphold justice, peace, mercy and friendship, where their views differ from Christian understanding should be presented in any serious "theology school." The same, I believe, should be said of comparative religion.


John RD | 27 June 2021  

OK John RD, I understand that questioning can take place and that refinement of understanding can occur in Catholic theology. But as you yourself say, there is no room for ‘radical disconnection or rejection of what… is dogmatically taught by the Church’, which is the point that I was trying to make. If we took the same approach to cosmology we’d still have an earth-centred view of the universe. If we took the same approach to physics we’d still have a Newtonian model. If we took the same approach to the origin of species, we’d still have a special creation view of the origin of home sapiens. These old models had their usefulness in the past, and even now in many situations because they ‘work’ sufficiently well for limited purposes, but we can’t pretend, for example, that Einsten wasn’t a 'radical disconnection' from Newton, that Darwin hasn’t radically replaced Creationism. It's this refusal, or unwillingness might be a more polite way to put it, to accept that our most revered, treasured, and fundamental assumptions might, after all, be wrong that, I believe gets in the way of real change in understanding. I once heard of a lot of so-called scientific research likened to 'crawling around the frontiers of science with a magnifying glass' and that's the image I have of theology as you describe it.


Ginger Meggs | 28 June 2021  

The analogies you draw are interesting but inapposite, Ginger, because they are based exclusively on the paradigms of empirical science. Christian theology accepts not only the possibility of a divine intervention and revelation in history, (the 'data' of Christian theology) but also its unique instancing in the Incarnation of the Word of God, along with its communicability by means of the Church called to convey it in word and action. As you recognise clearly, Ginger, our premises differ due to the decisive factor of the disposition towards the Christ-event received in faith. Despite our differences, your respectful tone in discussion of these matters in appreciated.


John RD | 29 June 2021  

Thank you John. Mutual respect is, I think, a prerequisite for mutual understanding which is of value in itself, even though it falls short of mutual agreement.


Ginger Meggs | 22 July 2021  

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