- Why do I have to study anything outside of my major?
- Why in particular do I have to study theology, especially since I'm not religiously affiliated?
- Why do you make us work so hard for your class when it isn't my major?
There are two arguments that I'd like to make in favour of theology as an academic discipline of study. The first argument is more general and has to do with the discipline of theology and the nature of university education The second argument has to do with what students actually gain from studying theology, even students who are not, and do not want to be, associated with any religious tradition. I'll tackle the first argument briefly in this post, and I'll argue the second point in a post next week.
I would argue generally that theology needs to be part of a liberal arts education simply because, as Bl. John Henry Newman writes in The Idea of A University, "the very name of University is inconsistent with restrictions of any kind" (15). (A brief excursus is in order here. Please don't confuse Bl. John Henry Newman, the profound 19th century theologian, with the Cardinal Newman Society, the American organization that is the self-proclaimed watchdog of Catholic orthodoxy at Roman Catholic schools of higher education. The latter's understanding of education, and of theology in particular, lacks the nuance and profundity found in Newman's actual writings on university education). A university is, by nature, a place of universal learning, and to exclude any discipline, let alone a discipline like theology with an academic lineage that traces back to the very origin of universities, is nonsensical.
The importance of studying theology is even more pronounced at a university with a religious affiliation, such as my own, for, with reference to Christianity, most Christian traditions understand theology to tell us something absolutely central regarding the very purpose of human existence. To quote Newman again with reference specifically to Roman Catholic university education, "Religious Truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unravelling the web of University Teaching" (52-53).
Image from http://psnt.net/blog/2010/03/i-like-atheists/