Thursday, August 18, 2011

History Problems

Teaching in the Western Civ programs brings the problem of historical theology to the fore. In this particular course it makes sense to proceed chronologically, sampling theology and philosophy along the way. But history sets the pace. Literature and art seem to keep up with history fairly well, but philosophy and theology really suffer.

Take Western Civ's first semester. The expected theology lectures cover Genesis, Exodus, a wisdom book or two, a prophet or two, a Gospel, St Paul, a couple of the great ecumenical councils, St Augustine, and Islam. Possibly monasticism as well.

I intend to cover these topics theologically, though some history and literary commentary must sneak in. The challenge is to fit a theological presentation into a chronological course of studies, and to make the students aware of what theology is. "Faith seeking understanding" does not begin with page 1 of Genesis. For any hope of understanding, Faith needs to be duly informed -- the believer should have an acquaintance with the Bible and the habit of hearing it; a familiarity with the liturgy; and, ideally, charity. A grounding in the arts, sciences, and philosophy is indispensable, and elementary Latin helps. For these reasons I think undergraduate programs ought to include pre-Theology, as they include pre-Med and pre-Law: you can't enter the specialties of these learned professions until you've already got what a decent undergraduate education provides.

Given that we have "college theology," though, and given the requirement of chronological presentation, what's the best way to proceed? Well, take lecture 1, on Genesis. The students will be responsible for having read the book, or parts of it, before the lecture. I don't plan to begin, however, with an exposition of text. Instead I'll begin by explaining that theology is not religious studies; I'll contrast the two approaches, and explain that I will be teaching them about the theological content and interest of the texts they read -- that is, the Catholic theological content and interest. For Islam, I'll take a religious studies perspective, mostly, and conclude with a comparison of Islam and Christianity. Likewise for rabbinical Judaism, which will come into the lecture on the prophets. I believe there's also a lecture of Hellenism and the Jews, which will be fun and important.

Can I lead my students to appreciate that a theological perspective is intelligible and intellectually legitimate? That's one of my big goals, since without this theology is reduced to history. I don't want them to be modernists, rationalists, or po-mo relativists.

No comments:

Post a Comment