Monday, June 1

The Distinction between Theology and Religious Studies

Within academia, there is a discussion going on concerning the nature of Theology and Religious Studies, whether or not Theology and Religious Studies are distinct or the same, and how each field relates to the other. In a recent work, Fields of Faith, theologian Sarah Coakley contributed a chapter titled "Shaping the field: a transatlantic perspective".[1] In this chapter, Coakley argues that there is indeed a distinction between Theology and Religious Studies, despite interactions and some overlapping. This distinction must be maintained, she argues, and sets out to demonstrate how and why.

In order to unpack important Coakely’s chapter, three steps will be taken to properly work through the argument. First, the chapter will be outlined and summarized. Second, the main argument will be examined and unpacked in more detail, and third, several chapters from The Routledge Companion to the Practice of Christian Theology will be utilized to show insights that can be gleaned and filtered through Coakley’s chapter. This will add to the argument that a distinction should exist and does exist between Theology and Religious Studies. Finally, the role of both studies to other disciplines in the university as well as how Theology and Religious Studies relates to the outside world will be explored.

Analyzing the Argument
Coakley divides the chapter into five sections: the “Introduction and Outline”; “Keeping the Dialectic between ‘Theology’ and ‘Religious Studies’”; “Gender Studies and the Study of ‘Religion’”; “‘Spirituality’ in the Post-Modern University”, and finally, the “Conclusions”. She begins by referring to the opening section of a book titled The Beginning and End of ‘Religion’, a 1996 work written by Nicholas Lash. This quote brings the reader into the context of what Coakley will be exploring and discussing. According to Lash: "...the view that ‘religion’ is the name of one particular district which we may inhabit if we feel so inclined, a region of diminishing plausibility and significance, a territory quite distinct from those we know as ‘poetry’ and ‘art,’ as ‘science’ and ‘law,’ and ‘economics’; this view of things, peculiar to modern Western culture, had a beginning in the seventeenth century, and (if ‘post modern’ means anything at all) is now coming to an end.[2]
This particular view of religion, Coakley argues, is a distinctly Western product, and is a false view of religion. Historically, this view placed religion in a separate sphere than the more “public” spheres such as those mentioned by Lash. But this view, she argues, was shattered in Britain the day the news broke that a British immigrant, a Sikh, refused to wear a helmet for the motorcycle he was riding, choosing instead to wear his turban.[3] Religion is not, then, separate from the more “public spheres” of life, but in fact can be and is a very integral part of life. Coakley notes that Lash is implying the death of this kind of “religion,” and although the separation of “church” and “state” in the United States brings about different reactions than the “seeing off” of religion in Northern Europe, she holds that this continuing debate can draw our attention to three different arguments which she will lay out.

Coakley moves into a description of each of these three arguments, and writes, “Let me then anticipate the conclusions of this essay before I argue them in detail,”[4] effectively giving the reader a “sneak peak” of sorts. Each of the three arguments are drawn from her experience in the continuing debate on “religious education” in North America. She notes that going into this, she is writing from the perspective of of a “schizoid” British theologian raised in North America. She is also very much aware of some of the “mistakes” that Americans make concerning the demise of “religion” in Britain, and brings this understanding into her chapter. 

It is here that she begins to lay out the three arguments. First, she intends to argue that Lash’s account of the “end of religion” is actually a dangerous view if it threatens to collapse the remaining creativity that the Enlightenment brought about, particularly from  the contrasting “study of religion” and “Christian theology” that has been so crucial to the development of various subjects in the United Kingdom since the 1960s. Essentially, she is arguing that there needs to be a distinction retained between Theology and Religious Studies. Second, she will illustrate the importance of feminist and gender studies in both of the fields. Third, Coakley she will discuss Spirituality and its relation to Theology. She refers to a Marketing Department or Business School’s new sub-faculty, what she terms “Spiritual Services.” At the time of writing this, she had recently begun a weekly training at a Roman Catholic hospital, and she notes that she was no longer called a “Protestant Chaplain,” but a “Spiritual Services Intern.” This current cultural yearning for spirituality and mystical experience, to Coakley, does not suggest the death of religion, but suggests that religion is alive and vibrant - and she sets out to demonstrate just that.

In the first argument, “Keeping the Dialectic Between ‘Theology’ and ‘Religious Studies’”, Coakley defends her claim that there is indeed a distinction between Theology and Religious Studies. She asserts it would be wrong to claim that Religious Studies simply falls under Theology. Instead, she writes that the notion of “religious traditions” may “still provide the most creative dialectical context for the forging of systematic Christian positions.”[5] Unfortunately, much of what is taught as “theology” in universities is more of what Coakley calls a “regurgitation of facts,” and the understanding becomes more of a “theologology” (talking about talking about God). By working through these and other factors, she is seeking to argue that we should not be in a rush to declare the end of religion, and thus to merge Theology and Religious Studies - and in doing so, erase the “otherness” of religion. 

Following this, Coakley goes on a brief aside about the essential collapse of this distinction in liberal theological circles in North America, and how understanding this could be useful in the British context. The line between Theology and Religious Studies has been blurred in such circles, so that a kind of pluralistic toleration steps in, and a pressure to avoid any kind of absolutism in the way of religious claims. She provides the example of Clark Gilpin. In Gilpin’s book, A Preface to Theology, there is little talk about churches, devotional practices are not referred to, and references to God are more about “the sacred” and “symbols” than traditional religious notions. It seems, then, that to continue such discussions about metaphysical and religious matters, there needs to be a distinction between Theology and Religious Studies - at least, in some way.

Coakley then moves into her second argument - “Gender Studies and the Study of ‘Religion’”. Her argument is essentially that without a distinction between Theology and Religious Studies, insights from feminist and gender studies would be suppressed. Without such a distinction, but also an interplay between the two, one will find a Theology without an awareness of “its own gender bias and texture, and so, [consequently], theology without self-reflective consciousness of its own rich set of entanglements with practice and application at every level.”[6] Indeed, Coakley contends that gender themes are tied up in the application and practice of a given religious tradition. Ironically, she says, the lesson that she is trying to convey can be found in feminist or "womanist" theology in North America. Within such theologies, “Religious Education” focuses primarily on matters of justice. As a result, such theologies look down upon spirituality and religious practices. It distances itself from personal practice and personal spirituality, and focuses more on the study of feminism, making use of an a-political stance. Coakley, in providing this example, offers her lesson - if we remove the distinction between Theology and Religious Studies, you can risk making theology more about strict facts and create a loss of practice and spirituality that is so tied up in theology. It can lead to a number of consequences.

Coakley’s third and final argument is “’Spirituality’ in the Post-Modern University”. Her final argument focuses on the relation of spiritual practices to Theology, a point only briefly touched on in her second argument. She remarks that there are some who look down upon spirituality, but others who teach Theology and Religious Studies are indeed practitioners, but for some reason remain secretive about their personal spirituality. For people such as Pierre Hadot, practice and theory are tied together, and you cannot separate one or the other. Thus, Coakley proposes, if we live in a cultural context that now feels a spiritual hunger, why not sell “spiritual services?” In other words, why be embarrassed to take advantage of this hunger, and turn it into a good thing - economically, theologically and spiritually? A 1983 work, Theologia by Edward Farley, contended that some theologians in various universities do not find it appropriate for their students to publicly pray. Indeed, this kind of separation of Theology and Spirituality has made Business Schools look more toward New Age proponents for their “quick fix” rather than to trained representatives of different religious traditions. 

In the final portion, Coakley concludes by summing up the results of her chapter. She has attempted to bring in various considerations from a North American context into her British context on the future of Theology and Religious Studies. This distinction has in recent years been blurred in various ways or been used in ways that has created a reductive loss in each field. She suggests that feminist theology should heed the interest of Hadot in keeping practice and theory tied together, and criticizes the feminist circles that malign spirituality and practices altogether. By way of concluding, then, Coakley believes that adjusting our post-modern methodological approaches in order to continue both the distinction and interaction of Theology and Religious Studies is necessary and vital for a vibrant Christian tradition.
Evaluating the Argument
At this point, before examining her arguments, it is necessary to provide a bit of background. Coakley is an Anglican systematic theologian and philosopher of religion, as well as a married priest in the Anglican Church. She attended New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), the University of Cambridge and Harvard Divinity School. The PhD she earned on Ernst Troeltsch was also from the University of Cambridge. Coakley’s interests cover a range of different disciplines, including the philosophy of religion, the Patristics (Church Fathers), the philosophy of science, the relation of law and medicine with religion, and feminist theory. When training for the priesthood, she participated in hospital ministry and prison ministry, and in 2012, due to her interest in feminist theory, she participated in an (unsuccessful) attempt to allow female bishops in the Anglican Church. Further, her husband is a Syriac scholar, and her brother is an adviser to Prince Charles.

It seems, then, that Coakley’s interests are both diverse and far-ranging. Her interest in the philosophy of religion and feminist theory - as well as her role as a systematic theologian- provide a backdrop for the various points she makes throughout the chapter. Further, her position as a married, female Anglican priest adds a further layer to the arguments she is making, particularly as it relates to gender studies and the study of religion in a British context. With this background in mind, one can begin to assess the validity of Coakley’s claims and consider possible objections. One of the first things that she sets out to do is clarify what perspective she is writing from. In doing so, she is anticipating any objections to her bias as an Anglican theologian - although her background as a married Anglican priest and her background in feminist theory is not explicitly stated. Granted, these considerations come through in the chapter nevertheless and clarify her interest in feminist and gender studies as well as the British context, but one must still note that such factors are not mentioned. The modern idea of stating one’s perspective is important in this chapter, particularly as Coakley appeals to her British background on several occasions and makes several allusions to Theology and Religious Studies in the British context.

Another point to consider is the term “religious traditions.” Coakley suggests this term, which is becoming more and more normative to use, as a way to speak of “religion.” One may object to calling their faith a “religious tradition,” but as she points out in her footnotes, “it is notable that even Denys Turner (in his companion essay in this book, which also takes issue with the category of ‘religion’), cannot forbear at one point to use the alternative term ‘faith tradition.’”[7] In another footnote later in the chapter, she refers to Judaism, and the sometimes (right or wrong) association of Judaism in contemporary America solely with practice, and not doctrine. However, by utilizing the term “religious tradition,” Coakley is using a sort of blanket term that encapsulates faith, practice and doctrine. It therefore accounts for both Turner’s term as well as the North American view of Judaism. One can find such a term convincing in answering possible objections.

Coakley at one point in her chapter also criticizes liberal views in relation to theology by referring to Gilpin’s book in which, as aforementioned, there is little talk about churches, devotional practices are not referred to, and references to God are more about “the sacred” and “symbols” than traditional religious notions. But as a  counter-objection to her own, one must note that the kind of liberal theology she critiques is actually working out of an Inclusivist mindset rather than downplaying traditional religious notions. Beginning with the Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic Church placed more of an emphasis on dialogue with other religious traditions than debate, although debate certainly still goes on. The document declared that other religious traditions ought to be respected, as traditions such Buddhism, Hinduism held some truths. Further, both here and later in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, followers of Islam are looked at as worshiping the same God, and sharing in the faith that comes from Abraham. 

Such an Inclusivist mindset has continued to progress in the Roman Catholic Church, contrary to ancient notions of extra ecclesiam nulla sullas. However, Coakley is an Anglican priest, and not a Roman Catholic. But one must then object, if she is critiquing liberal theologians who are working out of an Inclusivist context in the manner of Karl Rahner[8], that she ought to specify which liberal theologians she is referring to. Notably, she uses the phrase “God in Godself,” which is used in more liberal than conservative theological circles to focus on not assigning gender roles to God. Such a phrase likely arises from her work in feminist theory, but even within her section on gender and feminist studies, Coakley makes reference to liberal theology. In other words, her point about needing to defend in some form the distinction between Religious Studies and Theology is noted, but one wonders to which liberal theologians she is making reference to, if such an objection is not too pedantic.

Yet another possible objection concerns Spirituality. In her third argument, Coakley focuses on the relation of “spiritual practices” to “theology.” This distinction itself suggests that Spirituality is a separate category, so one wonders should Spirituality be considered a third category in this chapter? Spirituality has been discussed in different fields, and much like Religion, is a rather hard term to define. It can mean a plethora of things in different contexts, to different people. For some, Spirituality takes on a more New Age-approach relating to astral projection, spirit guides, near-death experiences, and the like. This is also related to Eastern notions of Spirituality, such as Buddhist meditation or various practices related to the Atman or Brahman in Hinduism. In Abrahamic traditions, Spirituality tends to be focused more on growth in relation to faith development, although even this definition is varied. For example, American theologian and revivalist in the 18th century, Jonathan Edwards, was well-known for his Spirituality, as well as the 16th century Anabaptist Thomas Müntzer, and the 20th century Pentecostal movement, a faith related more to the “movement of the Spirit.” Others may find Spirituality in a walk through the woods, washing dishes or mindfully sipping a cup of tea.

If Spirituality is related more to practice, as Coakley seems to suggest in her reference to prayer in the university,[9] should this not constitute an added distinction, or to play Christian language, a trinity of studies - Spirituality, Theology, and Religious Studies? To follow this to its logical conclusion, if Spirituality constitutes an academic study, you may be able to sell Spirituality in a Business context, but if Spirituality is something mystical, should it be for sale? One may object that this is in some ways what the medieval Church tried to do by selling indulgences during the Crusades and the lifetimes of John Huss and Martin Luther. By selling indulgences, the Church was in one way selling God to the laity. But God in Godself cannot be sold, as Spirit is not bound in human constructs. 

On the other hand, Coakley’s suggestion to representatives of various religious traditions is not necessarily that Spirituality ought to be marketed in a way similar to the medieval sale of indulgences, but more along the lines of presenting a prospective “buyer” with a more authentic look into a given tradition than, perhaps, a New Age spiritualist. So it seems that her suggestion can in some ways be held in tension with the very definition of the term “Spirituality” and its role as a discipline, but also the usefulness of presenting “buyers” in a Business School with a more authentic representation of Spirituality. 

A final objection is worth exploring. Does Coakley at any point explicitly distinguish between Theology and Religious Studies? She seems to imply that Theology is more about those who are working within a tradition and Religious Studies is more about intellectualism and description - but does she necessarily provide this definition? In Chapter 2 of the same volume that Coakley’s chapter is derived from, “Doing Theology in the university,” Denys Turner lays out his definition of Religious Studies as “a theoretical discipline with no existence outside of places of learning, a discipline defined not so much by its method as by its object - the religions of the world,”[10] and Theology as something done “in the first instance in its connections with an ecclesial community.”[11] Although these represent Turner’s position, is Coakley trying to hint at her own definition of Religious Studies when she is critiquing “womanist” theology and says that it “look[s] down upon spirituality and religious practices. It distances itself from personal practice and personal spirituality, and focuses more on the study of feminism, making use of an a-political stance”?[12] 

If so, Coakley may define Religious Studies as a study not concerned with personal practice or spirituality, and indeed, an individual in this field may also be inclined to look down upon spirituality. Religious Studies, one may argue, does not by necessity take a position on the existence or non-existence of a deity or deities, an afterlife, doctrines, practices, beliefs, or other aspects of faith. It is arguably more of an outside-looking-in view of religions, and thus is not necessarily personally engaged. It must be noted, however, that this is not a requirement, and indeed, individuals such as Huston Smith, famous for his best-selling book, World Religions, is a practicing Christian as well as a pioneer of Religious Studies. 

Coakley’s definition of Theology, however, may be more aligned with Turner’s view of Theology as something connected to the ecclesial community. Although there are theologians who are not practitioners or belong to a particular religious tradition, Theology is more often connected with those working within a tradition, and thus, contrary to Religious Studies, more concerned with metaphysical questions and Spirituality. These definitions are broad to be sure, and are not all-inclusive. Theology and Religious Studies often can and do interact with one another, and much like siblings, tend to stay closely together and work with one another. Religious Studies can inform Theology, and Theology can inform Religious Studies. 

These various objections and points of consideration are useful when examining the arguments that Coakley makes and provoke further thought on the chapter. This chapter can be filtered through the lens of other theologians, however, in order to not only provide further insight but also to explore how the departments of Theology and Religious Studies relate to the world outside the university as well as other disciplines in the university.

Comparing the Argument
The Routledge Companion to the Practice of Christian Theology edited by Dr. Jim Fodor and Mike Higton - as well as other theologians and those within Religious Studies - provides a number of insights that connect with and can be filtered through Coakley’s chapter. The argument made about the distinction of Theology and Religious Studies can also be found in Ninian Smart’s Methods in My Life, Donald Wiebe’s The Politics of Religious Studies, and “Theology in the Public University” by Robyn Horner and Steven Tucker. Smart argued that Religious Studies, to him, was more of a descriptive task than one engaged in a given tradition. He described the study as a form of “warm neutralism,” and noted that “history, philology, archaeology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and so on are obviously relevant to the study of religion.”[13] As such, this non-engagement and way of neutral approach is seemingly more in line with Coakley’s notion of Religious Studies, and shows engagement with other disciplines in the university. 

In his work, Wiebe adds that “A study of religion directed toward spiritual liberation of the individual or of the human race as a whole, toward the moral welfare of the human race, or toward any ulterior end than that of knowledge itself; should not find a home in the university; for if allowed in, its sectarian concerns will only contaminate the quest for a scientific knowledge of religions and eventually undermine the very institution from which it originally sought legitimation.”[14] Wiebe is essentially arguing that Religious Studies should not concern itself with questions or morality, metaphysics, philosophy, or theology. Instead, he seems to view the university as wholly opposed to this kind of approach, so that, much like Smart, he sees Religious Studies as more descriptive and non-engaged than as an engagement with a religious tradition. More bluntly, Wiebe states his intention to “recover for the university a study of religion governed by principles of scientific investigation and [he decries] the current governance of such study by religious goals.”[15]

Concerning Theology, given the various considerations provided by Coakley, one would be inclined to refer to the definition of Theology provided by Horner and Tucker. They refer to the classic definition of Theology provided by St. Anslem in the twelfth century - “faith seeking understanding.” If Theology is “faith seeking understanding,” then it follows that those who consider themselves theologians are, as Horner and Tucker contend, working with the idea that “Theology is undertaken from inside a religious tradition.”[16] They argue further that “This classic definition is further specified by, for example, John Macquarrie, who maintains that: "theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflection upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available."[17] 

To be sure, not everyone would agree with this definition of Theology, nor would they agree with the definition provided for Religious Studies. However, both definitions tend to work as general definitions. As with any field, there are exceptions, so that there are indeed those within Religious Studies who are engaged in a given tradition, and there are, as aforementioned, theologians who are not working from inside a religious tradition. But even with this understanding one must be forced to inquire - if someone in Religious Studies is engaged with a tradition, at what point does it become Theology? Further, if someone in Theology is working outside of a tradition, at what point is it no longer considered Theology but Religious Studies? Such questions are ponderous. 

A further thought about Theology comes from Paul D. Murray’s chapter, “Engaging with the Contemporary Church”.[18] If theology is essentially derived from and relates to the practice of the Church, as has thus far been discussed, some would argue that this makes ecclesiology as a branch of theology rather redundant. However, as Murray does, one would ask - what constitutes “the church?” These kind of questions can present two problems, “The first is in danger of suffering from too little Church and viewing Ecclesiology as being redundant. The second is in danger of suffering from too much Church and mistaking the real heart of Christian theology – that is, the creating, forgiving, transforming grace of God in Christ and the Spirit – for the structures and systems that give collective form to Christian responses to this grace.”[19] For Murray, it seems that Theology is something that comes out of practice - or to refer again to St. Anselm, “faith seeking understanding.”

A final author relevant to the conversation is Garrett Green, in his chapter “Experience in Theology”. Green’s focus on experience brings the reader back to Spirituality and its relation to Theology. He feels that that the attempt by some to try remove the “sense of the heart” from Theology and as well as a disinterested approach to God - seen, perhaps, in Coakley’s example of “symbols” as opposed to God - are symptoms of neglect of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he sees the Pentecostal tradition as an example of Christians focusing on the Spirit. Green also brings up the Protestant theologian Karl Barth, who said that theology must always show itself in praxis. Green’s view of Theology is similar to the argument made by Coakley - who also refers to Hadot’s concept of practice and theory together. Theology can and does involve theory, but as Green argues, it also involves the Spirit, and as is added by Murray - comes out of practice. Lastly, Green also discusses his prison ministry, a ministry that Coakley also engaged in in her training for the priesthood. This kind of practice is seen as an outpouring of the Christian faith, and theology can arise out of such a lived context. 

At this point, two examples may be helpful to demonstrate these various ideas in practice and how these ideas are at play in Theology and Religious Studies in the university. Fodor and Higton’s Companion picks up on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a methodology used in Theology that is attributed to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist tradition in the 18th century. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral consists of four aspects of Theology: Reason, Scripture, Tradition, and Experience. Each of the aforementioned authors, including Murray and Green, is operating out of this theological mindset. These four aspects are not contradictory, nor is one necessarily better than the rest. Given the doctrine of sola scriptura, the notion of including Tradition may be uneasy for some Protestants, but Wesley himself, a Protestant, recognized the importance of certain traditions. Christianity itself is a religious tradition, if one is to continue the working definition of what constitutes “religion.”

One example of how these four aspects are at play in the university and outside of the university is the well-known Liberation Theology. By using Biblical narratives such as the Exodus or the return from Babylon, as well as various traditions of God freeing the oppressed and reasoning that a good God would want to liberate his captive people, Latin Americans developed liberation theologies in the 1960s out of their lived context, or rather, our of their experience. The four aspects can be clearly seen in this concrete example of Theology at play in the world outside the university. Inside the university, theologians may discuss the validity of such a theology, and measure it against Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Religious Studies may look at such a theology as a cultural phenomenon developed out of a socio-economic and political situation.  

A second example may be the usage of the creeds in Theology. Creeds are used by a number of Christian branches, and play a vital role in Christianity. The Apostle’s Creed is sometimes used during baptism, and the Nicene Creed is recited often at Masses - Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and so forth. The Nicene Creed, for example, is not only used in the context of worship, but also used in theological works, particularly in writings about the Trinity and post-Nicene Christianity. John P. Bradbury, author of “Understanding Creeds and Confessions”[20], puts forth a two-fold usage of creeds: the Church holds that what is taught in the Creed can be found in Scripture, but also that Creeds can be used a lens by which Scripture is interpreted. 

The Quadrilateral comes into play here. The Nicene Creed comes out of Tradition, but this Tradition can be used to interpret Scripture and contains what is found in Scripture. It can be reasoned through theologically and can be practically applied experience-wise at Mass. Religious Studies could add that different religious traditions hold a myriad of mantras, creedal formulas, catechisms, or a sacred verse, such as that found in Tibetan Buddhism - “om ma ni pad me hum,” or perhaps the famous “Jesus Prayer.” Religious Studies would be more concerned with describing how it is ritually used rather than the actual content of the Creed. 

While these examples are helpful to illustrate how certain topics interact with Theology and Religious Studies within the university, in light of these and other considerations, it is necessary to determine how the departments of Theology and Religious Studies should relate to the world outside the university, and to other university departments. As aforementioned, Smart argued that “history, philology, archaeology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and so on are obviously relevant to the study of religion.”[21] Therefore, it seems that within the university, Religious Studies is reliant upon a good number of inter-disciplinary studies. In order to also understand Theology, one needs to relate to these different disciplines. Consider passages written by St. Paul of Tarsus concerning women. History helps to illuminate some of the different political, economic and social realities at the time, which can have a significant impact today. For example, feminist theology may criticize St. Paul for commanding women in Corinth to cover their heads. However, history and social situations of the time can add that in Corinth, for a woman to leave her hair uncovered was to alert the men that she was a prostitute. So St. Paul, in commanding women to cover their hair, was attempting to protect the women. 

A final example may suffice, similar to the previous. Many feminist theologians have disagreed with the Church’s urging to keep women in monasteries throughout Christian history, but by bringing other disciplines from the university into the picture, one begins to understand. In many ways, the Church keeping women in cloisters was actually partly to protect them from men. St. Clare, for example, had she been caught alone on the road or even with other women, could have been raped. At that time period, there was no police force, so we have here a clear example of how history, psychology, sociology and gender studies can interact with Theology and Religious Studies. As to how each field of study relates to the world outside of the university, in light of the arguments presented throughout, Religious Studies can present the outside world with a descriptive, “neutral” glimpse at a given religious tradition, whereas Theology can provide an engagement with a given religious tradition.

Moving Forward
Theology and Religious Studies can be seen as two distinct fields of study, although there is certainly a great deal of overlap and interaction involved in both. Spirituality may also be worth considering as its own category, particularly in its relation to Theology. Coakley successfully argues that this distinction is necessary to prevent a reductive loss in both fields of study. Moving forward, one is inclined to agree with Coakley insofar as we are being continuously called to adjust our post-modern methodological approaches in order to continue the distinction as well as the interaction of Theology and Religious Studies in the university. Such a distinction, one would argue, is necessary and vital for to continue a vibrant Christian tradition and to also further explore avenues of study that may not otherwise have been considered before. If Religious Studies is more concerned with description and Theology is more along the lines of “faith seeking understanding” out of a lived context, then much like two siblings sharing their lives together, both fields of study will continue to contribute to the other for a long time to come.


[1] Fields of Faith. Cambridge University Press, 2005. 39-55. Print.
[2] Lash, Nicholas. The Beginning and End of ‘Religion’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 9. Print.
[3] The Sikh turban (dastāar) is a symbol of the Sikh identity, so to remove it is a great dishonor. It holds numerous levels of religious importance going back to Guru Nanak, such as a symbol of holiness and piety.
[4] Coakley 41.
[5] Ibid., 45.
[6] Ibid, 49.
[7] Ibid 45, footnote 17.
[8] Karl Rahner wrote about the idea of “Anonymous Christians” prior to the Second Vatican Council. His views were at one point looked down upon by the Vatican, but later accepted by the time of Nostra Aetate. He believed that Jesus Christ could save others outside of the faith if he chose to. In the Inclusivist approach, this is reflected in passages such as Acts 17, where the apostle Paul claims that the Greeks who were worshiping the “Unknown God” were actually worshiping Jesus. Thus, they were Christians without knowing it - hence, “Anonymous Christians.”
[9] Coakley 53.
[10] Turner 25.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Coakley 49.
[13] Smart, Ninian. Methods in My Life. 2. Print.
[14] Wiebe, Donald. The Politics of Religious Studies. 1999. 13. Print.
[15] Ibid., 14.
[16] Robyn Horner and Steven Tucker. “Theology in the Public University”. 226. Print. 
[17] Ibid.
[18] From the The Routledge Companion to the Practice of Christian Theology.
[19] Murray 4.
[20] In the Companion.
[21] Smart 2.

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