Saturday, September 22, 2007

What if Oxford stopped teaching Theology?

[ETA - this is entirely my own opinion and in no way represents the opinions of any institutions or organisations with which I may be affiliated or associated]

An idea that some people in Oxford have been batting around recently is the idea of stopping teaching theology at the university.

On one level, it would mark an important stage in the development of the university. Oxford was the first university in the English-speaking world (if you can call England English-speaking in the 1100s), and it was founded to teach theology. Theology led to the other subjects, to revolution via the Reformation, and then eventually the university dropped theology. Some would say it would mark a coming of age. Some would say it marked the beginning of the end. The highest knowledge that we can have is the knowledge of God.

On another level, I think there's a very good argument for dropping theology. The way that subjects are studied now is via investigation, via the power of the mind. On a fundamental level, theology should not be like that because we cannot put ourselves over God to investigate him, though that doesn't stop a lot of people trying.

On yet another level, I think it would be enormously beneficial. If funding for academics studying theology was cut, theology would be done mainly by the Church, and I think that's right. It also tends to get better results when theologians actually believe what they are investigating. There are exceptions (MacCulloch for one), but I expect bits would get absorbed into History, Philosophy, Literature, etc.

Selfishly, as I'm doing a theology degree at Oxford, it would be a pity. On the other hand, it is generally the tutors who are paid either by churches or to study history who are the best at what they do, and I don't suppose I'd cry much if people who have devoted their lives to trying to argue that Jesus never existed suddenly lost their funding. But Jesus loves them anyway, so I suppose I should.

So abolish theology as an academic subject at secular universities, and leave studying theology to the Church? Yeah - why not?


Anonymous said...

I thought Diarmaid MacCulloch was a christian?

John said...

Was. The preface to one of his recent books says he looks back fondly on a time when he had faith.

He resigned from the C of E in the 80s when Synod passed a motion saying that practising homosexuals shouldn't be clergy.