Theology

Theology

Overview

Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.

Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

 defined the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 equivalent, theologia, as "reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity"; Richard Hooker
Richard Hooker
Richard Hooker was an Anglican priest and an influential theologian. Hooker's emphases on reason, tolerance and the value of tradition came to exert a lasting influence on the development of the Church of England...

 defined "theology" in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 as "the science of things divine".
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Theology'
Start a new discussion about 'Theology'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Recent Discussions
Encyclopedia

Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.

Definition


Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

 defined the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 equivalent, theologia, as "reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity"; Richard Hooker
Richard Hooker
Richard Hooker was an Anglican priest and an influential theologian. Hooker's emphases on reason, tolerance and the value of tradition came to exert a lasting influence on the development of the Church of England...

 defined "theology" in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 as "the science of things divine". The term can, however, be used for a variety of different disciplines or forms of discourse.
Theologians use various forms of analysis and argument (philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, ethnographic
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

, historical
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, spiritual
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

 and others) to help understand
Understanding
Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object....

, explain
Explanation
An explanation is a set of statements constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequencesof those facts....

, test, critique
Critique
Critique is a method of disciplined, systematic analysis of a written or oral discourse. Critique is commonly understood as fault finding and negative judgement, but it can also involve merit recognition, and in the philosophical tradition it also means a methodical practice of doubt...

, defend or promote any of myriad religious topics. Theology might be undertaken to help the theologian:
  • understand more truly his or her own religious tradition
    Tradition
    A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

    ,
  • understand more truly another religious tradition,
  • make comparisons
    Comparative religion
    Comparative religion is a field of religious studies that analyzes the similarities and differences of themes, myths, rituals and concepts among the world's religions...

     between religious traditions,
  • defend or justify
    Apologetics
    Apologetics is the discipline of defending a position through the systematic use of reason. Early Christian writers Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of reason. Early Christian writers...

     a religious tradition,
  • facilitate reform of a particular tradition,
  • assist in the propagation
    Proselytism
    Proselytizing is the act of attempting to convert people to another opinion and, particularly, another religion. The word proselytize is derived ultimately from the Greek language prefix προσ- and the verb ἔρχομαι in the form of προσήλυτος...

     of a religious tradition, or
  • draw on the resources of a tradition to address some present situation or need,
  • draw on the resources of a tradition to explore possible ways of interpreting the world, or
  • explore the nature of divinity without reference to any specific tradition.

History of the term



Theology translates into English from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 theologia (θεολογία) which derived from theos (θεός), meaning God, and logia (λόγια), meaning utterances, sayings, or oracles (a word related to logos [λόγος], meaning word, discourse
Discourse
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication". The following are three more specific definitions:...

, account, or reasoning) which had passed into Latin as theologia and into French as théologie. The English equivalent "theology" (Theologie, Teologye) had evolved by 1362. The sense the word has in English depends in large part on the sense the Latin and Greek equivalents had acquired in Patristic
Patristics
Patristics or Patrology is the study of Early Christian writers, known as the Church Fathers. The names derive from the Latin pater . The period is generally considered to run from the end of New Testament times or end of the Apostolic Age Patristics or Patrology is the study of Early Christian...

 and medieval Christian usage, though the English term has now spread beyond Christian contexts.
  • Greek theologia (θεολογια) was used with the meaning "discourse on god" in the fourth century B.C. by Plato
    Plato
    Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

     in The Republic, Book ii, Ch. 18. Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

     divided theoretical philosophy into mathematike, physike and theologike, with the latter corresponding roughly to metaphysics
    Metaphysics
    Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

    , which, for Aristotle, included discourse on the nature of the divine.
  • Drawing on Greek Stoic
    STOIC
    STOIC was a variant of Forth.It started out at the MIT and Harvard Biomedical Engineering Centre in Boston, and was written in the mid 1970s by Jonathan Sachs...

     sources, the Latin
    Latin
    Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

     writer Varro
    Marcus Terentius Varro
    Marcus Terentius Varro was an ancient Roman scholar and writer. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus.-Biography:...

     distinguished three forms of such discourse: mythical (concerning the myths of the Greek gods), rational (philosophical analysis of the gods and of cosmology) and civil (concerning the rites and duties of public religious observance).

  • Theologos, closely related to theologia, appears once in some biblical manuscript
    Biblical manuscript
    A biblical manuscript is any handwritten copy of a portion of the text of the Bible. The word Bible comes from the Greek biblia ; manuscript comes from Latin manu and scriptum...

    s, in the heading to the book of Revelation
    Book of Revelation
    The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

    : apokalypsis ioannoy toy theologoy, "the revelation of John the theologos." There, however, the word refers not to John the "theologian" in the modern English sense of the word but—using a slightly different sense of the root logos, meaning not "rational discourse" but "word" or "message"—one who speaks the words of God, logoi toy theoy.
  • Some Latin Christian authors, such as Tertullian
    Tertullian
    Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

     and Augustine
    Augustine of Hippo
    Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

    , followed Varro's threefold usage, though Augustine also used the term more simply to mean 'reasoning or discussion concerning the deity'

  • In Patristic
    Church Fathers
    The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

     Greek Christian sources, theologia could refer narrowly to devout and inspired knowledge of, and teaching about, the essential nature of God.

  • In some medieval Greek and Latin sources, theologia (in the sense of "an account or record of the ways of God") could refer simply to the Bible
    Bible
    The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

    .

  • The Latin author Boethius, writing in the early 6th century, used theologia to denote a subdivision of philosophy as a subject of academic study, dealing with the motionless, incorporeal reality (as opposed to physica, which deals with corporeal, moving realities). Boethius' definition influenced medieval Latin usage.

  • In scholastic
    Scholasticism
    Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context...

     Latin sources, the term came to denote the rational study of the doctrine
    Doctrine
    Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

    s of the Christian religion, or (more precisely) the academic discipline
    Discipline
    In its original sense, discipline is referred to systematic instruction given to disciples to train them as students in a craft or trade, or to follow a particular code of conduct or "order". Often, the phrase "to discipline" carries a negative connotation. This is because enforcement of order –...

     which investigated the coherence and implications of the language and claims of the Bible and of the theological tradition (the latter often as represented in Peter Lombard
    Peter Lombard
    Peter Lombard was a scholastic theologian and bishop and author of Four Books of Sentences, which became the standard textbook of theology, for which he is also known as Magister Sententiarum-Biography:Peter Lombard was born in Lumellogno , in...

    's Sentences
    Sentences
    The Four Books of Sentences is a book of theology written by Peter Lombard in the twelfth century. It is a systematic compilation of theology, written around 1150; it derives its name from the sententiae or authoritative statements on biblical passages that it gathered together.-Origin and...

    , a book of extracts from the Church Fathers).

  • It is in this last sense, theology as an academic discipline involving rational study of Christian teaching, that the term passed into English in the fourteenth century, though it could also be used in the narrower sense found in Boethius and the Greek patristic authors, to mean rational study of the essential nature of God – a discourse now sometimes called Theology Proper
    Theology Proper
    Theology Proper is the sub-discipline of Systematic Theology which deals specifically with the being, attributes and works of God.In a Christian setting, this study includes Trinitarian, the Holy Spirit and the study of Jesus Christ . The term Theology Theology Proper is the sub-discipline of...

    .

  • From the 17th century onwards, it also became possible to use the term 'theology' to refer to study of religious ideas and teachings that are not specifically Christian (e.g., in the phrase 'Natural Theology' which denoted theology based on reasoning from natural facts independent of specifically Christian revelation ), or that are specific to another religion (see below).

  • "Theology" can also now be used in a derived sense to mean "a system of theoretical principles; an (impractical or rigid) ideology."

Religions other than Christianity


In academic theological circles there is some debate as to whether theology is an activity peculiar to the Christian religion, such that the word "theology" should be reserved for Christian theology
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

, and other words used to name analogous discourses within other religious traditions. It is seen by some to be a term only appropriate to the study of religions that worship a deity
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 (a theos), and to presuppose belief in the ability to speak and reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

 about this deity (in logia)—and so to be less appropriate in religious contexts that are organized differently (religions without a deity, or that deny that such subjects can be studied logically). ("Hierology" has been proposed as an alternative, more generic term.)

Analogous discourses


Some academic inquiries within Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, dedicated to the rational investigation of a Buddhist understanding of the world, prefer the designation Buddhist philosophy
Buddhist philosophy
Buddhist philosophy deals extensively with problems in metaphysics, phenomenology, ethics, and epistemology.Some scholars assert that early Buddhist philosophy did not engage in ontological or metaphysical speculation, but was based instead on empirical evidence gained by the sense organs...

 to the term Buddhist theology, since Buddhism lacks the same conception of a theos. Jose Ignacio Cabezon, who argues that the use of "theology" is appropriate, can only do so, he says, because "I take theology not to be restricted to discourse on God ... I take 'theology' not to be restricted to its etymological meaning. In that latter sense, Buddhism is of course atheological, rejecting as it does the notion of God."

Within Hindu philosophy
Hindu philosophy
Hindu philosophy is divided into six schools of thought, or , which accept the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures. Three other schools do not accept the Vedas as authoritative...

, there is a solid and ancient tradition of philosophical speculation on the nature of the universe, of God (termed "Brahman
Brahman
In Hinduism, Brahman is the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe. Brahman is sometimes referred to as the Absolute or Godhead which is the Divine Ground of all being...

" in some schools of Hindu thought) and of the Atman
Atman (Hinduism)
Ātman is a Sanskrit word that means 'self'. In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism it refers to one's true self beyond identification with phenomena...

 (soul). The Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 word for the various schools of Hindu philosophy is Darshana (meaning "view" or "viewpoint"). Vaishnava theology
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

 has been a subject of study for many devotees, philosophers and scholars in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 for centuries, and in recent decades also has been taken on by a number of academic institutions in Europe, such as the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, founded in 1997, is a Recognised Independent Centre of Oxford University. The Centre is engaged in developing academic programmes of education, research and publishing in the field of Hindu studies...

 and Bhaktivedanta College
Bhaktivedanta College
Bhaktivedanta College, located in the rural Ardennes region of Belgium, is a Vaishnava college administered by ISKCON. The programme at Bhaktivedanta College is the study of Vaishnavism. -History:...

. See also: Krishnology

Islamic theological
Islamic theology
Islamic theology is a branch of Islamic studies regarding the beliefs associated with the Islamic faith. Any religious belief system, or creed, can be considered an example of aqidah. However, this term has taken a significant technical usage in Islamic history and theology, denoting those...

 discussion that parallels Christian theological discussion is named "Kalam
Kalam
ʿIlm al-Kalām is the Islamic philosophical discipline of seeking theological principles through dialectic. Kalām in Islamic practice relates to the discipline of seeking theological knowledge through debate and argument. A scholar of kalām is referred to as a mutakallim...

"; the Islamic analogue of Christian theological discussion would more properly be the investigation and elaboration of Islamic law
Sharia
Sharia law, is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia is derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Fiqh jurisprudence interprets and extends the application of sharia to...

, or "Fiqh
Fiqh
Fiqh is Islamic jurisprudence. Fiqh is an expansion of the code of conduct expounded in the Quran, often supplemented by tradition and implemented by the rulings and interpretations of Islamic jurists....

". "Kalam ... does not hold the leading place in Muslim thought that theology does in Christianity. To find an equivalent for 'theology' in the Christian sense it is necessary to have recourse to several disciplines, and to the usul al-fiqh as much as to kalam." (L. Gardet)

In Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, the historical absence of political authority has meant that most theological reflection has happened within the context of the Jewish community and synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

, rather than within specialized academic institutions. Nevertheless, Jewish theology historically has been very active and highly significant for Christian and Islamic theology. It is sometimes claimed, however, that the Jewish analogue of Christian theological discussion would more properly be Rabbinical discussion of Jewish law and Jewish Biblical commentaries
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

.

Theology as an academic discipline


The history of the study of theology in institutions of higher education is as old as the history of such institutions themselves. For example, Taxila
Taxila
Taxila is a Tehsil in the Rawalpindi District of Punjab province of Pakistan. It is an important archaeological site.Taxila is situated about northwest of Islamabad Capital Territory and Rawalpindi in Panjab; just off the Grand Trunk Road...

 was an early centre of Vedic learning, possible from the 6th century BC or earlier; the Platonic Academy
Platonic Academy
The Academy was founded by Plato in ca. 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years before founding his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy persisted throughout the Hellenistic period as a skeptical school, until coming to an end after the death of Philo of Larissa in 83 BC...

 founded in Athens in the 4th century BC seems to have included theological themes in its subject matter; the Chinese Taixue
Taixue
Taixue , or sometimes called the "Imperial Academy", "Imperial School" , "Imperial University" or "Imperial Central University", was the highest rank of educational establishment in Ancient China between the Han Dynasty and Sui Dynasty. It was replaced by the Guozijian...

 delivered Confucian teaching from the 2nd century BC; the School of Nisibis
School of Nisibis
The School of Nisibis , for a time absorbed into the School of Edessa, was an educational establishment in Nisibis, modern-day Turkey. It was an important spiritual center of the early Syriac Orthodox Church, and like Gundeshapur, is sometimes referred to as the world's first university. The...

 was a centre of Christian learning from the 4th century AD; Nalanda
Nalanda
Nālandā is the name of an ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India.The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It has been called "one of the...

 in India was a site of Buddhist higher learning from at least the 5th or 6th century AD; and the Moroccan University of Al-Karaouine was a centre of Islamic learning from the 10th century, as was Al-Azhar University
Al-Azhar University
Al-Azhar University is an educational institute in Cairo, Egypt. Founded in 970~972 as a madrasa, it is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world. It is the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt. In 1961 non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.It is...

 in Cairo.

Modern Western universities evolved from the monastic institutions and (especially) cathedral schools of Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 during the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

 (see, for instance, the University of Bologna
University of Bologna
The Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna is the oldest continually operating university in the world, the word 'universitas' being first used by this institution at its foundation. The true date of its founding is uncertain, but believed by most accounts to have been 1088...

, Paris University and Oxford University). From the beginning, Christian theological learning was therefore a central component in these institutions, as was the study of Church or Canon law
Canon law
Canon law is the body of laws & regulations made or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church , the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion of...

): universities played an important role in training people for ecclesiastical offices, in helping the church pursue the clarification and defence of its teaching, and in supporting the legal rights of the church over against secular rulers. At such universities, theological study was initially closely tied to the life of faith and of the church: it fed, and was fed by, practices of preaching, prayer
Prayer
Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

 and celebration of the Mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

.

During the High Middle Ages, theology was therefore the ultimate subject at universities, being named "The Queen of the Sciences" and serving as the capstone to the Trivium and Quadrivium
Quadrivium
The quadrivium comprised the four subjects, or arts, taught in medieval universities, after teaching the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" , and its use for the 4 subjects has been attributed to Boethius or Cassiodorus in the 6th century...

 that young men were expected to study. This meant that the other subjects (including Philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

) existed primarily to help with theological thought.

Christian theology’s preeminent place in the university began to be challenged during the European Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, especially in Germany. Other subjects gained in independence and prestige, and questions were raised about the place in institutions that were increasingly understood to be devoted to independent reason of a discipline that seemed to involve commitment to the authority of particular religious traditions.

Since the early nineteenth century, various different approaches have emerged in the West to theology as an academic discipline. Much of the debate concerning theology's place in the university or within a general higher education curriculum centres on whether theology's methods are appropriately theoretical and (broadly speaking) scientific or, on the other hand, whether theology requires a pre-commitment of faith by its practitioners, and whether such a commitment conflicts with academic freedom.

Theology and ministerial training


In some contexts, theology has been held to belong in institutions of higher education primarily as a form of professional training for Christian ministry. This was the basis on which Friedrich Schleiermacher, a liberal theologian, argued for the inclusion of theology in the new University of Berlin in 1810.

For instance, in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, theological faculties at state universities are typically tied to particular denominations, Protestant or Roman Catholic, and those faculties will offer denominationally bound (konfessionsgebunden) degrees, and have denominationally bound public posts amongst their faculty; as well as contributing ‘to the development and growth of Christian knowledge’ they ‘provide the academic training for the future clergy and teachers of religious instruction at German schools.’

In the U.S.A., several prominent colleges and universities were started in order to train Christian ministers. Harvard, Georgetown University
Georgetown University
Georgetown University is a private, Jesuit, research university whose main campus is in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Founded in 1789, it is the oldest Catholic university in the United States...

, Boston University
Boston University
Boston University is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States and one of Boston's largest employers...

, Yale
YALE
RapidMiner, formerly YALE , is an environment for machine learning, data mining, text mining, predictive analytics, and business analytics. It is used for research, education, training, rapid prototyping, application development, and industrial applications...

, and Princeton
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 all had the theological training of clergy as a primary purpose at their foundation.

Seminaries and bible colleges have continued this alliance between the academic study of theology and training for Christian ministry. There are, for instance, numerous prominent US examples, including The Catholic Theological Union
Catholic Theological Union
The Catholic Theological Union, located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, is one of the largest schools of theology in the world and trains men and women for lay and clerical ministry within the Roman Catholic Church...

 in Chicago, the Graduate Theological Union
Graduate Theological Union
The Graduate Theological Union ' is a consortium of nine independent theological schools, and eleven centers and affiliates. Eight of the theological schools are located in Berkeley, California. The GTU was founded in 1962. It maintains the Graduate Theological Union Library, one of the most...

 in Berkeley, Criswell College
Criswell College
Criswell College is a Dispensationalist Christian college and divinity school in Dallas, Texas. It is known for training students to teach and preach the Bible with emphasis on evangelism, the original languages, and Biblical inerrancy.-History:...

 in Dallas, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary , located in Louisville, Kentucky, is the oldest of the six seminaries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention . The seminary was founded in 1859, at Greenville, South Carolina. After being closed during the Civil War, it moved in 1877 to Louisville...

 in Louisville, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is an evangelical Christian seminary located in Deerfield, Illinois. TEDS is one of the largest seminaries in the world, enrolling more than 1,200 graduate students in professional and academic programs, including more than 150 in its PhD programs...

 in Deerfield, Illinois, and Dallas Theological Seminary
Dallas Theological Seminary
Dallas Theological Seminary is an evangelical theological seminary located in Dallas, Texas. It is known for popularizing the theological system known as Dispensationalism...

.
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.

Theology as an academic discipline in its own right


In some contexts, theology is pursued as an academic discipline without formal affiliation to any particular church (though individual members of staff may well have affiliations to different churches), and without ministerial training being a central part of their purpose. This is true, for instance, of many departments in the United Kingdom, including the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter
University of Exeter
The University of Exeter is a public university in South West England. It belongs to the 1994 Group, an association of 19 of the United Kingdom's smaller research-intensive universities....

, and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England...

. Traditional academic prizes, such as the University of Aberdeen
University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen, an ancient university founded in 1495, in Aberdeen, Scotland, is a British university. It is the third oldest university in Scotland, and the fifth oldest in the United Kingdom and wider English-speaking world...

's Lumsden and Sachs Fellowship
Lumsden and Sachs Fellowship
The Lumsden and Sachs Fellowship is a prize awarded by Christ's College, Aberdeen to the overall, most distinguished graduate of the year having studied in the Department of Divinity and Religious Studies of the University of Aberdeen....

, tend to be awarded for performance in theology (or divinity
Divinity (academic discipline)
Divinity is the study of Christian and other theology and ministry at a school, divinity school, university, or seminary. The term is sometimes a synonym for theology as an academic, speculative pursuit, and sometimes is used for the study of applied theology and ministry to make a distinction...

 as it is known at Aberdeen) and religious studies.

Theology and religious studies


In some contemporary contexts, a distinction is made between theology, which is seen as involving some level of commitment to the claims of the religious tradition being studied, and religious studies
Religious studies
Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives.While theology attempts to...

, which is not. If contrasted with theology in this way, religious studies is normally seen as requiring the bracketing of the question of the truth of the religious traditions studied, and as involving the study of the historical or contemporary practices or ideas those traditions using intellectual tools and frameworks that are not themselves specifically tied to any religious tradition, and that are normally understood to be neutral or secular. In contexts where 'religious studies' in this sense is the focus, the primary forms of study are likely to include:
  • Anthropology of religion
    Anthropology of religion
    The anthropology of religion involves the study of religious institutions in relation to other social institutions, and the comparison of religious beliefs and practices across cultures.-History:...

    ,
  • Comparative religion
    Comparative religion
    Comparative religion is a field of religious studies that analyzes the similarities and differences of themes, myths, rituals and concepts among the world's religions...

    ,
  • History of religions,
  • Philosophy of religion
    Philosophy of religion
    Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy concerned with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious language and texts, and the relationship of religion and science...

    ,
  • Psychology of religion
    Psychology of religion
    Psychology of religion consists of the application of psychological methods and interpretive frameworks to religious traditions, as well as to both religious and irreligious individuals. The science attempts to accurately describe the details, origins, and uses of religious beliefs and behaviours...

    , and
  • Sociology of religion
    Sociology of religion
    The sociology of religion concerns the role of religion in society: practices, historical backgrounds, developments and universal themes. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history...

    .

Theology and religious studies are sometimes seen as being in tension; they are sometimes held to coexist without serious tension; and it is sometimes denied that there is as clear a boundary between them as the brief description here suggests.

Criticism


Whether or not reasoned discussion about the divine is possible has long been a point of contention. As early as the fifth century BC, Protagoras
Protagoras
Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of virtue...

, who is reputed to have been exiled from Athens because of his agnosticism about the existence of the gods, said that "Concerning the gods I cannot know either that they exist or that they do not exist, or what form they might have, for there is much to prevent one's knowing: the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of man's life."

In his two part work The Age of Reason
The Age of Reason
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolutionary Thomas Paine, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible, the central sacred text of...

, the American revolutionary Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

 wrote, "The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing."

The atheist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach sought to dissolve theology in his work Principles of the Philosophy of the Future: "The task of the modern era was the realization and humanization of God – the transformation and dissolution of theology into anthropology." This mirrored his earlier work The Essence of Christianity
The Essence of Christianity
The Essence of Christianity is a book written by Ludwig Feuerbach and first published in 1841. It explains Feuerbach's philosophy and critique of religion. Feuerbach's theory of alienation would later be used by Karl Marx.- Influence :...

 (pub. 1841), for which he was banned from teaching in Germany, in which he had said that theology was a "web of contradictions and delusions".

In his essay "Critique of Ethics and Theology" the logical-positivist A.J. Ayer sought to show that all statements about the divine are nonsensical and any divine-attribute is unprovable. He wrote: "It is now generally admitted, at any rate by philosophers, that the existence of a being having the attributes which define the god of any non-animistic religion cannot be demonstratively proved... [A]ll utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical."

In his essay, "Against Theology", the philosopher Walter Kaufmann sought to differentiate theology from religion in general. "Theology, of course, is not religion; and a great deal of religion is emphatically anti-theological... An attack on theology, therefore, should not be taken as necessarily involving an attack on religion. Religion can be, and often has been, untheological or even anti-theological." However, Kaufmann found that "Christianity is inescapably a theological religion".