Problems in the Big Tent

Photo of old curcus tent with two peaksOn social media yesterday a variety of people posted a link to a recent First Things blog post by a theology professor at Nortre Dame who made the argument that religions other than Christianity do not have theologies.

For although “[n]on-Christian piety is real and profound,” or so she claims, she defines the term theology in such a way, taking into account it’s so-called pre-modern usage, as to exclude anyone but Christians from having it. She writes:

Non-Christian piety is touching, because it does innocently and naively touch on the reality of God. The piety of pagans is like the love of virginal girls, who have yet to kiss the Bridegroom and yet fervently desire Him.

Her conclusion? Continue reading

For Members Only

I recall, in the Fall of 2015, a job ad appearing on our main professional online site for a pastor for a church. Then, not long after, I saw an ad there for someone to co-write a “15-20 page paper … on the theology and praxis of the engineering profession for it’s Christian members.” Both times I wrote our association’s leadership questioning why our site was judged a relevant place for such a listing. And now, not long ago, news made the rounds of social media of an ad for a research projects coordinator for the Museum of the Bible. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 8: Diverse Approaches

journalsThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

The seventh bullet point concerns the Academy’s common description of itself as being devoted to religious studies and theology, for it reads as follows:

diverseapproachesBut what exactly are these guiding principles that rule scholarship in or out — in a word, what makes it “responsible”? To rephrase: what might irresponsible scholarship look like? For with the inclusion of the word “may” — as in “responsible scholarship may be conducted ‘both from within and outside…'” [emphasis mine] — I assume they’re entertaining that, in some cases, it may not.

So under what conditions might scholarship carried out from within a so-called community of belief and practice not?

Working within the bounds of the document, I’m not sure how to answer this, for so far, as several of the previous posts have made plain, I’ve only found undefined terms with no plainly stated criteria to adjudicate, say, a fair from an unfair interpretation. Which is pretty ironic, as I’ve also said already, for here we have a statement on research responsibilities that fails to define any of its own technical terms or make its own presuppositions explicit… So, much like the eventual downfall of the positivists’ verificationalist criterion, I’m not sure this document lives up to its own ambitions. And now, halfway into it, we find a bullet point that cites the document itself as providing clarification on one of the most foundation issues of our entire field. But it turns out to be rather Kafkaesque, if you think about it, because we here have a document that justifies a stance on a crucial issue by citing things it doesn’t actually say. Continue reading