Theology is the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university, seminary or school of divinity.
- Definition 1
- History of the term 2
Various religions 3
- Analogous discourses 3.1
Theology as an academic discipline 4
- Theology and ministerial training 4.1
- Theology as an academic discipline in its own right 4.2
- Theology and religious studies 4.3
- Criticism by philosophers 5.1
- Critics of theology as an academic discipline 5.2
- General criticism 5.3
- See also 6
- References 7
- External links 8
Augustine of Hippo defined the Latin equivalent, theologia, as "reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity"; Richard Hooker defined "theology" in English as "the science of things divine". The term can, however, be used for a variety of different disciplines or fields of study. Theologians use various forms of analysis and argument (philosophical, ethnographic, historical, spiritual and others) to help understand, explain, test, critique, defend or promote any of myriad religious topics. Theology might be undertaken to help the theologian:
- understand more truly their own religious tradition,
- understand more truly another religious tradition,
- make comparisons among religious traditions,
- defend or justify a religious tradition,
- facilitate reform of a particular tradition,
- assist in the propagation 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.
- challenge (ex. biblical criticism) or oppose (ex. irreligion) a religious tradition or the religious world-view.
History of the term
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Theology translates into English from the Greek theologia (θεολογία) which derived from Τheos (Θεός), meaning "God," and -logia (-λογία), meaning "utterances, sayings, or oracles" (a word related to logos [λόγος], meaning "word, discourse, 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 and medieval Christian usage, though the English term has now spread beyond Christian contexts.
- Greek theologia (θεολογία) was used with the meaning "discourse on god" in the fourth century BC by Plato in The Republic, Book ii, Ch. 18. Aristotle divided theoretical philosophy into mathematike, physike and theologike, with the latter corresponding roughly to metaphysics, which, for Aristotle, included discourse on the nature of the divine.
- Drawing on Greek Stoic sources, the Latin writer Varro 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 manuscripts, in the heading to the book of 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 and Augustine, followed Varro's threefold usage, though Augustine also used the term more simply to mean 'reasoning or discussion concerning the deity'
- In Patristic 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.
- 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 Latin sources, the term came to denote the rational study of the doctrines of the Christian religion, or (more precisely) the academic discipline 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's Sentences, a book of extracts from the Church Fathers).
- In the Renaissance, especially with Florentine Platonist apologists of Dante's poetics, the distinction between "poetic theology" (theologia poetica) and "revealed" or Biblical theology serves as steppingstone for a revival of philosophy as independent of theological authority.
- 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.
- 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."
It is seen by some to be a term only appropriate to the study of all religions that worship a supposed Hierology" has been proposed as an alternative, more generic term.)
Some academic inquiries within Buddhism, dedicated to the rational investigation of a Buddhist understanding of the world, prefer the designation Buddhist philosophy 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, there is a solid and ancient tradition of philosophical speculation on the nature of the universe, of God (termed "Brahman", Paramatma and Bhagavan in some schools of Hindu thought) and of the Atman (soul). The Sanskrit word for the various schools of Hindu philosophy is Darshana (meaning "view" or "viewpoint"). Vaishnava theology has been a subject of study for many devotees, philosophers and scholars in India 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 and Bhaktivedanta College. See also: Krishnology
Islamic theological discussion that parallels Christian theological discussion is named "Kalam"; the Islamic analogue of Christian theological discussion would more properly be the investigation and elaboration of Islamic law, or "Fiqh". "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, the historical absence of political authority has meant that most theological reflection has happened within the context of the Jewish community and synagogue, 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.
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 instance, Taxila was an early centre of Vedic learning, possible from the 6th century BC or earlier; the Platonic Academy founded in Athens in the 4th century BC seems to have included theological themes in its subject matter; the Chinese Taixue delivered Confucian teaching from the 2nd century BC; the School of Nisibis was a centre of Christian learning from the 4th century AD; Nalanda 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 in Cairo.
Modern Western universities evolved from the monastic institutions and (especially) cathedral schools of Western Europe during the High Middle Ages (see, for instance, the University of Bologna, 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: 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 and celebration of the Mass.
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 that young men were expected to study. This meant that the other subjects (including Philosophy) existed primarily to help with theological thought.
Christian theology’s preeminent place in the university began to be challenged during the European Enlightenment, 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, 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 United States, several prominent colleges and universities were started in order to train Christian ministers.
- "Theology" on Encyclopædia Britannica
- "theology". Wordnetweb.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2012-11-11.
- City of God Book VIII. i. "de divinitate rationem sive sermonem"
- 'Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity'', 3.8.11"'" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-11.
- McGrath, Alister. 1998. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. pp. 1–8.
- See, e.g., Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology 2nd ed.(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004)
- See, e.g., Michael S. Kogan, 'Toward a Jewish Theology of Christianity' in The Journal of Ecumenical Studies 32.1 (Winter 1995), 89–106; available online at 
- See, e.g., David Burrell, Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994)
- See, e.g., John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (New York: Harper Collins, 2001)
- See, e.g., Duncan Dormor et al (eds), Anglicanism, the Answer to Modernity (London: Continuum, 2003)
- See, e.g., Timothy Gorringe, Crime, Changing Society and the Churches Series (London:SPCK, 2004)
- See e.g., Anne Hunt Overzee's gloss upon the view of Ricœur (1913–2005) as to the role and work of 'theologian': "Paul Ricœur speaks of the theologian as a hermeneut, whose task is to interpret the multivalent, rich metaphors arising from the symbolic bases of tradition so that the symbols may 'speak' once again to our existential situation." Anne Hunt Overzee The body divine: the symbol of the body in the works of Teilhard de Chardin and Rāmānuja, Cambridge studies in religious traditions 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), ISBN 0-521-38516-4, ISBN 978-0-521-38516-9, p.4; Source:  (accessed: Monday 5 April 2010)
- The accusative plural of the neuter noun λόγιον; cf. Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2nd ed., (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 476. For examples of λόγια in the New Testament, cf. Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2; 1 Peter 4:11.
- Langland, Piers Plowman A ix 136
- Greek-English Lexicon'Liddell and Scott's '.
- , Book Epsilon.MetaphysicsAristotle,
- As cited by Augustine, City of God, Book 6, ch.5.
- This title appears quite late in the manuscript tradition for the Book of Revelation: the two earliest citations provided in David Aune's Word Biblical Commentary 52: Revelation 1–5 (Dallas: Word Books, 1997) are both 11th century – Gregory 325/Hoskier 9 and Gregory 1006/Hoskier 215; the title was however in circulation by the 6th century – see Allen Brent ‘John as theologos: the imperial mysteries and the Apocalypse’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 75 (1999), 87–102.
- See Augustine, City of God, Book 6, ch.5. and Tertullian, , Book 2Ad Nationes, ch.1.
- Gregory of Nazianzus uses the word in this sense in his fourth-century Theological Orations; after his death, he was called "the Theologian" at the Council of Chalcedon and thereafter in Eastern Orthodoxy—either because his Orationswere seen as crucial examples of this kind of theology, or in the sense that he was (like the author of the Book of Revelation) seen as one who was an inspired preacher of the words of God. (It is unlikely to mean, as claimed in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers introduction to his Theological Orations, that he was a defender of the divinity of Christ the Word.) See John McGukin, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001), p.278.
- Hugh of St. Victor, Commentariorum in Hierarchiam Coelestem, Expositio to Book 9: "theologia, id est, divina Scriptura" (in Migne's Patrologia Latina vol.175, 1091C).
- "Boethius, On the Holy Trinity" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-11.
- G.R. Evans, Old Arts and New Theology: The Beginnings of Theology as an Academic Discipline (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 31–32.
- See the title of Peter Abelard's Theologia Christiana, and, perhaps most famously, of Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica
- See the 'note' in the Oxford English Dictionary entry for 'theology'.
- See, for example, Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, part 1 (1871).
- Oxford English Dictionary, sense 1
- Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 edition, 'Theology' sense 1(d), and 'Theological' sense A.3; the earliest reference given is from the 1959 Times Literary Supplement 5 June 329/4: "The 'theological' approach to Soviet Marxism ... proves in the long run unsatisfactory."
- E.g., by Count E. Goblet d'Alviella in 1908; see Alan H. Jones, Independence and Exegesis: The Study of Early Christianity in the Work of Alfred Loisy (1857–1940), Charles Guignebert (1857 [i.e. 1867]–1939), and Maurice Goguel (1880–1955) (Mohr Siebeck, 1983), p.194.
- Jose Ignacio Cabezon, 'Buddhist Theology in the Academy' in Roger Jackson and John J. Makransky's Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 25–52.
- See Anna S. King, 'For Love of Krishna: Forty Years of Chanting' in Graham Dwyer and Richard J. Cole, The Hare Krishna Movement: Forty Years of Chant and Change (London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), pp. 134–167: p. 163, which describes developments in both institutions, and speaks of Hare Krishna devotees 'studying Vaishnava theology and practice in mainstream universities.'
- L. Gardet, 'Ilm al-kalam' in The Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. P.J. Bearman et al (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1999).
- Randi Rashkover, 'A Call for Jewish Theology', Crosscurrents, Winter 1999, starts by saying, "Frequently the claim is made that, unlike Christianity, Judaism is a tradition of deeds and maintains no strict theological tradition. Judaism's fundamental beliefs are inextricable from their halakhic observance (that set of laws revealed to Jews by God), embedded and presupposed by that way of life as it is lived and learned."
- Timothy Reagan, Non-Western Educational Traditions: Alternative Approaches to Educational Thought and Practice, 3rd edition (Lawrence Erlbaum: 2004), p.185 and Sunna Chitnis, 'Higher Education' in Veena Das (ed), The Oxford India Companion to Sociology and Social Anthropology (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 1032–1056: p.1036 suggest an early date; a more cautious appraisal is given in Hartmut Scharfe, Education in Ancient India (Leiden: Brill, 2002), pp. 140–142.
- John Dillon, The Heirs of Plato: A Study in the Old Academy, 347–274BC (Oxford: OUP, 2003)
- Xinzhong Yao, An Introduction to Confucianism (Cambridge: CUP, 2000), p.50.
- Adam H. Becker, The Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); see also The School of Nisibis at Nestorian.org
- Hartmut Scharfe, Education in Ancient India (Leiden: Brill, 2002), p.149.
- The Al-Qarawiyyin mosque was founded in 859 AD, but 'While instruction at the mosque must have begun almost from the beginning, it is only ... by the end of the tenth-century that its reputation as a center of learning in both religious and secular sciences ... must have begun to wax.' Y. G-M. Lulat, A History of African Higher Education from Antiquity to the Present: A Critical Synthesis (Greenwood, 2005), p.71
- Andrew Beattie, Cairo: A Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p.101.
- Walter Rüegg, A History of the University in Europe, vol.1, ed. H. de Ridder-Symoens, Universities in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
- Walter Rüegg, “Themes” in Walter Rüegg, A History of the University in Europe, vol.1, ed. H. de Ridder-Symoens, Universities in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 3–34: pp. 15–16.
- See Gavin D'Costa, Theology in the Public Square: Church, Academy and Nation (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), ch.1.
- Thomas Albert Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p.56: '[P]hilosophy, the scientia scientarum in one sense, was, in another, portrayed as the humble "handmaid of theology".'
- See Thomas Albert Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006):
- See Thomas Albert Howard’s work already cited, and his discussion of, for instance, Immanuel Kant’s Conflict of the Faculties (1798), and J.G. Fichte’s Deduzierter Plan einer zu Berlin errichtenden höheren Lehranstalt (1807).
- See Thomas Albert Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Hans W. Frei, Types of Christian Theology, ed. William C. Placher and George Hunsinger (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); Gavin D'Costa, Theology in the Public Square: Church, Academy and Nation (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005); James W. McClendon, Systematic Theology 3: Witness (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2000), ch.10: 'Theology and the University'.
- Friedrich Schleiermacher, Brief Outline of Theology as a Field of Study, 2nd edition, tr. Terrence N. Tice (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1990); Thomas Albert Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ch.14.
- Reinhard G. Kratz, 'Academic Theology in Germany', Religion 32.2 (2002): pp.113–116.
- 'The primary purpose of Harvard College was, accordingly, the training of clergy.’ But ‘the school served a dual purpose, training men for other professions as well.’ George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p.41.
- Georgetown was a Jesuit institution founded in significant part to provide a pool of educated Catholics some of whom who could go on to full seminary training for the priesthood. See Robert Emmett Curran, Leo J. O’Donovan, The Bicentennial History of Georgetown University: From Academy to University 1789–1889 (Georgetown: Georgetown University Press, 1961), Part One.
- Boston University emerged from the Boston School of Theology, a Methodist seminary. Boston University Information Center, 'History – The Early Years' 
- Yale’s original 1701 charter speaks of the purpose being 'Sincere Regard & Zeal for upholding & Propagating of the Christian Protestant Religion by a succession of Learned & Orthodox' and that 'Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences (and) through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.' 'The Charter of the Collegiate School, October 1701' in Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Documentary History of Yale University, Under the Original Charter of the Collegiate School of Connecticut 1701–1745 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1916); available online at 
- At Princeton, one of the founders (probably Ebeneezer Pemberton) wrote in c.1750, ‘Though our great Intention was to erect a seminary for educating Ministers of the Gospel, yet we hope it will be useful in other learned professions – Ornaments of the State as Well as the Church. Therefore we propose to make the plan of Education as extensive as our Circumstances will admit.’ Quoted in Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion (Princeton University Press, 1978).
- See 'The CTU Story' at Catholic Theological Union website (Retrieved 16 March 2013): 'lay men and women, religious sisters and brothers, and seminarians have studied alongside one another, preparing to serve God’s people.'
- See 'About the GTU' at The Graduate Theological Union website (Retrieved 29 August 2009): 'dedicated to educating students for teaching, research, ministry, and service.'
- See 'About Us' at the Criswell College website (Retrieved 29 August 2009): 'Criswell College exists to serve the churches of our Lord Jesus Christ by developing God-called men and women in the Word (intellectually and academically) and by the Word (professionally and spiritually) for authentic ministry leadership.'
- See the 'Mission Statement' at the SBTS website (Retrieved 29 August 2009): 'the mission of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is ... to be a servant of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by training, educating, and preparing ministers of the gospel for more faithful service.'
- See 'About Trinity Evangelical Divinity School' at their website (Retrieved 29 August 2009): 'Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) is a learning community dedicated to the development of servant leaders for the global church, leaders who are spiritually, biblically, and theologically prepared to engage contemporary culture for the sake of Christ's kingdom.'
- See 'About DTS' at the Dallas Theological Seminary website (Retrieved 29 August 2009): 'At Dallas, the scholarly study of biblical and related subjects is inseparably fused with the cultivation of the spiritual life. All this is designed to prepare students to communicate the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God.'
- See the 'Why Study Theology?' page at the University of Exeter (Retrieved 1 September 2009), and the 'About us' page at the University of Leeds.
- See, for example, Donald Wiebe, The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2000).
- See K.L. Knoll, 'The Ethics of Being a Theologian', Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 July 2009.
- See David Ford, 'Theology and Religious Studies for a Multifaith and Secular Society' in D.L. Bird and Simon G. Smith (eds), Theology and Religious Studies in Higher Education (London: Continuum, 2009).
- Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
- Protagoras, fr.4, from On the Gods, tr. Michael J. O'Brien in The Older Sophists, ed. Rosamund Kent Sprague (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1972), 20, emphasis added. Cf. Carol Poster, "Protagoras (fl. 5th C. BCE)" in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; accessed: 6 October 2008.
- The philosophical works of Lord Bolingbroke Volume 3, p. 396
- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, from "The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine", ed. Philip S. Foner, (New York, The Citadel Press, 1945) p. 601.
- Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, trans. Manfred H. Vogel, (Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, 1986) p5
- George Eliot, (Amherst, New York, Prometheus Books, 1989) Preface, XVI.
- A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (New York, Dover Publications, 1936) pp. 114–115.
- Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic, (Garden City, New York, Anchor Books, 1963) pp. 114, 127–128, 130.
- Gerard Loughlin. "Theology in the university". Cco.cambridge.org. Retrieved 2012-11-11.
- Why am I reading theology?
- "Letters: Theology has no place in a university". Richarddawkins.net. 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2012-11-11.
- "The Emptiness of Theology". Richarddawkins.net. 2006-05-10. Retrieved 2012-11-11.
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Mark Twain stated that several mutually incompatible religions claimed to be the true religion and that people cut the throats of others for following a different theology.
Robert G. Ingersoll stated that when theologians had power the majority of people lived in hovels while a privileged few had palaces and cathedrals. In Ingersoll's opinion science rather than theology improved people's lives. Ingersoll maintained further that trained theologians reason no better than a person who assumes the devil must exist because pictures resemble the devil so exactly.
Charles Bradlaugh believed theology prevented human beings achieving liberty. Bradlaugh noted theologians of his time stated that modern scientific research contradicted sacred scriptures therefore the scriptures must be wrong.
Richard Dawkins, an outspoken member of the New Atheism movement, believes that theology is not a suitable subject for a university because it is not scientific, saying that "a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today's universities." Science enabled spectacular achievements ranging from space exploration through to development of vaccines and other life saving treatments for infections while, in Dawkins' opinion, theology has achieved nothing.
Jerry Coyne considers theology to be "beliefs that have no basis in fact", suggests that theologians are deliberately obscure and baffling, and queries how they know reality corresponds to what they say and how they know they personally are closer to understanding reality than other theologians. He feels theology confuses ordinary people.
Critics dating back to the 18th century have questioned the suitability of theology as an academic discipline and in the 21st century criticism continues.
Critics of theology as an academic discipline
Walter Kaufmann the philosopher, in his essay "Against Theology", 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".
A.J. Ayer the former logical-positivist, sought to show in his essay "Critique of Ethics and Theology" 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."
Ludwig Feuerbach, the atheist philosopher 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 (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".
Thomas Paine the American revolutionary, wrote in his two part work The Age of Reason, "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."
Lord Bolingbroke, an English politician and political philosopher wrote in his political works his views on theology, "Theology is in fault not religion. Theology is a science that may justly be compared to the Box of Pandora. Many good things lie uppermost in it; but many evil lie under them, and scatter plagues and desolation throughout the world."
Protagoras, as early as the fifth century BC, 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."
Whether or not reasoned discussion about the divine is possible has long been a point of contention.
Criticism by philosophers
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.
- Anthropology of religion
- Comparative religion
- History of religions
- Philosophy of religion
- Psychology of religion
- Sociology of religion
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. By contrast religious studies is normally seen as requiring that the question of the truth or falsehood of the religious traditions studied is kept outside its field. Religious studies involves 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:
Theology and religious studies
In some contexts, scholars pursue theology 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 focussing on ministerial training. This applies, for instance, to many university departments in the United Kingdom, including the Faculties of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford, the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. Traditional academic prizes, such as the University of Aberdeen's Lumsden and Sachs Fellowship, tend to acknowledge performance in theology (or divinity as it is known at Aberdeen) and in religious studies.
Theology as an academic discipline in its own right
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 Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Criswell College in Dallas, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, Dallas Theological Seminary, and The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.