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viewpoint

A case for Theology

| Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It would be a great shame if Notre Dame were to drop its theology requirement.

Theology should be a requirement for students because education is about much more than getting the particular skills a student needs for his or her career path. All students are required to take math and science classes, not because these courses will be advantageous for their careers (God knows most of us do not remember Taylor Series in calculus or electron orbitals from chemistry, nor do most of us use them), but because they help the student have a more developed understanding of the world. Most departments also require foreign language skills for the same reason. It is the same with theology — of the seven billion people in the world, nearly two billion are Christian (and nearly half of that number are Catholic), over one billion are Muslim and hundreds of millions are Hindu or Buddhist (to say nothing of the millions of people of smaller-sized religious traditions). With religion still playing such a prominent role in our global world (and the celebrity of our current Pope is good evidence of that), the University would be doing a disservice to its students by graduating them without any knowledge of their own faith or the faith of others.

I understand many parents believe that theology is a waste of time and unimportant in their children’s education. For that matter, so is football (and God knows Notre Dame students spend far more time watching/tailgating/celebrating football games than they do studying theology), but the Notre Dame experience would not be the same without it. College is not a wholly utilitarian experience — the point is not to get only what is needed and no further. This is, essentially, the difference between being an active student at Notre Dame versus participating in a correspondence degree program. Theology, like football, dorm life, freshman orientation, trips to the Grotto and midnight drummers’ circle, is not essential for career training, but it is a unique and important element of the Notre Dame experience.

A good theology course (or two) also helps students to better understand their own beliefs (theistic or non). Whether a student is Catholic, atheist, Lutheran, Buddhist, agnostic, Jewish, Hindu or any other faith tradition, he or she gains a deeper insight into the traditions and beliefs that are at the center of the Catholic Church (it may be noted as well that not every theology class is a Catholic theology class either). The student who is doubtful regarding her faith, just as much as the student who is a firm believer, is better for having a deeper appreciation of just what it is that she doubts. Many of my own friends from Notre Dame have told me that theology courses made them very interested in attending to their own spirituality, whether or not they concluded anything definite.

Finally, it should be noted that the University of Notre Dame, if it can be said to be the Catholic flagship university of the United States, needs to fully support its own theology department. The Catholic identity of the university, so proudly called upon in defaming the University’s invitation to President Obama in 2009, is at risk. Theology is how the church deepens its understanding of the human relationship with God, and Catholic theology is the particular way of expressing what Catholic identity, an identity rooted in an understanding of our divine createdness, really is. If Catholic identity is really of concern for the university, then it is vital to keep that identity in the curriculum.

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Levi Checketts

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  • Leonard DeLorenzo

    Excellent and important letter, Mr. Checketts. Thank you!

  • Tim

    It is more likely that Notre Dame would eliminate its football program than drop its theology requirement. Stop worrying.

    • Leonard DeLorenzo

      With all due respect, your comment is wholly false. This is more than a real possibility at the moment.

      • Nemo

        Agree.

    • Anon1993

      I believe the university will not drop the theo requirement. Think of all the money they will lose from its dear righteous Catholic conservatives.

      What I think some people forget that the religious experience on ND’s campus is changing, but far from disappearing. The students are taking a special interest in understanding their Catholic faith, but want to so so with a better understanding of their world. The current Theo requirements are limited in their teaching and rather than emphasize the understanding of doctrine, it’s become a memorization of the study bible. That is not fun.

      What we crave is understanding our faith in conjunction with others, but also seperate of the Judeo-Christian bias. We want to consider alternative stories and understand how they came to be in order to understand our personal stories.

      And why can’t we take 2 second theo style courses than foundations? That is the core of the problem. The foundations course is inadequate and a total turn off to theology as it relates to our world today.

      • wv2004

        What you “believe” may happen to the Theo requirement has no basis in fact. If you think they aren’t really considering it, you’re wrong. You are also presuming that what you want is what all the other students want, too, and I don’t think that’s the case. If you’re saying that the first Theo course needs to be reformed, then I for sure agree, but when you say that you want to study Theology “seperate of the Judeo-Christian bias” then I think it shows 1) that you don’t understand why Theology is in the Core in the first place, and 2) that you really do need a good Theo course. It sucks that it sounds like the one you got missed the mark.

        • Peter Biava

          brilliantly said.

      • bethanyopoly

        I agree with wv2004. I loved my foundations course and wanted to take more Theology courses. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but you don’t speak for all students. Why would a Catholic university mostly teach theology “separate of the Judeo-Christian bias”? Besides, 80% of the students are Catholic, and the Jewish+Christian percentage would be much higher.

  • Nemo

    All fine points, well expressed. However, I believe that there is an even deeper point. The Church and our faith are means for the eternal salvation of our souls. Time at the university is limited; time in a career is limited. Damnation or salvation — each person will experience one or the other — is eternal. As a Catholic university, should not the university promote the deepening and enriching of students’ Catholic faith and the understanding of other faiths as part of aiding the students on their paths toward salvation?

    • João Pedro Santos

      “The Church and our faith are means for the eternal salvation of our souls.”
      I stopped reading here. A lot of students aren’t Catholic (or even Christian), you know?

      • Nemo

        @Joao: Then I might ask why those students would want to attend an ostensibly Catholic university. If they decide to come to a Catholic university, they should expect to receive some instruction in Catholicism. Certainly many other universities exist if they don’t want that. And if they choose to come anyway, understanding the Catholic faith and other faiths is valuable. Beyond that, there’s even the chance for conversion.

        • João Pedro Santos

          As far as I’m concerned, theology is just one of many majors in Notre Dame. And if someone wants to convert themselves to Catholicism, that won’t be influenced by coercing them to take two theology courses. In fact, that seems to have the opposite effect.

          • Punta Venyage

            What do you find so cognitively dissonant about a Catholic university requiring courses on Catholic theology?

  • Guest

    Very well said. Theology is crucial for students to gain an understanding of faith (or lack of). It’s also crucial to our identity as a Catholic institution, ESPECIALLY if we are going to continue passing down the teachings and the educational lifestyle of the Congregation of Holy Cross to our future generations of students.

    The real root of the problem, however, that is causing students and parents to have mixed views of the theology requirements is the level of discretion given to teachers. There is too much discretion handed to the teachers. Since all teachers have their different teaching styles and skills, the discretion combines with these different styles and produce multiple different experiences for students taking Foundations; each section is a completely different experience. Some can be completely amazing and interesting, and some can be more dull and boring.

    One of Notre Dame’s academic missions is to instill an appreciation for theology and the purposes the subject serves in our lives. However, not everyone is gaining the appreciation for theology as a science of the scriptures, because everyone is experiencing the class in different ways.

    I’m not saying that it is the fault of the teachers, and I’m not saying that the teachers should be given no discretion when teaching their sections. In fact, I don’t know of the best solution to fix this entirely. But, what I AM saying is that the department should consider looking into their rationale and what effects their classes currently have on students. Hopefully, they will be able to find a way to revise the ways theology is taught in order to improve every student’s experience when taking their theology requirements.

    • Leonard DeLorenzo

      A fine point…What you are pointing to here grows exponentially when the responsibility for teaching theology gets taken out of the department, is defined by “learning goals” rather than the discipline, and a committee overseeing a broader “Catholic studies” approach tries to negotiate with faculty across the college. Theology is a defined discipline that is central to a Catholic university and indeed to the liberal arts as such. Reform should occur within the discipline and with those whose duty it is to teach theology, rather than in abstraction from the discipline in dispersed form. So, in short, I think your point is important and even more important once the possibility of removing the responsibility from the department/discipline is proposed.

  • Ernesto Aveledo

    Very well said. Theology is crucial for students to gain an understanding of faith (or lack of). It’s also crucial to our identity as a Catholic institution, ESPECIALLY if we are going to continue passing down the teachings and the educational lifestyle of the Congregation of Holy Cross to our future generations of students.

    The real root of the problem, however, that is causing students and parents to have mixed views of the theology requirements is the different levels of experiences for each different section. The rationale for Foundations states that discretion is given to the teachers on how they teach the section. Since all teachers have their different teaching styles and skills, the discretion combines with these different styles and produce multiple different experiences for students taking Foundations; each section is a completely different experience. Some can be completely amazing and interesting, and some can be more dull and boring.

    One of Notre Dame’s academic missions is to instill an appreciation for theology and the purposes the subject serves in our lives. However, not everyone is gaining the appreciation for theology as a science of the scriptures, because everyone is experiencing the class in different ways.

    I’m not saying that it is the fault of the teachers, and I’m not saying that the teachers should be given no discretion when teaching their sections. In fact, I don’t know of the best solution to fix this entirely. But, what I AM saying is that the department should consider looking into their rationale and what effects their classes currently have on students. Hopefully, they will be able to find a way to revise the ways theology is taught in order to improve every student’s experience when taking their theology requirements.

    • Nathan

      That’s going to be the case though in EVERY subject. I took two poli sci courses as a freshman: one which I count among the best classes I’ve taken here, the other being the only class I’ve ever dropped. Disparity in teaching effectiveness has no bearing on the value of the requirement.

    • Leonard DeLorenzo

      A fine point. What you are pointing to here grows exponentially when the responsibility for teaching theology gets taken out of the department, is defined by “learning goals” rather than the discipline, and a committee overseeing a broader “Catholic studies” approach tries to negotiate with faculty across the college. Theology is a defined discipline that is central to a Catholic university and indeed to the liberal arts as such. Reform should occur within the discipline and with those whose duty it is to teach theology, rather than in abstraction from the discipline in dispersed form. So, in short, I think your point is important and even more important once the possibility of removing the responsibility from the department/discipline is proposed.

  • Nathan

    Absolutely agree. Religion is a large force in the world, and more than significant enough to justify the requirement!

    • João Pedro Santos

      “Religion is a large force in the world”
      Not always for good reasons, though.

      • Mr. Pockets

        Well sure, but the bad reasons make it all the more important to understand it

        • João Pedro Santos

          Sure, but that depends on whether the course is talk is an unbiased way or not.

  • Peter Biava

    i feel like all the “pro-theos” are missing the point here. The University can still have a top ranked theology program and maintain a catholic identity without an official REQUIREMENT of two-semesters of Theology….

    My point is that modernizing the graduation requirements in no way affects the quality of the institution or the quality of the people who choose to go there. nor does it affect the quality of the Theology program at ND.

    • Leonard DeLorenzo

      The problem with this view is that what you call “modernizing” is actually a “secularizing” paradigm for an institution of higher education. This very move is the one that all of the once-religious institutions followed, where theology was removed from the core, put out into a divinity school or something of the like, so that the institution as a whole could “modernize” from within. This also has to do with the integrity of the disciplines themselves. I would be happy to discuss this point in greater detail with you if you would like. Feel free to email me directly at delorenzo.2@nd.edu.

      • João Pedro Santos

        Using “secularizing” as bad word… I stopped reading there.

        • Leonard DeLorenzo

          Thanks for your important contribution.

          • João Pedro Santos

            How should I contribute better when someone supports theocracy?

          • Leonard DeLorenzo

            1. Since we are not discussing forms of government, the question of theocracy does not apply here.

            2. You seem to be making broad, unfounded assumptions about what I am advocating.

            3. As a point of fact, I did not use “secularizing” as a “bad word”. I used it as a more accurate description than “modernizing” for the proposal that had been floated for the core curriculum.

            4. Since the issue of a core curriculum at a Catholic university necessarily relates to theories of Catholic education, the question of the centrality of theology to the curriculum is apropos. You may certainly argue against the wisdom or legitimacy of Catholic (higher) education, but Notre Dame explicitly seeks to provide such an education and so if we are going to debate what is proper to a Catholic education, then secularizing trends are part of the discussion. You may contribute better either by offering a theory of Catholic education or by making the case as to why Notre Dame should not seek to offer a Catholic education. If you choose to go with the former, then please specify how your theory of Catholic education supports the removal of theology from the curriculum.

            5. If you are a member of the campus community, I would be happy to discuss and even debate these matters with you in person. That would be a healthy form of dialogue. Feel free to email me at delorenzo.2@nd.edu.

    • Ricky Diaz

      Dropping the Theology requirements will not make our University more “modern”, it will however take away something that makes the undergrad experience in ND so special. To study faith at such a challenging and profound level is something not done in any University. Being exposed to it changed my life, it challenged all of my preconceived views. It made me doubt my Catholic faith, and in the end strengthened my own, now more profound, sense of Faith.

  • João Pedro Santos

    Comparing Theology with Math or Science… Seriously?

  • Punta Venyage

    Example of idiocy and/or narcissism:

    *Non-Catholic student goes to Catholic University*

    *Non-Catholic complains that they have to learn about Catholicism*

    • João Pedro Santos
      • Punta Venyage

        Ok , here is a syllogism if the above was ridiculing

        1. Notre Dame is a Catholic University with a mission to promote Catholic teaching in all areas of knowledge.

        2. The university should be consistent with its Catholic mission.

        3. Notre Dame’s theology requirements help students become much more knowledgeable about Catholicism and are consistent with the university mission.

        4. Removing the theology requirements would detract from Notre Dame’s Catholic mission and be inconsistent.

        5. Therefore, Notre Dame should continue being consistent with its mission by keeping the theology requirements.

        The main idea is that Notre Dame is Catholic first, and academic second, whereas you might be arguing that it should be academic first and Catholic second.