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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.

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