Friday, May 11, 2012

*Theological* Religious Studies in the University: Curricular Heresy

This is an abstract for a forthcoming chapter in a book to be published by the University of Toronto Press on the subject of religious pluralism in Canada:

Curricular Heresy: Theological Religious Studies and the Assessment of Religious Pluralism in Canada

             In the West today multiculturalism and the implied equality of religions have been called into question. Although Religious Studies has offered much in the way of a ‘thick description’ of religion, this chapter argues that the current political context requires a deep assessment of religion and religious pluralism; one that requires a complementary theological approach. I call this approach 'theological religious studies'. Although some see theology as biased, this chapter contends that it provides a source of public knowledge about traditions, beliefs and practices. In theological colleges and seminaries, which are the mainstays of theological literacy, explicit theologies of religious pluralism are more noticeable. This chapter argues that because of their role in shaping polity and culture, Canadian universities should play a lead role in the development of theological religious studies. There is a concern that a social sciences approach, without a complementary humanistic theological inquiry, will lead to management goals that are not sympathetic to understanding the plausibility structures of religious belief.  Theology, due to its humanities perspective, can foster our ability to imagine ourselves in the place of others and also imagine religious heritage in different contexts, and is thus essential to this project. This chapter reflects on several examples of the ways in which Theology and Religious Studies are developing in western universities.  It also suggests that a Theology of world religions speaks to the complexities of internal religious diversity and the relationships between traditions. Finally, because of the humanities’ role in understanding meaning, this chapter points to the legitimacy of open discussion of belief in the university and beyond.

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