It is generally accepted - at least as far as most academics are concerned - that there is a distinct difference between religious studies and theology. As you shall see from this interview, however, things are much more complicated, and Professor Wiebe is particularly qualified to present his own take on the relationship between these two distinct disciplines.
Our interview this week features Chris speaking to Professor Donald Wiebe from the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College in the University of Toronto on the relationship between Theology and Religious Studies.
Ed. note. Out of necessity this interview was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week.
The relationship between Theology and Religious Studies is not a simple one. David Ford writes that at its broadest, theology is thinking about questions raised by and about religions (2000:3). These questions are largely directed towards notions of transcendence (typically gods), incorporate doctrinal issues and are “essentially a second-order activity arising from ‘faith’ and interpreting faith” (Whaling, 1999:228-229). Essentially, theology is thinking about religion from within religion – although when most people refer to “Theology”, what they mean is “Christian Theology”.
It is generally accepted – at least as far as most academics are concerned – that there is a distinct difference between religious studies and theology. This is succinctly summarised by Ninian Smart’s statement that “historical and structural enquiries, such as sociology, phenomenology, etc., […] are the proper province of [the study of] Religion, and the use of such materials for Expressive ends […is] the doing of Theology” (in Wiebe, 1999:55).
As you shall see from this interview, however, things are much more complicated, and Professor Wiebe is particularly qualified to present his own take on the relationship between these two distinct disciplines. His primary areas of research interest are philosophy of the social sciences, epistemology, philosophy of religion, the history of the academic and scientific study of religion, and method and theory in the study of religion. He is the author of a number of books, including Religion and Truth: Towards and Alternative Paradigm for the Study of Religion (1981), The Irony of Theology and the Nature of Religious Thought (1991), and, of particular relevance to this interview, The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (1999). In 1985 Professor Wiebe, with Luther H. Martin and E. Thomas Lawson, founded the North American Association for the Study of Religion, which became affiliated to the IAHR in 1990; he twice served as President of that Association (1986-87, 1991-92).
This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions‘ Annual Conference in Budapest in September 2011, where Professor Wiebe also presented a particularly relevant paper with his colleague Luther H. Martin, entitled “Religious Studies as a Scientific Discipline: The Persistence of a Delusion”. Out of necessity it was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week.
Jonathan Z Smith: “[R]eligion is an inextricably human phenomenon. […] Religious studies are [therefore] most appropriately described in relation to the Humanities and the Human Sciences, in relation to Anthropology rather than Theology. What we study when we study religion is one mode of constructing worlds of meaning, worlds within which men find themselves and in which they choose to dwell.” (1978, Map is Not Territory, 290)
References:Ford, David F., 2000 . Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Whaling, Frank, 1999. “Theological Approaches” in Peter Connoly (ed.), Approaches to the Study of Religion. London: Cassell, pp. 226-274.
Wiebe, Donald, 1999. The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy. New York: St Martin’s Press.
This episode has not been transcribed yet.
Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?
Breaking down the boundary between the research lab and the “field site” is becoming more common beyond the boundaries of religious studies and anthropology.
The research project of Dimitris Xygalatas is part of a growing trend in cognitive approaches to human sociality. This trend involves breaking down the boundary between the lab and the field; sometimes this involves bringing the field into the lab—an approach not uncommon to many social psychologists
Ninian Smart was a proponent of the idea that Religious Studies should be "poly-methodical"; but should Religious Studies as a discipline incorporate theories and methodologies from multiple other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology or history? When RS departments have run on an interdisciplinary basis, have they been successful?
Wiebe begins his interview by admitting that it may not be possible to clearly delineate religious studies and theology, an admirable concession which seems to lull the listener into the false belief that he is promulgating an understanding of the ‘dichotomy’ which understands the malleable nature of both academic disciplines and the relationship between them. Unfortunately, ...
In this interview, Jason Josephson discusses the Japanese appropriation of the modern category of "religion." He first describes how Shinto is typically represented in EuroAmerican religious studies courses. He then describes the various actors and processes (both European and native)...
Any casual user of social media can’t have missed the increasing number of adverts for dozens of ‘mindfulness’ apps. Perhaps you have encountered the term in the workplace or in a healthcare setting? It seems that, in the contemporary West, mindfulness is everywhere. But what is it? How popular is it? What is its connection to particular forms of Buddhism? Can it ever be considered wholly secular or is it necessarily religious? And why does this matter, and for whom? Today, Chris is joined by Ville Husgafvel of the University of Helsinki to discuss these important questions surrounding an increasingly pervasive phenomenon that has received little engagement from the critical religious studies community.
"Given its rich and variable nature, authority itself is challenging to define and study... Studies focused on religious authority online have been few, compared to studies centered on religious community and identity. Despite interest and acknowledgement of the concept, there is a lack of definitional clarity over authority online, and no comprehensive theory of religious authority..."
In this interview, postdoctoral researcher of U.S. Catholicism, Francesca Cadeddu, shares some of her reflections on Roger Allen LaPorte, whose contested martyrdom by self-immolation is the topic of her present postdoctoral project.Millions of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. Almost 58,000 of the war's victims were American citizens.
A. Dave Lewis joins us again for a discussion of representations of Muslims in superhero comics. We talk about some positive representations, like Kamala Khan, Marvel's new Ms Marvel, and some less-than-positive portrayals, like Frank Millar's Holy Terror!
In this month's episode of Discourse!, Theo Wildcroft, Dan Gorman and special emergency guest Vivian Asimos discuss the US Supreme Court's relationship to Christianity, how the Independent dealt with criticism of a review of a book critical of paganism, and religion, abuse and the idea of a ‘witch hunt’ in yoga and academia. Oh and something called coronavirus?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).