21 September 2005

Convocation: Funny Hats and Helpful Frames

This afternoon at the GTU's Opening Convocation, the topic was "Negotiating the Boundaries in Theological and Religious Studies." The address was given by Ann Taves, professor of religious studies and Virgil Cordano OFM Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. ( past topics and speakers ) Judging the very low turnout for the event, with attendance comprised mostly of PhD students with achievements being recognized and the faculty members in their academic costumed glory, I was a little disappointed in the tenor of it, until Ann got into her talk about 10 minutes. Her ideas became a much-need mental file cabinet for about 80% of my struggle since arriving. A while ago, somethingunderstood blogged about how the academic and spiritual dimensions of seminary make for a funny feeling now and again. Am I here for academic formation or spiritual formation? When we read gnostic texts or learn prayer book history, how exactly are we being formed and which sets of biases are we to use to understand the material? Having come from the secular religious studies mindset at KU, being in these classes has so far felt like one big trick question. When Dan said, "Remember that Jesus has already been resurrected at this time," I jerked my head up so fast I got one of those neck cramps you can feel in your tongue. Then I remembered, oh yeah, "resurrection" isn't a bad word here.
Faith in the classroom still gives me the heebeejeebees, but I expect I'll get used to it. Train something out of me while I train something else in. And later for PhD, who knows; I'll probably have to do the 180 all over again.

I'll get to the point: regarding religious/secular studies and theological/seminary studies Ann pointed out it might be more useful to think of these two worlds not as opposing or parallel tracks but as two places where someone may or may not be actively engaged in the "making" or "doing" of their discipline. One way to judge this engaged or detached status is through defining major terms of your discipline. For instance, most of my religious studies professors at KU did not care to enter into the debate of what is "religion" but were rather happy to work with materials that somehow fell into that traditional category. We generally side-stepped the definitions with accounts of our inability to ever define "religion" completely, and therefore could go about the business of studying it. This would be the detached performance. I really got interested when she spoke to the fact that though we might be ready to deem most religious studies departments as responsibly "detached" and seminaries as "engaged," it is not neccesarily so, and not necessarily useful if it is so. I think she argued that a little of both in any given context is probably healthy.


Blogger CJA said...

"Religion is a phenomenon of human societies. Discuss." versus "You are trained to be a leader of the children of God. Grow."

Two very different feels, kept in tension at seminary.

12:30 PM  

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