What is Theology, Why study Theology ?
Theology is perhaps one of the most exciting subjects one can study in the Liberal Arts programme. The study of theology and religion entails an intellectual exploration of the belief systems that have played a vital role in the shaping of our world throughout the centuries.
Human beings are in search of meaning, and an engagement with theology allows students to examine critically some of the most profound answers given to the most fundamental questions about life. Is life nothing but “a tale told by a madman, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (as Shakespeare puts it in Macbeth) or can we perceive meaning in the senselessness, the suffering and evil that we inevitably encounter?
Understood in the broadest sense, theology is an enquiry into the human conviction that life has ultimate meaning and worth. It is a rational and critical exploration of the human experiences of faith, hope, and love. One cannot be neutral about ultimate questions, and so theological enquiry usually takes place from the perspective of a particular believing community.
Given that the majority of students at this college are Christian in background, and given the college’s ethos, the focus of the theology programme is a critical and rigorously academic study of Christianity. However, the department recognises the increasing need for detailed theological study of other religious belief systems and endeavours to provide for this.
There is hardly any significant aspect of life or society that has not been affected by religion, for better or worse, and this alone already justifies a study of religion.
If you are interested in history, sociology, or politics, you will come to understand the impact that religion has had in the past, and continues to have.
While a few decades ago people in the Western world assumed that religion would simply fade away into insignificance and become nothing but a private option, the global situation today is a very different one. Religions are growing: there are today about 2bln Christians; 1.2 bln Muslims, 800 mln Hindus, and 350 mln Buddhists, while there are perhaps (it is hard to estimate) around 150 mln atheists.
In recent years we have witnessed a revival of Islam throughout the world; and in the West we are seeing a renewed interest in spirituality and world religions. An understanding of the beliefs of, and practices associated with, different religions and cultures has become vital in modern Ireland. While some may have reservations about how the church as an institution has dealt with some of the issues facing it, few would want to question the significance of the Christian tradition as one way of meeting the spiritual and religious needs of people today.
Religion is a major force in shaping society and political life; but the reverse also holds: society and politics have a bearing on religion. If we want to understand religion today, we need to take into account its specific setting. This is why in the Western world, for instance, theologians have to enter into dialogue with critics of religion, such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Sigmund Freud. These major thinkers who have deeply influenced modern society and thought will be studied in the First Year Course.
Similarly, if you are interested in architecture, music, literature, or the world of painting you will find that some of humanity’s most magnificent achievements are immediately linked to religion. From the beautiful medieval cathedrals to the magnificent Taj Mahal in India, from Bach to Stravinsky and Arvo Pärt, from Dante to Dostoievsky, from Jan van Eyck to Salvador Dali religion has profoundly stirred the minds of artists and writers.
Again, if you are interested in ethical issues, such as in the field of genetic engineering and bio-ethics, you will find that theologians have an interesting contribution to make. What should we think about stem-cell research? Is it wrong to clone human beings, and if so, why?
There are so many different exciting aspects to theology and the study of religion that it is difficult to think of another subject that covers such a diverse range of topics and ideas. Whether you are interested in the study of different cultures, history, art, ethics, spirituality and mysticism, you will find something that appeals to you in the curriculum of our Department. It is therefore not surprising that in the last few years the number of students taking this subject has grown, in part due to the realisation that religious belief must be re-examined and re-imagined if it is to be influential in shaping the new Ireland.