The hand of God

November 1, 1996

Manfredi La Manna's comments on Keith Ward (THES, October 18) display a serious lack of understanding of the role of academic theology and therefore require some correction. Non-denominational, secular universities, as opposed to theological colleges and bible schools, do indeed have the same aims, methods and ethos as other subjects in the humanities.

Staff in theology faculties may or may not hold to certain beliefs. The same can be said of students. Christian theology does indeed, as La Manna points out, attempt to understand the world views have underpinned and constructed particular theological discourses, whether in biblical hermeneutics, systematic theology, feminist theology, or whatever else it may be, with the aim of helping students to deconstruct and contextualise these views.

The idea that theology is "aimed at making human beings conform to some pattern of behaviour" is not, however, one that I or my colleagues would recognise. Nor do I understand where La Manna has got the idea that rigorous peer-sanctioned assessment has somehow passed theology by.

There are seminaries, bible schools and denominational colleges whose primary mission is to train their own members for the active ministry. Increasingly, however such institutions seek university validation. Where this is granted the same rigorous standards of scholarship apply.

From my experience of teaching in both social science and theology departments I would hazard that the levels of critical self-awareness and concern with academic rigour are probably greater in the latter.

Fiona Bowie

Lecturer in theology and religious studies

University of Wales, Lampeter

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