BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

The Difference Between Theology and Religious Studies

Mary Joan Winn Leith of Stonehill College takes on “the Bible Divide”

Mary Joan Winn Leith

Mary Joan Winn Leith of Stonehill College.

Not long ago, Bible scholar Michael Coogan was interviewed for the alumni magazine of Stonehill College about his new book God and Sex. In her recent Biblical Views column in the March/April 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Coogan’s colleague Mary Joan Winn Leith notes that Coogan was characteristically articulate, striking a mild “just the facts” tone regarding the Bible’s historical background and what the Bible actually has to say about sex. But the magazine’s next issue carried a slew of letters from alumni, quite a few expressing outrage that such a “godless” man could be teaching Religion in a Catholic school like Stonehill College.

Reading the letters led Leith to reflect on two particular issues: first, the general ignorance, even among academics, that there is a difference between “Religious Studies” and “Theology”; and second, the responsibility that rigorously trained Biblical scholars have to educate the wider public about the differences between the two fields, especially as the most religious nation in the world, the United States of America, is growing increasingly polarized. Despite the divide, the Bible matters to a lot of people, even if polls suggest they are often ignorant of its contents. They want to know what’s in the Bible and how to read it mindfully.

Whether studying religion “from the outside” in Religious Studies or “from the inside” via Theology, Leith calls on fellow scholars to facilitate a more positive and productive discourse between the academy and the greater public in order to bridge “the Bible Divide.”
 


 
For more, see the Biblical Views column “The Bible Divide” by Stonehill College associate professor Mary Joan Winn Leith in the March/April 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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3 Responses

  1. Alice Linsley says:

    Theologians and Religious Studies professors do not read a text in the same way. They focus on different details.

    The Bible comes alive when we understand it in its historical-cultural context. That involves anthropological study of the text. Biblical Anthropologists use the Bible as a resource to gain knowledge of the ancient peoples who gave us the Bible, especially Abraham’s Nilotic ancestors. This requires reading the Bible differently than would a preacher, a theologian or a religious studies academic.

  2. Brian Lantz says:

    To be sure, this is just another distracting proposition from the fact that the Bible DOES have plain meaning and there is such a thing as rational, logical, meaningful, categorical, dogmatic, absolute content within that text known as the Word of God. The problem is Christianity would rather worship their emotions in the name of God and blow smoke about the Bible than support with their own spiritual gifts the ministry of a pastor who studies and teaches daily….. which is PRECISELY the reason why this country is in the horrific mess.

  3. Scott Smith says:

    So the US is more religious than Saudi Arabia? Or the Islamic Republic of Iran? Or how about India, we are more religious than India? I don’t think so…

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3 Responses

  1. Alice Linsley says:

    Theologians and Religious Studies professors do not read a text in the same way. They focus on different details.

    The Bible comes alive when we understand it in its historical-cultural context. That involves anthropological study of the text. Biblical Anthropologists use the Bible as a resource to gain knowledge of the ancient peoples who gave us the Bible, especially Abraham’s Nilotic ancestors. This requires reading the Bible differently than would a preacher, a theologian or a religious studies academic.

  2. Brian Lantz says:

    To be sure, this is just another distracting proposition from the fact that the Bible DOES have plain meaning and there is such a thing as rational, logical, meaningful, categorical, dogmatic, absolute content within that text known as the Word of God. The problem is Christianity would rather worship their emotions in the name of God and blow smoke about the Bible than support with their own spiritual gifts the ministry of a pastor who studies and teaches daily….. which is PRECISELY the reason why this country is in the horrific mess.

  3. Scott Smith says:

    So the US is more religious than Saudi Arabia? Or the Islamic Republic of Iran? Or how about India, we are more religious than India? I don’t think so…

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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