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Question on methodology - Theological, textual-interpretative?


Averroes MD

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I'm reading Oxford's theology program's handbook, and it says the following about one's PhD thesis:

These assessors are asked to consider such things as whether the overall project's specific methodology is clear (e.g., either theological, historical, textual-interpretative, or social scientific),

I *think* I know what these different approaches are, but I just want to confirm. Specifically, can anyone tell me what they think a theological approach and a textual-interpretative approach would be towards a PhD thesis?

(I'm specifically interested in "doing theology" and not religious studies, so this quoted section appealed to me.)

Thanks!

 

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From my perspective, and knowing the little bit I do about the divide between theology and religious studies which is actually much starker I think in the UK and Europe more generally than in the US, "theology" likely means an approach which presumes from the outset certain confessional "givens" such as the existence of God tout court--givens that would not at all be assumed in an historical or social scientific approach. Typically, one is making a constructive argument either toward the improved articulation of a theological concept/argument or the improved understanding of an historical figure and his/her articulation of a theological concept/argument (though I'd probably call the latter historical-theological--there's certainly more grey area than these distinctions imply.) 

Textual-interpretive I take to probably mean philological. I.e., what is Text X actually saying or how was it most likely received in time period Y.

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Thanks for your input. I came to fairly similar conclusions. I wonder if uk schools are more accepting of theological approaches whereas american ones insist upon an R.S. one? 

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4 hours ago, Averroes MD said:

Thanks for your input. I came to fairly similar conclusions. I wonder if uk schools are more accepting of theological approaches whereas american ones insist upon an R.S. one? 

It really depends on the US school you're talking about. At Duke, Yale, Notre Dame, JTS, etc., theological projects are common—if not the expectation—in fields called "theology" or "ethics." In those same fields at UChicago or Harvard, a more historical or social-critical tack is more normal. Part of the upshot of the less stark theology/religious studies divide @marXian was noticing is that there's a huge amount of variation from program to program, from field to field, and advisor to advisor—which can be great for doing your own project with some degree of freedom to explore, but also in unsaid or unclaimed expectations about how "the thing we're all doing" should in fact be done. These can come out in, y'know, one-on-one meetings, committee conversations, or oral exams...

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7 hours ago, Averroes MD said:

Thanks for your input. I came to fairly similar conclusions. I wonder if uk schools are more accepting of theological approaches whereas american ones insist upon an R.S. one? 

As @theophany rightly says, so much depends on the institution, department, and your advisor, particularly in the US. I would also say that I'm not sure whether American or UK schools are more or less accepting--they're accepting in different ways. The UK and European RS programs are much more closely affiliated with the IAHR (International Association of the History of Religions) which is a "purely scientific" organization that insists on an extremely stark distinction between "the study of religion" and "theology." The AAR is not part of the IAHR--rather NAASR (North American Association for the Study of Religion) is the American branch of the IAHR. NAASR is extremely small compared to the AAR and seen by many in the AAR as a very small subset of loud voices who insist on a very stark distinction between "the science of religion" and "confessional" approaches. The latter often includes not just theology but philosophy of religion and sometimes even cultural studies and continental philosophy more generally.

In general, you don't see these kinds of clashes between "theology" and "religious studies" in the UK and Europe because those are (almost) always two distinct departments within universities with no crossover. "Religious studies" is always social/natural scientific whereas theology includes philosophy of religion, cultural studies, etc. That's not the case in the US. There are departments that lean more toward the social/natural scientific and there are those which are friendly to theology, though to clarify theophany's list--Duke Div is obviously friendly to theology, but Duke University's religious studies department is not. Other schools with RS departments friendly to theology/philosophy of religion: UCSB, Northwestern, Syracuse, Stanford. Of course, just how "confessional" one can be will vary as theophany says. Chances are that in any RS department within a "secular" university in the US, a purely constructive, confessional project is likely not going to be possible. 

Edited by marXian
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  • 3 weeks later...
On 5/25/2017 at 8:17 PM, Body Politics said:

Just chiming in to laugh at the absurd turn of phrase, "the science of religion." 

100% with you.

On 5/27/2017 at 6:47 AM, theophany said:

Yeah, but Wissenschaft means something different by "science" than English typically does.

Yes, but even the German universities tend to mean natural science these days when used in conjunction with the study of religion. 

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I won't speak for Body Politics, but from my perspective contemporary uses of "science of religion" often refer to an approach to the subject matter that understands it as necessarily wholly reducible to natural scientific explanation--and that all other explanations are either functions of a natural scientific one or are simply epiphenomenal (i.e. not real.)

It's a silly position, frankly, because clearly there are good scholarly reasons to want to understand what a religious adherent believes without those reasons committing one to the confessional claims of the adherent--because those reasons extend beyond the claims of the adherent. The classic example, in my view, is Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Some contemporary examples: The Invention of Religion in Japan, Jason Josephson-Storm; Dreams That Matter, Amira Mittermaier. 

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