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Episode Summary

Over the past two centuries, colleges have slowly replaced theology departments with religious studies departments. But what happens when theology becomes religious studies? It can produce a more neutral, observational approach that might not fully appreciate the normative claims of religious adherents and their values, commitments, and beliefs. A careful historical and objective study of religious history and the dimensions of religious practice are deeply valuable. But engaging religious texts and voices without a serious appreciation for the normative elements—that is, the things about a theological or religious idea that means your life would have to change—that would be a problem. It would evacuate the true substance and meaning of theological claims as they're experienced by religious adherents. But it would also fail to form students of religion and the humanities in a way that poses significant challenges to their own lived experience. For living a life worthy of their humanity. Today, we share a conversation between Tyler Roberts and Matt Croasmun from November 2016. Tragically, Roberts died at the age of 61 on June 3, 2021. He was Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College. In this conversation, Roberts reflects on the contribution of theology to the humanities, the role of religious studies in a critical examination of theology, and the importance of appreciating the kinds of theological and moral claims that can change your life. May his memory be a blessing.

Episode Notes

Over the past two centuries, colleges have slowly replaced theology departments with religious studies departments. But what happens when theology becomes religious studies? It can produce a more neutral, observational approach that might not fully appreciate the normative claims of religious adherents and their values, commitments, and beliefs.

A careful historical and objective study of religious history and the dimensions of religious practice are deeply valuable. But engaging religious texts and voices without a serious appreciation for the normative elements—that is, the things about a theological or religious idea that means your life would have to change—that would be a problem. It would evacuate the true substance and meaning of theological claims as they're experienced by religious adherents. But it would also fail to form students of religion and the humanities in a way that poses significant challenges to their own lived experience. For living a life worthy of their humanity.

Today, we share a conversation between Tyler Roberts and Matt Croasmun from November 2016. Tragically, Roberts died at the age of 61 on June 3, 2021. He was Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College. In this conversation, Roberts reflects on the contribution of theology to the humanities, the role of religious studies in a critical examination of theology, and the importance of appreciating the kinds of theological and moral claims that can change your life. May his memory be a blessing.

Show Notes

  • What happens when theology becomes religious studies?
  • Is serious appreciation missing?
  • How does theology contribute to the humanities?
  • What is going right in Christian theology?
  • Scholars like say what they do ‘is not theology,’ but they have the wrong definition of theology, according to Tyler
  • “We who care about studying religion have ‘dropped the ball’”
  • “It’s helpful to the Church to have external critique”
  • Theology as a straw man
  • What could theology be saying to those outside of the field?
  • “The line between theology as data and theology as something else is pretty blurry”
  • Theology reveals how self-critical religious people are
  • “More interestingly to me is how those of us in religious studies, perhaps the academy more broadly, can learn how to think from theologians”
  • ‘Critical ascent’
  • The humanities can raise great questions, but can they articulate normative positions?
  • Theology and credulity
  • “It’s seemingly either/or, either you’re going to be critical, or you’ll believe anything”
  • How religious people appear credulous in the eyes of the secular
  • But in actuality, theology charts out how we come to our beliefs
  • “There’s nothing particularly blind about this”
  • Hermeneutics of suspicion
  • Students are very good at pointing to the limitations of a text
  • But how can we engage in texts in ways that make students think about their own lives?
  • “That’s a much harder task, and it’s one that many students, I find, aren’t that comfortable with”
  • It’s hard!
  • “Humanities is about reading not just what was true for the author, but what is true for me”
  • “How can we take these texts as real options for us?”
  • Christian theology has an important role to play in the pluralistic conversation
  • How does someone think constructively and critically at the same time? How theologians can teach us that
  • Obituary: Tyler Roberts (1960-2021) (Political Theology)

Production Notes

  • This podcast featured Tyler Roberts and Matt Croasmun
  • Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
  • Hosted by Evan Rosa
  • Production Assistance by Nathan Jowers and Luke Stringer
  • A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
  • Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give

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