Having my Bachelor’s degree in Religion makes me consistently excited to read articles like this one here, but I should have recognized the author of this particular piece was talking about theology, which is more of a divinity school thing than it is a liberal art. That being said, this article starts off haphazardly but ends up right where it needs to be. Theology (ugh, do we have to call it that?) is important, and here’s why according to Tara Isabella Burton:
A good theologian, [Oxford’s Dr. William Wood, a University Lecturer in Philosophical Theology and my former tutor,] says, “has to be a historian, a philosopher, a linguist, a skillful interpreter of texts both ancient and modern, and probably many other things besides.” In many ways, a course in theology is an ideal synthesis of all other liberal arts: no longer, perhaps, “Queen of the Sciences,” but at least, as Wood terms it, “Queen of the Humanities.”
Yet, for me, the value of theology lies not merely in the breadth of skills it taught, but in the opportunity it presented to explore a given historical mindset in greater depth. I learned to read the Bible in both Greek and Hebrew, to analyze the minutiae of language that allows us to distinguish “person” from “nature,” “substance” from “essence.” I read “orthodox” and “heretical” accounts alike of the nature of the Godhead, and learned about the convoluted and often arbitrary historical processes that delineated the two.
Such precision may seem—to the religious person and agnostic alike—no more useful than counting the number of angels on the head of a pin. But for me, it allowed me access into the fundamental building blocks of the mentality, say, of a 12th-century French monk, or a mystic from besieged Byzantium. While the study of history taught me the story of humanity on a broader scale, the study of theology allowed me insight into the minds and hearts, fears and concerns, of those in circumstances were so wildly different from my own… To study theology well requires not faith, but empathy.
If history and comparative religion alike offer us perspective on world events from the “outside,” the study of theology offers us a chance to study those same events “from within”: an opportunity to get inside the heads of those whose beliefs and choices shaped so much of our history, and who—in the world outside the ivory tower—still shape plenty of the world today.
Stick with this article toward the end. I promise it’s worth it.