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Identifying Theology and Pinning Roland Boer

August 23, 2009

r_boerOne can’t do a good job of opposing “theology” in the field of religious studies without identifying what “it” is and what about “it” makes it unfit for an academic discipline.

The problem, of course, is that different people use the word differently. So the opposition to “theology” might apply to some types but not others.

What is theology, then? I know people who use the term in these ways:

  • I think people most generally use the term to pick out discourses that advance claims about gods in a systematic or quasi-systematic way—I think this most closely matches the colloquial use
  • K.L. Noll in his recent Chronicle article said it is just apologetics—this seems dumb because it doesn’t at all fit the colloquial use of the term
  • I tend to use it to describe discourses about supernatural entities, discourses that mystify, or discourses that naturalize or reproduce the authority of religious traditions
  • the “postmodern” theologians I know (i.e., the ones who pal around with Zizek and Jack Caputo) call themselves theologians when they talk about “God,” although they use the term in a rarefied way (because they’re atheists)—in sum, what they write is existential or political philosophy utilizing the language of religious traditions while twisting that language to new uses

So, does anyone know where Roland Boer lies here? That is, how does he use the term “theology” and what does he mean when he says he’s a “theologian”?

I get the feeling that my (and others’?) posts on theology have rubbed him the wrong way, for which I’m sorry, because Roland is the type of scholar I want to achieve solidarity with.

But there’s a part of my that wants to pin him to the mat and ask, “What do you mean you’re a theologian?!”

How homoerotic is that? I bet he’d approve.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2009 12:38 pm

    I reckon most religious people might like it if theology became restricted to the Seminaries – then there won’t be all those pesky liberal theologians getting away with spreading heresy on the back of the notion of “academic freedom”.

  2. August 23, 2009 5:24 pm

    I reckon most religious people might like it if theology became restricted to the Seminaries – then there won’t be all those pesky liberal theologians getting away with spreading heresy on the back of the notion of “academic freedom”.

    Well… except at the liberal seminaries. And then there’s this bloke from the actually quite conservative Anglican seminary in Melbourne.
    ALL non-Aboriginal Australians should be prepared to leave the country if the indigenous people want that, making restitution for the vile sin of genocide, an Anglican leader suggested last night.

    What you don’t want, though, is the world “theologian” being used as a generic term of abuse within religion or scriptural studies. I could see it being used as a substitute for critical engagement or a cheap shot at religious folk within the discipline. Oh you know Professor X, he’s just a theologian (and a mutant, I hear).

    It also kinda reminds me of postmodern scholars who used to call people they didn’t like “metaphysicians”.

    And now I’m sure Roland will be along to explain himself in due course, but his article ‘A Manifesto for Biblical Studies’ made similar points to yours. Being called a theologian sometimes cuts a little too close to the bone for Comrade Roland…

  3. roland permalink
    August 23, 2009 9:24 pm

    MM, no offense at all, but let me think about a response. I should say my perspective has changed a bit since that manifesto. More soonish.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    August 24, 2009 7:32 am

    ibs, I think you’re on to something: “theologian” has, in some circles, become the code for “he’s one of THEM!”

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    August 24, 2009 7:40 am

    Do either of you know: is “A Manifesto for Biblical Studies” on the interwebs anywhere?

  6. August 24, 2009 4:51 pm

    It is now. Download here.

    Support the artist! Go to a show! Buy some merch!

    Remember: the scene is what we make it, punk!

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