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Cross Purposes

September 4, 2009

This post isn’t intended as a critique of what Roland’s been saying about theology, but as a moment of second order reflection on what the two of us have been doing (at least as I see it—he might disagree).

It might help explain our debate by trying to look at what each of us want to accomplish by offering a definition of theology. From what Roland has said, especially in the comments to this post, it looks like he wants to expand the definition of theology in order to legitimize other sorts of practices not presently recognized as theological:


By contrast, I’m not leveraging the use of the word theology in order to legitimate a certain type of scholarly practice, but to delegitimate. I’m trying to use the word theology to identify something I think shouldn’t be in religious studies, although it presently is:


What seems important is that I don’t think what he wants to stretch theology to include is the same thing as what I want to exclude from religious studies. Probably what I want to exclude is what’s identified by the small circle in the first diagram.

It’s like we’re both trying to grab the same hammer (the word theology) in order to hammer on different projects. He’s building a bookcase, and I think that’s cool, and I’m building a coffee table, and maybe he’s okay with that too, but we’re fighting over the one hammer we have to share between the two of us.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Roland permalink
    October 3, 2009 7:13 pm

    Actually, I’m writing a chapter in the last book of my criticism series on atheism, theism, theology and Marx and have been trawling back through blogs (since I use the blog discussion as a way into my discussion in the chapter). In response: at one level we are talking at cross purposes. I sense that you are involved in an important struggle over the definition of a relatively new discipline and part of that struggle involves challenging theologians within studies in religion to come clean. You’re happy to leave the definition of theology, especially in its popular sense, as it stands; I’m wanting to open theology up a bit, partly by revealing what it actually does and partly by pushing it much wider.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 4, 2009 9:15 am

    I concur!

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