Having completed the first part of my studies and obtained a Certificate of Higher Education in Theology this is my last post as a student at the University of London International Programmes – I am moving on to continue my studies on campus at Heythrop College (which was the Lead College for my Certificate).
In this last post I would like to briefly reflect on the continuing importance of theology – understood as rational discourse on religions from within and without particular religious traditions – and comment on its continuing relevance in the modern world.
I fully expect this to be a controversial notion – not least because of the widespread but mistaken belief that religion is no longer relevant in a contemporary society.
While attendance at Church of England services may be declining, it is only a part (and not a very important part in my opinion) of a much more complex picture – picture which also includes mushrooming evangelical churches, robust practice of various schools of Islam by British Muslims and growing appeal of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in light of increasing liberalisation of the Church of England, which in eyes of many has gone too far. Depending on your particular religious affiliation or lack thereof the above may be good or bad news, but that is not my point – my point is that the reality is much more complex and deserves to be studied and understood in all its complexity.
The tragic and terrifying events in the Middle East however are the strongest indication of just how important understanding of religions and their historical backgrounds is to the current affairs.
As someone with a keen interest in and some knowledge of the region, I am appalled by reporting and commentary which sometimes displays arrogance, ignorance or misunderstanding of the many complex theological, political and historical issues involved in the continuing conflicts that plague that part of the world.
Very often naive or misinformed opinions are proffered without appreciation of the worldviews, reasons, beliefs or ideology of the key actors in the unfolding drama. Disagreeing with or rejecting someone’s message is fine but is only effective when it is based on sound understanding of the matters in question. Unfortunately, when it comes to questions spanning different disciplines and centuries – such as the relationships between the religions and their adherents – such understanding is painfully missing as is very well highlighted by Lapido Media, among others:
Many news stories do not make sense – whether to journalists or policy makers who feed off what they report – without understanding religion.
If we are to try and live in peace we all need to know and understand much more than we do about our histories, our worldviews and our beliefs (while keeping in mind understanding does not equal agreement). Doing a qualification in theology, philosophy or history seems to me a good start.
Edgar has just completed a Certificate of Higher Education in Theology. He studied in the UK.