Having completed the Old and New Testament courses it’s now time to study for my next course: Christian Doctrine. The Christian Doctrine course builds on the introductions to the Old and the New Testaments and considers the core Christian teaching and concepts (“doctrine” – from Latin “doctor” – teacher). If the Old Testament (in academic usage more properly called the Hebrew Bible) is the foundation of Judaism, and the New Testament is the foundation of Christianity, the Christian Doctrine is what Christians understand, believe and proclaim when they read the New Testament (and the Old Testament in light of the New) and very importantly, why they do so. Despite what many atheist authors would like us to believe, theists in general and Christians in particular have many reasons to believe what they believe – and while one can subject these reasons to analysis and critique one has to understand them first – which some atheist authors fail to do.
In February 2013 I attended a study day on Church Fathers at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, dedicated to St Ephrem the Syrian by Dr Sebastian Brock, probably the world’s foremost expert on Syriac Christianity. In the morning Dr Brock introduced St Ephrem’s life and his times, and in the afternoon we had a chance to consider some of his profound and moving writings which are available in English translations, in particular by Dr Brock. It is interesting to note that St Ephrem wrote in the Syriac language, which is a descendant of Aramaic language spoken by Jesus. One often hears that it is not just what is taught but also who teaches it that matters – and Dr Brock’s lecture was a proof of how a dedicated scholar who deeply cares about the subject of his studies makes a huge difference.
The relationship between science and religion is a fascinating and complex one. To many it comes as a surprise that science and religion have a relationship at all! Yet a little study unearths amazing facts and leads to deeper appreciation of the complexity and nuances of both science and religion and their at times love-hate relationship – good examples are God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by Dr James Hannam and Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology by Prof John Polkinghorne. The surprise factor is reduced however when one considers the word “science” itself, originating as it is from Latin scientia (knowledge). Science is one of the ways of discovering and understanding the world around us – a very successful way of course, but by no means an unlimited or the only one.
Not all of us have the luxury of abundant free time and of a quiet corner where to study. And when some of the textbooks and essential reading come in the shape of thick and heavy hardcovers reading on the Tube or on the train is too much of a challenge, as I have discovered last year. Fortunately there is something that not only solves the problem of reading thick and heavy books on the go, but also gives you much more: Amazon’s Kindle.
In my previous post (Why study theology?) I wrote about why would one study theology as an academic discipline, regardless of one’s personal religious beliefs or absence of such. However I only provided a minimal definition of what is usually understood by theology. To make things bit more specific I’d like to introduce the subjects that make up the minimum mandatory part of the University of London qualifications in theology, namely the Old Testament, the New Testament, Christian Doctrine, and Philosophy of Religion. Knowledge of these subjects can be seen as the minimum “core” of theological education and I hope to introduce them later on this blog.
When it comes to religion or its antithesis, atheism, we usually have strong and deeply held beliefs; however what is less obvious is the extent to which these beliefs are based on knowledge and learning. The unfortunate situation we are in is that most people have only vague and far from perfect knowledge of even the basics of these subjects – despite the above-mentioned strong opinions of many. Few people without knowledge of chemistry for example would venture to express and defend strong views on questions of chemistry (at least in my experience!); however there is no shortage of people rushing to attack or defend religion or its absence. While everyone is of course entitled to having opinions, not everyone’s opinions have the same foundation or weight, and when it comes to theological questions (Is there God? What is right and wrong? Is there meaning or purpose to life?) opinions of those who have studied, researched and pondered these questions over years and centuries naturally have greater basis and weight than of someone who has not spent much time or energy on these questions.
Having been a theology student at the University of London International Programmes for two years, this is my first post to try and describe why I find the study of theology so exciting and personally rewarding (even, or should I say especially, in the 21st century London).
Theology is not a widely studied or discussed subject nowadays (unfortunately, in my opinion), so it may be useful to start by defining the term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines theology as follows:
The study of the nature of God and religious belief; religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.
Further analysis of the word theology shows that it is made of two Greek words, θεός (God) and λόγος (word, idea, speech); therefore theology can be thought of as words, ideas and speech about God. Now of course our atheist friends may be quick to say “wait a second, but there is no such thing as God, and therefore there is nothing to study, right?” Well, not quite, for the statement “there is no such thing as God” is itself a theological statement (and a pretty poor one for that – since God is not thought of as being a thing in any sense of that word) and is therefore open to theological discussion and analysis. Without going into too much detail, it is perfectly possible to engage in theological studies while being an atheist or an agnostic; however theists in general and Christians in particular find theological study and reflection especially relevant and illuminating, not least because we are told in 1 Peter 3:15:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
As one approaches a new year, the first thoughts that come to mind usually are the achievements of that year which is about to end. Looking at 2011 as whole, I find this year very special both on the national level and on the personal level.
History will never forget this date, 25th January 2011, which has sparked the light for the Egyptian Revolution. For Egypt, the major achievement of 2011 is taking the first steps towards real democracy. Since the first days of the revolution, Egyptians have learned that it is the power of unity that can make them change the world and it is unity that will enable us to continue our path. One hopes we will never disregard the lesson.
Holidays over, I’m back to work with a bang this week. The orchestra is taking part in a festival of music by the American minimalist composer Steve Reich. Along with his Eight Lines we’re rehearsing a couple of pieces by New Yorker Nico Muhly and works by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and Kjartan Sveinsson of Sigur Ros. I also wrote two articles for The Irish Times – a book review on Irish Ballet from 1927 to 1963 and a feature on avant-garde flamenco. It seems a pretty disparate workload, but I’m used to wearing different hats and compartmentalising my life: it’s what us external students do so well.
In the past few years I’ve been asked to write, both in the popular press and academic publications, about how Irish traditional dance has been “globalised” by shows like Riverdance and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, I was reminded of this when researching avant-garde flamenco dancers . What used to be a localised cultural pursuit in Andalusia has been elevated to high art status and popularised throughout the world. (There are more flamenco schools in Japan than in Spain.) And this got me thinking again about tradition versus innovation and local or national identity versus global identity.
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