Why Theology Matters

The University of Notre Dame is currently undergoing a curriculum review in which the requirement for undergraduate students to take theology courses is being reconsidered.

I’ve been meaning to write my own opinions on this for a while, but I haven’t had the chance to fully collect my thoughts on the issue, and it is a topic of so much importance that I fear I will fail to do it justice. It brings up complicated emotions in me: I dearly love Notre Dame and hope that its leaders make a decision in the best interest of its students, and I wrestle with how I could support my alma mater if and when it makes decisions that would compromise its character. It would sadden me greatly if a decision were made that would not only devalue the study of theology as an academic field but also mean that students entering Our Lady’s University might never be asked to open their minds to explore the question of why they are here on this earth.

I agree wholeheartedly with many others who have voiced their opinions on the matter:

Don’t Drop Theology Requirements, Brian E. Daley, S.J.:

If a Catholic university, then, is a community of learning specifically and uniquely founded by Catholics to carry on the expansion and communication of human knowledge, at its best, within this integrating perspective of faith, theology, as a discipline, clearly plays a central role in determining the university’s identity. It is not a role that can be removed from the framework of disciplinary content—translated into “learning goals,” or reflection on generic religious feelings or “values.” Intelligent reflection on the content of faith—on the being of God, on the historical experiences of Israel and the church, on the person of Jesus and the activity of the Spirit—is of fundamental importance to the life of a Catholic intellectual culture. If this does not go on in a serious and challenging way, as central to the heart of a student’s university experience, there is really no justification for a student’s taking on a mountain of future debt to go to a place like Notre Dame, or for parents making the huge financial investment involved in sending a son or daughter to a Catholic university. There are plenty of fine state schools, after all, whose “learning goals” will do the more general educational job for half the price.

The Theology Requirement at Notre Dame: A Former Dean’s View, Carolyn Woo

Keeping Theology at Notre Dame, Sandra Laguerta

An Open Letter to the University of Notre Dame, Meg Hunter-Kilmer

At a great Catholic university, a Catholic understanding of the world will permeate all studies in every subject. But this is no substitute for the study of theology as a specific subject. That would be like saying that because students learn some history about scientific discoveries in science class, there is no need to study history itself. Theology should inform a student’s worldview and affect how she understands everything else she studies, but there is still a need to address it as its own subject, as a topic worthy of time and attention, not as a sideshow to other, more “important” endeavors.

Notre Dame is a Catholic university. Its students are not all Catholic, but they all have much to gain from the study of theology, from opening themselves up to the questions of existence. It is essential for Catholic students to learn more about the faith they profess, and it is healthy for non-Catholics to gain a greater understanding of the Catholic community in which they have placed themselves for four years.

Trying to conform with other, more secular universities would be a mistake. I chose to attend the University of Notre Dame specifically because of its Catholic character. If I had been looking merely for a rigorous academic environment, I would have had many other options. I was drawn toward Notre Dame because of its attention toward developing the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. Without theology as part of the core curriculum, without the overarching mission and desire to put God first above all else, there would be nothing special about Notre Dame, nothing that makes it stand apart from so many other universities out there.

When I sing the alma mater, I embrace the double meaning of its address: we sing to our university, Notre Dame, and we sing to Notre Dame—Our Lady, Mary Mother of God, literally our Alma Mater, our nurturing Mother. My loyalty to my university is wrapped within, and exists in deference to, my loyalty to our heavenly Mother and her Son, and the latter will always take top priority in my own heart. Notre Dame, remember for whom you were named; remember the mission to which you were called. Remember that it is your privilege to introduce your students to the Mother who waits to embrace them, and to a faith that will expand their own understanding of the world and of themselves.


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