Green Sheet CEPC 05/06-4
To: St. Olaf College Faculty
Re: Proposed Revisions to General Education Requirement for “Biblical and Theological Studies—Theology”
At the November, 2005 Faculty Meeting, CEPC will move the adoption of new statements to define the general education requirement for Biblical and Theological Studies-Theology (BTS-T). These statements include (1) description, (2) guidelines, (3) comments, (4) intended learning outcomes, and (5) a rationale for the requirement as part of St. Olaf College general education. A rationale for the proposed changes follows.
CEPC will further move that if these changes are approved, the revised BTS-T requirement will become one element of a set of revised GE requirements that will be implemented as a group rather than one by one.
Biblical and Theological Studies-Theology (BTS-T) (Core Studies)Description :
Biblical and Theological Studies-Theology: A course on Christian theology that acquaints students with ongoing efforts to understand the essential content of Christian belief in a critical and coherent manner, and that engages students in theological reflection.
- The principal focus of these courses must be Christian theology, understood as critical and normative reflection on Christian teachings.
- Courses must consider substantial examples of historical or contemporary theological reflection, and attend to the context, the variety, and the coherence of the theological claims they advance.
- Courses must include explicit attention to Christian teachings about God and Jesus Christ; courses may include attention to significant aspects of other central teachings as appropriate to specific course goals.
- Courses must provide opportunities for students to engage in explicitly theological reflection, and to apply their theological knowledge to matters of historical, contemporary, or personal significance.
- While these courses may also consider other traditions or disciplines in relation to theology, Christian theology must be the principal focus. Theology is understood as “critical and normative reflection.” Theology is critical in that Christian discourse about God and Christ claims to be meaningful and true. Hence these courses must explore criteria of meaning and truth, and address such questions as, How, if at all, are Christian teachings about God and Christ meaningful? Theology is normative in that it intends to shape Christian discourse about God and Christ. Hence these courses must address such questions as, What kinds of claims about God and Christ are consistent with Christian teachings?
- Christian theology is a temporally extended and multi-cultural discussion about Christian teachings concerning God and Christ. Courses satisfying this requirement must introduce students into this discussion by presentation of historical or contemporary movements or figures. Where appropriate, this may also involve considerations of critics of Christianity, minority Christian traditions, other religious traditions, or theological interaction with non-theological disciplines.
- Although these courses must include substantial attention to Christian teachings about God and Christ, they need not be exclusively concerned with them. They may also include the relation of these teachings to other Christian teachings about, for example, creation, sin, anthropology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and more. They may consider other aspects of Christianity such as religious practice, institutions, or ritual. They may include comparisons of Christian teachings with those of other religions.
- Students in courses meeting this requirement will both acquire knowledge of Christian theology and participate actively in theological discussion, through informed engagement with a variety of theological positions.
Intended Learning Outcomes:
Students will demonstrate
- knowledge about Christian teachings, including knowledge of their historical development, their complexity and variety, and their coherence.
- skill in reading and interpreting theological texts.
- ability to evaluate the truth and meaning of their own and others’ theological positions.
- ability to apply theological knowledge and skills to issues of historical, contemporary, or personal significance.
Rationale for the BTS-T requirement:
The St. Olaf mission statement articulates the college’s commitment to the liberal arts tradition, to Christianity, and to development of a global perspective. It promises students both “the spirit of free inquiry and free expression” and “theological literacy.” The BTS-T requirement contributes to theological literacy in a fashion informed by the whole of the college’s mission. As a liberal arts institution the college recognizes that study of religion is essential for understanding human culture; as an institution informed by a particular strand of Christianity, it is committed to student learning about Christianity. This combination leads neither to indoctrination nor to simplistic rejection of religion in general or Christianity in particular; rather, it cultivates informed understanding of and engagement with Christianity by believers and non-believers alike. Opportunities provided by courses meeting this requirement interact with opportunities provided by other general education courses (notably BTS-B, EIN, MCS) to help students achieve a critical understanding of Christian teaching in a global perspective.
Rationale for the motion:
Dean May’s task force on General Education called for the reinvigoration of campus conversation about GE. It called for even more public statements of the convictions that underlie the curriculum. And it called for specific review of a short list of requirements. In response to these recommendations, CEPC has overseen a process of review of the guidelines and descriptions for several GE requirements (PHA, MAR, NST, MCS, BTS-T).
The present statements were drafted by CEPC on the basis of recommendations from a working group on BTS-T (Professors Lagerquist, Schuurman, Larson, and Zorn, and Carolyn Brostrom ’05). Responding to suggestions from the Dean’s task force, CEPC asked this working group in particular to address two questions: first, how should our interest in Christian theology interact with our commitment to a global perspective (including concern for understanding other religions); and second should general education in “theology” focus on theology narrowly construed, while downplaying other ways of understanding the history and experience of Christian communities.
In response to the first question, the working group reaffirmed that St. Olaf’s vision of GE requires a course in “critical and normative reflection” on the contents of Christian faith. But they also observe that any conception of “theological literacy” for St. Olaf graduates in the 21 st century should ideally involve a fairly sophisticated understanding of the place of Christian faith among the world’s religious traditions. This goal cannot be achieved in the BTS-T course, since the work of cultivating critical and normative reflection on a religious tradition is already consuming. Nonetheless, the total effect of the BTS-T course is to be understood through the interplay of learning in courses that fulfill that requirement with learning in courses that fulfill other requirements, especially MCS and EIN.
In response to the second question, the working group reaffirmed the emphasis on “critical and normative reflection,” and recommended that the guidelines be revised to clarify some ambiguities in existing guidelines, and give clear expression to a consensus understanding of the requirement that has emerged among instructors of approved courses and the GEC in the years since the curriculum was introduced.