UWI failing Theology

The University of the West Indies (UWI), and specifically the School of Humanities, Theology Department, has been failing in their interpretation and proper delivery of theological studies for years. UWI, in its dispensation of theological studies, perpetrates discrimination and religious bias better suited to the Middle Ages.

Theology in its broad and widely accepted definition is understood as “The science of God or of religion; the science which treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God, his laws and government, the doctrines we are to believe, and the duties we are to practise; divinity;” Indeed theology is the discipline of religious thought that is restricted in its narrower sense, because of origin and format, to Christianity, but in its broader sense, because of its themes, to other religions. The themes of theology are God, man, the world, salvation, and eschatology (or the study of last times). In this sense due to modernity, theology is no longer rooted to any singular religion or religious experiences. Therefore, in theological discussions there can be Islamic theology, Hindu Theology, Christian theology, etc. Yet at UWI theology has been imprisoned only to Christian theology. As a result theology at UWI has been an adjunct to many Christian religious institutions providing priests, and pastors with theological degrees at the taxpayers’ expense. Or can UWI provide evidence that the programme is financially supported by these denominations that benefit? Ironically, the Hindu community has been told over the years to provide its own funding to establish a Chair of Hindu Studies at UWI. One wonders if the various Christian institutions that are chiefly the sole beneficiaries of UWI’s theological studies contribute anything for the economic sustainability of the programme over the years.

Theology is among the most challenging and engaging subjects anyone can study. Why? Because religion is a major factor shaping the world in which we live. You can’t understand our world without understanding religion. That world comprises of many religions not only one Christian faith. Because the religions raise questions which are among the most basic and important we face as human beings. Because good theology is always politically and socially engaged.  Because doing good theology isn’t a matter of gaining information — it’s a matter of undergoing transformation. Because theology draws upon a wide range of intellectual disciplines: history, languages, philosophy, sociology, cultural studies, art history, and others. Therefore to represent theology in a plural society such as Trinidad and Tobago in a unidimensional manner is not to adequately teach Theology at an institution of higher learning. Yet over the years this grave travesty has escaped  academic comment. The University of Exeter Theology Degree programme states, “You don’t have to be religious yourself to find the issues Theology raises, or the way it tackles them, compelling. You don’t have to be religious in order to acquire the skills to study them. What is important is your desire to engage in the enquiry with enthusiasm and an open mind, ready to consider and to pursue a variety of arguments as you work out your own views.”

UWI’s 14-member Theological Depart-ment is headed by Rev Michael de Verteuil. Other members of staff include Rev Joseph Harris, Rev Michel de Verteuil, Rev Clyde Harvey, Rev Allan Ventour, Rev Jason Gordon, Rev Gabriel Maizarire, Rev Donald Chambers, Sister Diane Jagdeo, Sister Katrina Charles, Sister Ethna Regan, Sister Julie Peters, Dr Everard Johnston and Mr Selwyn Rodulfo. The Christian bias of the academic staff is overwhelming. The studies offered by the department are also interesting to note. In the Religious and Philosophical Studies Level 1 courses include T14B “Philosophy for Christian Theology I — (Classical), and T14C “Philosophy for Christian Theology II (Modern). There is a section called “Pastoral Studies that is interesting in the courses offered. These include Pastoral Analysis and Creative Ministry, Fundamentals of Christian Ministry, Psychology for Ministry, Introduction to Christian Worship, Theory and Practice of Christian Preaching, and Christian Preaching and the Electronic Media. Level II and Level III courses are essentially biblical studies and the courses reflect this. There are courses such as The Penateuch, The Latter Prophets, The Synoptic Gospel and Acts, The Pauline Epistles, The Gospel and Epistles of John, and Theology of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic History. In Historical Studies courses include Patristic Studies, and History of the Christian Churches in the Caribbean. This Christian bias is reflected in similar fashion in every single course offered by the Theology Department. However, no better can be expected from a department that is comprised solely of Christian clergy.

What exists at UWI is therefore nothing short of a seminary. In fact, a theological degree is the requisite for ordination in some Christian denominations. Some may wish to advance the argument that theology is exclusively the purview of Christian thought. This however is looking at theology from a very narrow perspective. While Theology may have arisen from early Christian discussions to explain aspects of Christianity, Theology today encompasses the entire religious spectrum. Examination of other religious traditions and thoughts will only serve to enrich the Theological Department at UWI. Other progressive universities have embraced widening definition of theology to include other non-Christian religions. For example Oxford University Oriental Institute, Pusey Lane, Oxford describes its programme on Hindu Theology Studies as “To introduce students to systematic philosophical and theological thinking in Hindu theistic traditions, this term’s lectures examine two texts from different traditions. Special attention will be paid to problems in interpretation and comparative methodology. No background in Indian studies or Theology required.” Given this bias and historical injustice, a call is being made on the University of the West Indies to alter its Theological Department to reflect the entire religious spectrum.


"UWI failing Theology"

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