Many people with a curiosity about faith find that studying theology brings them to the next level, writes Deirdre Soffe
The thought might have crossed your mind that someday, you would like to know more about theology. Perhaps while your knowledge and skills in an occupational field advanced, your knowledge of the core issues of contemporary Christianity remained static. You may have had a good grounding in the basics. However, you would like to find out more, read more and update your thinking in a structured way.
Or you may have the curiosity to search out greater meaning, to revisit old beliefs and explore them in a more contemporary idiom, perhaps to delve deeper into the mystery of being and to be in a position to share insights that might be helpful to others. Perhaps, the right time to do this is now?
There were as many reasons to study Christian Theology in the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin, as there were students in our class of 2020. It was as varied a group as you could imagine, with some international students, some recent graduates, some combining work with part-time study — two were priests and some were retired from their initial occupations in fields as varied as law, journalism, broadcasting, nursing, human resources and publishing. The group was composed of 11 men and six women.
Many opted for the one-year full-time programme. Others chose the part-time option over two years to accommodate other aspects of their lives. Our group were all taking the M.Phil. programme, but there are now a variety of ways of engaging with the course in a modular way through the new Certificate in Christian Theology and the Postgraduate Diploma.
Some of our group held primary degrees in theology – most did not. I think it is fair to say that the class was widely representative of society today, some radical traditionalists and some committed to radical change – with most people somewhere between!
Over coffee we discussed what brought us to Loyola, in Trinity, this year. There was a respectful curiosity about theology as a subject, mainly viewed through the lens of faith, but with varied perspectives.
The class was prepared to read extensively and prepared for the frequent writing assignments. The specialised vocabulary of theology took some time to adjust to, as did the rhetorical style of formal texts. All of us were waylaid by the surprisingly interesting content of the modules on offer, and the enthusiasm and sincerity of the lecturers.
Trinity offers comprehensive support services to postgraduate students, with a full suite of induction courses. If you are returning to study after some time, the induction is invaluable. The library service in particular makes every effort to communicate their services to post-graduate students.
We travelled at speed through courses like classical theological texts, finding so many admirable thinkers that remain relevant to today. By the time we had to write an assignment, there were definite ‘fan’ clubs in the class associated with the different early theologians.
As with all postgraduate work, you add to your store of knowledge, which informs you to ask better questions!”
The early Christian period in Ireland involved an enjoyable field trip. To be studying early manuscripts in Trinity with easy access to the Book of Kells display, and the knowledgeable librarians was a real privilege.
Christology – studied as Jesus of Nazareth: Son, Christ, Word was a core module that was vast and uncovered much reading material that many will want to return to study in the future. Some biblical studies were included.
Theology and the arts was a favourite of many, while others opted to study ministry and Church in challenging times. Often it was only through the exploration of an assignment topic that the course ‘came together’ for us. A core element of the discourse was relating to contemporary issues (such as Laudate Si’ and ecology, evaluating Querida Amazonia), and the course modules were supplemented by seminars and occasional public lectures that inform and help redefine religious literacy.
To those that doubt the relevance of theology today, there was a particular irony in studying our final module ‘violence and grace-in the human narrative’ during 2020. Climate change, political upheavals – trade wars and Brexit, fires in California and Australia and finally global pandemic placed the theological virtue of hope centre-stage.
A critical element of a course in theology is the facility to discuss, to share ideas and to question. This was the element we missed the most when the lockdown occurred and would hope that it will be restored for incoming students.
The Christian community of the future will depend on the level of education of its members. With the variety of competencies evident in the class, I am sure that many will find various ways to contribute to their communities in the future with more assurance having undertaken their studies.
As with all postgraduate work, you add to your store of knowledge, which informs you to ask better questions!
The most likely question you encounter when you study theology is not ‘why are you studying theology?’ It is much more likely to be ‘so has it affected your faith or your beliefs’, almost implying ‘have you got sense yet?’ I am happy to relate that studying with the Loyola Institute has opened the door to a panorama of interesting subjects within theology.
It will take years to explore, with conviction and faith and hopefully the opportunity to share the enthusiasm with others.
Deirdre Soffe was a student in the 2019/2020 M.Phil. class. More information on postgraduate courses and scholarships are available on the Loyola Institute website or email Helen at email@example.com with any questions. Closing date for applications for the 2020/21 academic year is July 31.