‘Theology under threat’, warns top academic

‘Theology under threat’, warns top academic Professor Eamonn Conway

An emphasis on market forces is endangering theology’s place in Irish higher education, one of Ireland’s leading theologians has said, calling for the subject to be protected.

“Theology is under threat in our higher education, there’s no question about that,” Prof. Eamonn Conway of Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College told The Irish Catholic.

Explaining that students who choose to study theology typically do so because of a prior interest in the deepest questions that affect humanity, Prof. Conway said this “requires a certain level not only of academic interest and competence, but also of human experience” and that “more can and could be done to engage critical and reflective young people and to demonstrate the reasonableness of religious faith”.

“Many young people still leave school – secondary level education – even from our Catholic schools, somehow of the view that there is an incompatibility between science and religion,” he said.

Points for liberal arts courses in general have dropped in recent years, Prof. Conway said.

“Our universities for the most part are succumbing to the commodification of education, and therefore are simply responding to market forces rather than providing the holistic education context in which theology would be valued,” he said.

“It’s so important to protect it in an interdisciplinary context,” he continued, arguing that this would demonstrate the reasonableness of religious faith, “and also so that students who might not otherwise choose to put themselves in a learning setting where theology is being taught would encounter it by osmosis or by accident, and be surprised at how it speaks to their interests, yearnings and deepest desires”.

His comments come as the CAO’s minimum points requirement for Theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth dropped to 308 from 337 last year. Maynooth President Fr Michael Mullaney cautioned against reading too much into this, given small numbers doing the course mean its points requirements tend to fluctuate, with numbers rising dramatically from 325 in 2014 to 425 in 2015, for example.

“That’s a very specialised degree, that about maybe two or three or four people take every year,” he said, describing these as “always very good students”.

The points requirement for the main Theology and Arts course remained stable at 300.