I. COURSE DESCRIPTION
After years of discussion within the field of anthropology concerning how to properly engage with theology, a growing number of anthropologists now want to engage with theology as a counterpart in ethnographic dialogue. The major example demonstrating this change is the December 2013 special issue of The Australian Journal of Anthropology (TAJA), which was titled Anthropological Theologies: Engagements and Encounters. In this special edition of TAJA, the editors and contributors argued that theology must be taken seriously to uncover new anthropological insights. Additionally, an article entitled “Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue” appeared in the February 2014 issue of Current Anthropology. This article uses the problem of violence as an illustration of the need for a space for Christian anthropologists to speak within scholarly circles. More generally there is a growing interest in developing a rigorous research collaboration between the social sciences and theology as evidenced by the Spring 2013 issue of Practical Matters, which was dedicated to ethnography and religion, and the December 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, which calls sociologists to take a more serious consideration of religion in their research.
The time is right to give renewed emphasis to theology in anthropological circles. This course will focus on the theological history of anthropology, illuminate deeply held theological assumptions that humans make about the nature of reality, and illustrate how these theological assumptions manifest themselves in society. Furthermore, students will develop the basic research skills needed to use theology in ethnographic research and to answer the question “What can theology contribute to cultural anthropology and ethnography?”
II. Orienting Questions
1. Productive Collaborations
How do historical and current social conditions influence the development of both theology and anthropology?
How do the disciplines of theology and anthropology nourish but also challenge one another, with respect to understandings of ‘the human’?
In what ways could theological ideas of covenant, justice, and mercy enhance anthropological ideas of the moral community?
How can anthropology achieve a better understanding of its own religious and theological predispositions or biases?
2. Theology as Human Activity
How can anthropologists share with theologians what they have learned about lived theologies around the world?
How do intellectual productions such as academic theological doctrines come to shape the daily lives of people living far from the places where they were developed?
What does the currently explosive spread of Christianity in the Global South have to teach us about the nature of Christian theology as a particular kind of cultural phenomenon?
In what ways do theological categories have cross-cultural validity?
3. Theory and Method
How can we improve anthropological techniques for studying local theological practice in the field, and how can fieldworkers be trained to ask more theologically informed questions during the course of their work?
How can the experience of transcendence or belief be analyzed and described adequately in social scientific terms?
How can theologians incorporate the data that anthropologists produce in theological research?
What are the central pieces of a theoretical framework that embraces scientific anthropology and scientific theology?