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There are many disciplinary perspectives from which one can study theology and culture, an intersection that has never, for me, been less than a reckless passion. My own way theologically into this nexus, and thus to the study of rock and theology, has been with the assistance of a domain called “practical theology.” This field is often distinguished from systematic theology, moral theology, historical theology, and fundamental theology (not to mention many other ways of marking up the map of theological studies). Practical theology takes practice as its key conceptual focus, and practices of interest to theology (whether in “religious” or “secular” contexts) as its key reference point — whether as a starting point or as a conclusion to theological argument. Practical theology is not well known in Catholic contexts in the United States, though it is better known in Catholic theological circles elsewhere, for example Canada and Europe. The term “practical theology” was made most effective and critically robust for modern theology by the 18th-19th century Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, and ever since has been more common in Protestant seminaries and Protestant theological encyclopedias.  Given its rarity in Catholic circles in the United States, I am sometimes asked how I came to learn of it and find it useful. Here is part 1 of my brief account of how.

I was introduced to practical theology through Professor Thomas Groome during my doctoral studies at Boston College in the late 1990s. I had never heard of practical theology during two years of master’s work at Harvard Divinity School, and sometime within my first year of doctoral studies, Professor Groome mentioned the International Academy of Practical Theology and the contours of the discipline while we were talking about my interests in faith and culture, and how to situate those within disciplinary nomenclatures and intellectual alliances/interlocutors. From time to time, he would give me articles by practical theologians, many of them from the International Journal of Practical Theology, particularly because they crossed my own interests in philosophies of practice, continental philosophy, or popular culture studies, as ways of thinking with and for theology in practice. This took place while the content of discussions at the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (now part of the School of Theology and Ministry), where I was located, was still heavily tilted toward religious education.

As these introductions to the discipline were happening, several zones of exploration and personal history were coming together in the late 1990s and early 00s that further helped me feel a productive and promising caughtness in that ambiguous, open-ended, and unruly set of overlapping domains called practical theology:

(more…)