Raising “an awareness of what is missing”
In a recent promotional interview, Dr Michael Kirwan SJ, interim Director of the Loyola Institute in Trinity College Dublin, drew attention to a general lack of theological literacy both in the Church and in the world at large. What the academic study of theology offers, he believes, is the critical tools to understand the issues at play as a society makes its choices. The Loyola Institute’s Masters course in Christian Theology addresses this deficit.
Dr Kirwan cites the example of an Irish commentator insisting on the need for a National Maternity Hospital that is independent of Church influence, as “we need to be secular and we need to be pluralist”.
“Those are two different terms,” he says. A secularist wants to exclude all input from religion, whereas a pluralist favours having all voices represented. “Does Ireland want to be a secularist country? Does it want to be a pluralist country? Those are not the same thing.”
Such a lack of deep understanding of the issues and the terms is widespread. This, Dr Kirwan believes, is why people are not equipped to consider the added value which theological knowledge brings to public discourse. He refers to the great contemporary critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, who even though he counts himself among those who have “no ear for religion” came to see that religious discourse was essential to the public sphere. Habermas has spoken of “an awareness of what is missing” when secular reason goes it alone.
“This is his point,” Dr Kirwan comments, “can societies in the long run survive without something like religious commitment, religious values, and so on?”
The Loyola Institute was established in 2012 and is part of the School of Religion in Trinity College Dublin. Its specific academic purpose is teaching and research in the Catholic Christian tradition. It offers degrees in theology at postgraduate level, both taught and via research, and regularly conducts research seminars as part of its post-graduate offering. One of its particular areas of excellence is the creative intersection of theology, church and society.
The MPhil course which the Loyola Institute offers is ideally suited to graduates in theology and related disciplines, though no previous academic experience in theology is required. It has proven to be of immense help to a wide variety of participants, including chaplains, pastoral workers, people engaged in Church ministry, and teachers of religious education.
The closing date for applications for the MPhil in Christian Theology programme for 2021-2022 is Saturday 31 July. There are also opportunities to do a Diploma or Certificate.
PHOTO: Some of the MPhil class of 2018/19 celebrate at their graduation: (left-right) Dr Con Casey, Founding Director Loyola Institute, Anne Potter, Edith O’Nuallain, Leslie Flores, Eoin Walshe, Loyola Institute’s Dr Fáinche Ryan, and Paul McManus