Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seminary as Univerisity and Univirsity

Somehow my work has revolved around seminary education itself. In a sense, I have been dealing with meta-theological education. The nature, structure and desired end of seminary education are important questions rather than codified answers. The root of seminary comes from the Latin, sēminārium or even more simply sēmin, or seed. Thus, seminary is a place of planting and tending to seeds. So, seminary cultivates theological acumen, pastoral disposition and bold leadership. The etymology also reminds one of the many agrarian references in the Bible: the lilies of field, the tares among the wheat, the day laborers and on and on.

The construction of the modern university also intrigues me. This is especially the case considering the work of John Milbank. His interest to commence a Christian Enlightenment (making theology the master discourse, precisely because none can master it) is a reconstruction of the university. The project would be to invaginate the university. Instead of outward radiating, the myriad discourses would be constituted and affirmed inwardly by theology. An academic wheel, where the theology would be the center hub and the other sciences would act as spokes. This was the case not so long ago in the 17th century when theology was said to be the “queen of the sciences.” In 1810, Berlin University was founded and was to become the model for the modern university. Vociferous discussion took place as to if theology ought to be part of the new university structure. Friedrich Schleiermacher argued successfully for its inclusion, but theology was relegated as merely one discourse among many, and later, damnably, its whole dissected into discrete parts (Bible as literature, Theology as philosophy, Christian history as history, and Practical ministry and psychology and sociology).

The German, early 20th century model for the university became the indispensible archetype. The root of university is denoted in its project and structure. First, it comes from the word “universe” which derives from Latin. It consists of two words: uni (one) and vertere (to turn). Thus, the “universe” or the “university” is enveloping (or turning) everything into one thing. Yet, in trying to speak of everything usually says nothing.

So, let me suggest an idea. Let me play a language game. Instead of the seminary aspiring to become the university, let it rather be both a univerisity and a univirsity.

The univerisity is not concerned with everything, but rather concerned with a specific something that signifies everything. Thus, theological education centers around uni (one) veritas (truth). This truth is singular, particular and the master signifier. It is the master signifier because it is the first sign: the Word, Christ Jesus, the only Son of God. This particular truth initiates, situates and norms any further construction in theological education. The univerisity (one-truth) becomes a pronouncement as to the institutions’ originating genesis, productive synthesis, and culminating thesis. The fidelity to the Veritas becomes then the measure of the mission.

The seminary should also be the univirsity. In this sense, the name proclaims the Incarnation. That Jesus of Nazareth was Christ. Thus, it is the vir or, in Latin, the man, that creates this truth. This uni (one) vir (man) is then the entire construction of theological education, because He is the word (logos) of God (Theos). Thus, Robert Banks’ definition for theological education, “To Know God in Christ and to help others know God in Christ” is an appropriate one. Christ then properly becomes the theological and educative keystone.

In the 19th century, Christian theology was relegated to being just another subject among multiple subjects in the modern university. Since then, it has only continued to decline in importance and has been forcibly moved farther from the center, literally 'marginalized' to the periphery. DePaul University, the largest Catholic school in the country, doesn’t have a theology department, but only a “Religious Studies” department. Neither does Northwestern University, founded by Methodists and until the 1920’s were the ‘Fighting Methodist.” Christian theology isn’t even offered a special place among the varied world religions, even at universities that were founded as Christian institutions. So, what theological education needs is not a transformed university – as this project must be abandoned – but for seminaries and those few remaining theological departments to be univerisities and univirsities. Theological education must engage not with everything rolled into one, but more simply with one Truth and one Man found in the person of Christ.


Hellernot said...

Is this about religion and stuff?

Jason Gill said...

Nothing gets past you!

Mark Koester said...

I like this line: "The univerisity is not concerned with everything, but rather concerned with a specific something that signifies everything." (though I miread it as saying "university" until I pasted it and the spell check barked back). I'm not sure I understand what you are talking about, but the mood and yours words are lively. Keep writing!

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