Abstract: On the conventional account, theology differs from other forms of reflection, including religious studies, for one or both of two reasons: (1) because it has to appeal to special criteria of truth for some if not all of its assertions; and (2) because the theologian has to be a believer who already holds these assertions to be true. But, since by contemporary standards, either of these is also a reason for dismissing theology as illegitimate, the perennial task of achieving an adequate theological self-understanding today is widely supposed to confront a dilemma: one must choose, finally, between a theology that is really different from religious studies only because it also fails to comply with current standards of reflection and a theology that is in full compliance with such standards only because its difference from religious studies is merely verbal and so does not really make a difference, anyhow. The question, consequently, is whether it is possible to provide an account of the difference between theology and religious studies other than the conventional account.
One way of arguing for an affirmative answer is to establish the following three claims: (1) that religious studies differ from the study of religion generally in being constituted as such by the question as to the meaning and truth of religion as itself a claim to truth; (2) that this difference remains even in the case of full compliance with contemporary standards of reflection, since it entails neither special criteria of truth for religious assertions nor special qualifications for students of religion; and (3) that, analogously, theology would be different from religious studies, as well as from other forms of reflection, even it it were in full compliance with the same standards of reflection, since the sufficient ground of its difference is the question that constitutes it a distinct field of reflection—namely, the reflective question as to the meaning and truth of the Christian religion, or witness of faith.
Having established these claims, the argument concludes that the supposed dilemma is merely that and that there remains the distinct possibility of a theology that is in full compliance with contemporary standards of reflection even while being really and not merely verbally different from every other field of study.
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Cite this workChicago
Ogden, Schubert M. "Theology and Religious Studies: Their Difference and the Difference It Makes." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 46, no. 1 (March 1978): 3–17.