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Modern Western Theology

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About the Course


Aim of the Seminars
Pace of the Seminar

NOTE: The WebCT course support site for students registered in the 2000 class is here.

Aim of the Modern Western Theology Seminars

The aim of the Modern Western Theology (MWT) seminar sequence has two aspects. The primary purpose is to acquaint appropriately prepared participants with the most significant western theological movements, figures and problems of the modern period. Attention is paid to non-western theological reflection, especially in the twentieth century, but the main emphasis is on western theology. The second, more formal, purpose of the seminars is to prepare PhD students and ThD majors and minors for comprehensive examinations in theology. This goal is expressed in both the design and the grading method for the seminars.

Note that MWT I (1650-1900, STH TT909) and MWT II (20th Century, STH TT930) are independent of each other. Taking the first does not commit you to taking the second, nor does the second presuppose the first. However, the two seminars together are designed to cover the entire modern period from Locke, Wesley and Edwards to the present, and so work well together.


The MWT I seminar meets for three hours weekly. Meetings consist of seminar-style discussions, with mini-lectures from the instructor as needed.

The seminar discussions are to be led by the participants. Each week, some students will be assigned to produce and present highly condensed 2,500 word papers on the figure or problem of the day in the form of an article for a hypothetical dictionary of modern theology. Over the course of the seminar, these articles will build into a valuable source of biographical and bibliographical information about each figure or problem considered, as well as helpful and compact summaries of the relevant theological content.

The concern in these seminars is primarily to articulate each theologian’s thought in relation to that of other theologians, and to traditional and novel theological problems. A secondary objective is to situate theological writings and the lives of theologians in their social, ecclesial and cultural contexts. This latter aim is met especially through the students’ production of the "dictionary" articles described above, in which biographical information and its relationship to theological writings is a key aspect. The leading approach, however, is that of "the history of ideas."

Pace of the Seminar

This seminar is extremely fast-paced. That this pace is possible follows, I think, from two considerations.

  • Doctoral candidates preparing for comprehensive exams in modern theology have to cover this material and much more in the space of a year or two, anyway, and the pace of the seminars simply realistically reflects the arduous schedule of exam preparation.
  • There is a long-standing tradition in many theology graduate programs of seminars such as this. They are generally found to be both memorable and extremely useful experiences, an indication of the realistic nature of the fast pace. They also solidify a sense of community (perhaps through common suffering!) amongst students.

That this pace is appropriate is supported by three further considerations:

  • Theology comprehensive exams cover the material, and doctoral students (candidates for the PhD and the ThD Theology Major) are expected to know it, so this seminar is provided as an optional method for them to learn it.
  • It is virtually impossible to do good work in the fractured and complex contemporary theological scene unless the theologian knows how that scene developed. A seminar sequence as adventurous as this one is an ideal method for gaining such a contextual understanding, precisely because of its intensive and broad-ranging design.
  • Theologians have to learn to read quickly and selectively, without compromising understanding. This is a skill that must be learned through practice. This seminar provides a structured opportunity to begin to establish or enhance this ability.


A certain amount of background information on the modern period from 1650-1900 will be assumed in discussions of specific figures and themes. As you prepare for the seminar, and during the first two weeks, you should aim to pick up as much of this background as possible. To that end, you will find it helpful to read (and continually to consult):

  • Gerald McCool, Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century
  • Claude Welch, Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols. (Astonishingly, this classic is currently out of print. Use the library copy.)
  • Kenneth Scott Latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age (vols. 1-3)
  • James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought from the Enlightenment to Vatican II (There is now a second edition of this work, published in two volumes by Liningston with help from others on the second volume. It is greatly expanded and improved.)
  • Martin E. Marty, et al., eds., A Handbook of Christian Theologians (revised edition currently out of print, but check for a newer edition)
  • T. M. Schoof, A Survey of Catholic Theology
  • Ninian Smart, ed., Nineteenth Century Thought in the West (3 vols.)

For full bibliographical information on these works, see the bibliography.

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