Transformative Theology at the Heart of Carroll College Mission

Eric Hall, Ph,D.
Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy
Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen Professor of Peace and Justice

Being trained to the highest levels in philosophy and theology, it can be frustrating and disheartening sometimes to look within a broader culture and see that most persons ascribe no real sense of importance to these subjects, except maybe that they teach critical thinking skills. True. So do chess and poker. But I get it. These subjects seem useless; they seem to give no one any other skills.

On the other hand, I learned in and through these academic areas to pursue the truth in all things and to do so with an iron will. I also learned to evaluate my life with a keen, honest, and critical eye, asking myself whether I’m merely living a life that brings me pleasure to live or a life that brings me and others goodness. Moreover, these disciplines even led me and my family into full communion with the Catholic Church and its incarnational mission.

What I’m saying is that these disciplines are intellectually, morally, and spiritually metamorphic. For these reasons alone, they more than deserve their place within the modern, Catholic academy. After all, the Truth, and the pursuit of it far beyond our reductions of it to pragmatics, transforms us into good people.

The question then is quite simple: how can we reinvigorate these disciplines and others like them within a jobs-oriented culture? How do we find the academic and institutional value of a degree like theology again?

In theology, we asked ourselves: what if we do actually take ourselves seriously as a transformative discipline?  Our answer to that question has emerged into a new motto: Explore the Deep. This motto is an intellectual translation of Pope John Paul II’s declaration that we all ought to “Go Out Into the Deep” (duc in altum). What we mean by this translation is simple: we want students—any and all students—to have the chance to ‘Explore the Deep’ of their faith, whatever their major or career path.

To foster this exploration for students, the theology department has made some big changes to the major. We’ve reduced the major credits from upward of 55 credits down to 34 credits total, which is in line with theology majors at our peer institutions as well as many other majors at Carroll. We’ve also shifted the classes within the major to allow for maximum flexibility while retaining the rigor deserving of a Carroll degree. We reduced the minor to 18 credits and created flexibility within that too, to allow students pursuing, say, nursing and engineering degrees to continue to explore the deep of their faith as well.

In other words, we’ve created maximum flexibility so as to open up to students the possibility of double-majoring, or simply minoring, with us. We’ve re-envisioned our degree, not as a stand-alone degree, but as a degree that integrates with any other degree, helping the student not only become more versed, intelligent, and trained, but also to learn to live within the transformative truth of Catholic theology and the truths pursued by all persons of good will.

You might note that we’re missing an important link to this particular vision. If we’re exploring the deep, how are we also going into the deep of our communities? The answer is simple: we’ve begun to implement a new ministry program including an emphasis in ministry within the theology major or minor. Now we’re not only transforming our students, but also engaging directly with our diocese to transform our broader community!

This new emphasis uses six credits from the electives of the existing major. Now students have the option to engage in the following curriculum: a one-credit discernment course used to develop a sense of what it means to be called to ministry, including site visits to various institutions and a penumbra of reflective exercises; a three-credit ministry internship at local parishes, ministries and philanthropic organizations; and a two-credit, cohort style Ministry in Action course where students will reflect together on their diverse experiences through their internships.

Of importance, here, is to note that the term ministry has a very broad meaning to us. We want to go out even deeper. Of course there is priestly and pastoral ministry, and we’ve many students interested in these forms of direct service. However, one of the elements that we’ve also developed is the chance for students to use internships in their other majors as their internship for theology as well.

For instance, we’ve established a double-major with psychology with a focus on pastoral care. This double-major allows students to use their psychology internship for theology, and we ask the student to write a senior thesis integrating the psychology, theology, and clinical work into a final reflective and academic product.

What I want to convey to you all is simple: in theology, we’re both exploring the deep of our faith and going out into the deep of the community. Our students have responded strongly. We now have 13 majors including business/theology; pre-med/theology; and psychology/theology double majors, to name a few. We also have at least 20 minors.

In this vein, perhaps our broadest hope in the theology department is that at Carroll College, as a liberal arts and pre-professional institution, absolutely no student should graduate without the type of education that lies within the heart of the mission. That is, should a student serve through a concrete career? Absolutely. But that student should also gain a transformative education through a degree like theology that can only bolster and deepen a pre-professional degree.

You’ll note that I think that theology should of course be students’ first choice, but we’re more than willing to share the work of transforming lives with other colleagues. What I’m saying is that you ought to be ready for a future where your heart will drop as your child tells you that she’s getting a theology degree; just remember, it’ll be paired with business!