Sunday, 3 March 2013

Diploma in Orthodox Theology

Education, education, education. Blair's mantra applies to the Church every bit as much as it does to any nation. While the lack of knowledge among many laypeople can only be ascribed to laziness or disinterest - I refuse to believe that people in this day and age wouldn't have the presence of mind to look something up on Google or Wikipedia if they actually wanted to know something - there are many who are interested, but who simply don't know where to start. Which books do I read? Which subjects should I focus on? For those who are academically minded, there are courses available, but they're often too expensive, too far away, or too time consuming for those with other commitments. 

The lack of theological education also affects the teaching of non-academic theology in the Church. I have been to churches which had Sunday school, adult catechism, Bible studies, you name it, but the people teaching them had no competence to do so. It becomes a case of the blind leading the blind, where well-intended but misinformed teachers pass on their erroneous understanding of the Faith to their well-intended but misinformed students.

I would really like to see a thorough and academic, but affordable (free!) and accessible, course in Orthodox Theology made available. One that covered such things as dogmatic theology, the philosophical foundations of Orthodox theology, Church history, patristic theology, biblical studies, and liturgics. I think a correspondence course which involved a supervised and guided programme of self-study would be the best way to achieve this. Not only would this be of great benefit to those interested in undertaking such studies, but the diploma issued would prove that the student had attained to a comprehensive knowledge of Orthodox faith and worship, and could be trusted to organise and lead various catechetical programmes in the Church. I know that a similar diploma programme in California has been accepted by a number of universities in that state, and could therefore potentially be a first step to a further education for those wishing to pursue theology at graduate level.

How would it differ from catechism?
First of all, catechism tends to be introductory. Its purpose is to teach you the essential basics of the Church's faith and worship, usually in order to prepare you for baptism. This course will be far more in-depth and academic in nature. Secondly, catechism tends to be almost 100% taught. You attend a class at regular intervals and receive all of your instruction there. You may be asked to read things at home, but normally just in order to recap or prepare for the content of the class. The diploma course would be much more like a university course in structure. Lectures would primarily serve as a way of introducing students to a particular subject and an accompanying body of literature. Actual learning would be the job of the student, who would be expected to work through a reading list, and to then produce written assignments, allowing the academic supervisor to ascertain whether they have sufficiently understood the materials in question. 

How would it differ from a university course?
Because the course would only be supervised and guided by qualified individuals, but would not involve a full-time group of lecturers or supervisor, it could be free, allowing anyone to sign up. Moreover, the structure of the course would be modular rather than based on a fixed schedule of semesters/terms. This would allow students to work at a pace that suits their circumstances. In order to facilitate this, lectures would be made available online. Students would view a lecture, acquire the relevant reading materials, and work their way through them at a suitable pace. The student would then move on to another module after supplying relevant written work, and would be awarded the Diploma upon completion of all modules. Thus, while the course would have a recommended date of completion - two years, let's say - students could finish the course in as little as one or as much as four.

Moreover, unlike any course available in secular universities, this would be a course in Orthodox theology specifically, and it would be taught from a devotional, not secular, perspective. The idea that Church history and the development of theological and liturgical expression are guided by the Holy Spirit, rather than by accidents of history, for example, is an idea we as Christians confess as truth, but which one could never express in a university essay. The desire would also be for the student to have a practical understanding of Orthodoxy. The module(s) on liturgics would therefore aim to familiarise the students with the structure of the Orthodox services, the content of the liturgical books, and the function of the 8 modal musical system.

Just some ideas. 

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