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Theology and philosophy requirements should remain the same

By , Opinions Editor  |  Thursday, October 24, 2013 7:17 PM

St. Thomas students come from as close as Cretin-Derham Hall and as far as Saudi Arabia. Forty two percent of the student body identify as Roman Catholic, while 458 students claim no religious affiliation at all.

But when we graduate from this Catholic liberal arts institution, we have a few things in common. We’ve all had to rack our brains trying to remember the difference between modus ponens and modus tollens. We can all recognize the names of Christianity’s greats like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. And we’ve probably all had a class discussion at some point about social justice issues, morality or faith.

We go to a Catholic college, and we should embrace our education through the required three theology and two philosophy courses.

Undergraduate Student Government confirmed last week that steps have been taken to re-evaluate the number of philosophy and theology courses the university requires for graduation.

So, we asked you what you thought. Last week, a TommieMedia.com survey asked site visitors if they thought the three theology and two philosophy course requirements should be changed. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they wanted the requirements lowered, and 31 percent said they should remain the same. Three percent responded that they want to see the requirements raised. The last five percent answered “other” and had a variety of suggestions that ranging from one less of either course to more Catholic-centered teaching in theology course options. CC_COLUMN_GRAPHIC

In my eyes, the requirements shouldn’t be changed because Christian faith and reason are two of the pillars St. Thomas is founded on. In other words, with these requirements, the university is trying to educate students on the pursuit of truth.

St. Thomas’ philosophy department mission states “that exposure to the tradition of philosophy is essential to a liberal education.” A liberal education gives us a well-rounded learning experience so we can develop not only a single skill or trade, but a broad knowledge base on which to make sound decisions. Learning how to effectively defend one’s arguments and analyze the validity of others, like we do in philosophy, helps us develop our thought-processing skills.

Not only this, but one of St. Thomas’ convictions reads, “As a community, we are committed to faith and reason. We actively engage in Catholic intellectual tradition, which values the fundamental compatibility of faith and reason and fosters meaningful dialogue directed toward the flourishing of human culture.”

St. Thomas’ mission statement starts with the Catholic tradition, which seems to support the requirements as well. We should study and understand the Catholic tradition. The mission statement says our university, “educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.” This helps explain the type of logic and purposeful consideration encouraged in our required philosophy classes.

Many see theology courses as a chore and find philosophy courses boring, but you get what you put into it.

When you enter your Theo 101 class or introduction to Philosophy classroom, do you go in wanting to get it over with, or strive to take something out of the class?

I’ll be honest, a few weeks in to my philosophy course I found myself questioning why I was there. I found it difficult to apply what I was learning to my daily life or determine how it played into my major.

But the biggest thing I took out of my philosophy and theology courses were ways to think critically and to challenge myself to dig deeper. And who doesn’t love a good challenge—stepping out of your comfort zone to learn how to look through a different kind of intellectual lenses?

In comparison to other Catholic institutions in the country- St. John’s University and College of St. Benedict, Loyola University-Chicago, Marquette University, Franciscan University and Catholic University- each roughly require two philosophy or deep thinking courses and two theology courses.

I think there’s a reason why we have three theology and two philosophy requirements. I like to think of theology in these terms: in Theo 101, we are exploring the origins of the church and its teachings. In the next course, we start to explore how the church puts its teachings into action. The third course is meant to put it all in context; how what the church teaches relates to our daily lives. Without one of the three courses, I’d find it difficult to take the religion taught and take it outside the classroom.

The same rule applies to having two philosophy courses. The first course is aimed at gaining a greater understanding of how to form an argument and what makes a solid statement. The second course teaches us how to put those ideas into practice, through applying philosophical answers to the moral questions we face in our lives.

I understand that not everyone who goes to St. Thomas is Christian. But treating others as you would have them treat you, taking care of the earth, feeding the poor and learning right from wrong can be applied to daily life by all of us, Christian or not. St. Thomas is a private, Catholic school, so religion is bound to come up. I don’t see theology courses as a means of trying to convert non-Catholics, but as a way to grow in human goodness together and strive toward doing good each day.

I’m looking forward to my last theology course because it will be a change of pace from my communications and journalism courses, I’ll be able to learn with classmates I normally don’t get to, and I’ll be learning more about the church St. Thomas was founded on.

I see these classes and the material we study as another way to help us learn how to advance the common good. While we earn degrees so we can better our chances of getting a good job after we graduate, I also think a liberal education gives us tools. These tools will, like the ones we gain in theology and philosophy courses, will help us grow and help others do the same.

Caroline Rode can be reached at rode8318@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Opinions and has 4 comments so far.

4 Comments

  1. Michael Blissenbach ’09
    Oct. 25, 2013 8:23 AM

    Ms. Rode, thank you so much for this wonderful opinion piece. I agree in full that St. Thomas should not reduce the number of required theology and philosophy courses, as well as your rationale for why reducing the required courses would be unwise.

  2. James Heaney
    Oct. 25, 2013 10:06 AM

    Persuasive!

  3. Dick Houck ’51
    Oct. 27, 2013 8:21 PM

    I agree. There is more need for knowledge in theology and philosophy in this world and culture than any other subjects. This is one area in which a Catholic school should be strong.

  4. Sam Olson
    Oct. 29, 2013 7:10 PM

    Whether or not you agree with it, as a liberal arts college we are supposed to be well rounded. Perhaps by removing one requirement from theology and placing it perhaps on a business class assignment or another liberal arts assignment, St.Thomas would be fulfilling that role more. I agree fully that biblical history and philosophical ethics play a vital part in our education. However with that being said, It would be nice to dedicate a requirement to another area of fine arts that I cannot fulfill currently due to the required theological requirements. Not disagreeing or agreeing with either opinion but just pointing out some of the “philosophical” arguments others may perceive.

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