Areas of Specialization

text of "areas of specialization"

To relate faith and culture in a critical, Augustinian way each student in the combined Master's/Ph.D. Program chooses two areas for his or her advanced course work and dissertation research, sufficiently mastering the two for conducting interdisciplinary, integrative research and college level teaching. Thus, students in the program experience and learn an innovative way of "doing theology" and, in this way, serve the Church. 

We offer five areas of specialization.

Biblical Studies

Biblical studies in the Augustinian Catholic tradition prepares students to reflect critically and theologically upon scripture in research and teaching. Its focus is the deep inner unity of the biblical narrative as a whole as well as the contributions of individual texts to this unity as they shape a theological narrative concerning the relationships among God, human beings, and the world through time and culture(s). Students in the area demonstrate competency in

  1. the use of a range of analytical methods and critical approaches to the biblical corpus and the scholarship of the field;
  2. the analysis of the literature, history, culture, and religion both of ancient Israel (from its origins through the Second Temple Period) and of early Christianity;
  3. the study of the theological dimensions of the scriptures as well as their reception in Christian history and thought.

Historical Theology

Historical theology reflects on the revelation of God in Christ as it is interpreted, expressed, and lived out in the many historical cultural contexts in which the Christian faith has been preached. Historical theology brings the rigorous standards of critical historical and textual scholarship to explore how people of faith have dealt with their own time and culture — both consciously and unconsciously. Those examples show what people of faith have done to live according to the Gospel and how their efforts succeeded or fell short in renewing or transforming their culture.

By using texts and examples from the past within the teaching-learning process, we reflect on how the experience of faith in other times and cultures may be useful for engaging our own time and culture, both affirming and challenging present-day theological reflection.

Since the Gospels were written at the intersection of the Hebrew and Greek cultures, Christian faith and theology presumes a multicultural basis and an inter-cultural influence. Historical theology, therefore, is only true to itself when it seeks to bridge the differences from one age and culture to another. It is thus an essential tool for understanding the complex relationship between faith and culture in any age.

Saint Augustine is one of the foundational figures in the history of Christianity, an authority and exemplar both in the ways in which he articulated the faith in and through the philosophical, political, and religious cultures of late antiquity, and in the ways in which he resisted and transformed those cultures as a bishop and teacher. His experience of cultural interaction in places like Milan, Carthage and Hippo and in relationships with church and Roman officials make his legacy a helpful resource for applying the Gospel within Villanova’s doctoral program in theology. Augustine thus provides us with some of the best and most carefully documented examples of how people of faith from previous centuries engaged their culture.

Fundamental and Systematic Theology

God’s revelation in events, words, and especially in the person of Jesus Christ compels Catholic fundamental and systematic theology to engage with culture. Fundamental and systematic theology, steeped in the long and rich Christian tradition, explores the diverse layers of that tradition and brings the truths of the tradition to bear on the contemporary situation in language that finds a hearing in that situation. In this way, theology questions culture while culture questions theology.

Fundamental and systematic theology pursues these questions in a number of ways: starting with theological reflection but also applying the insights of other disciplines such as history, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, philosophy, and the natural sciences. It reflects, too, on the breadth of human experience as found, for example, in the arts. We understand human experience and its cultural expressions as a crucial source for theological reflection. This is faith seeking understanding in the true Augustinian tradition.

Christian Spirituality

The term “spirituality” is notoriously difficult to delineate, though Sandra M. Schneiders has put forward a well-received definition. For her, “spirituality” denotes the pursuit of “life integration” by way of a process of “self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.” Thus particular doctrines underlie every spirituality—for they articulate to the “ultimate value” in question—but spirituality itself is not a mere set of doctrines or rules. Rather, it concerns the existential application of such principles, whether they concern “the Transcendent, the flourishing of humanity, or some other value.”

In the Christian tradition, spirituality has taken its starting point from the Bible, which speaks of the “spirit” (ruach/pneuma) of God and, through it, the promise of new “life.” In a variety of ways, this overarching motif has been explored and developed over the centuries, from the apophatic theology of Gregory of Nyssa to the ecstatic and visionary poetry of Hadewijch of Antwerp to the theme of imitatio Christi in Søren Kierkegaard. And yet, the study of Christian spirituality considers not only thought but also practice, including the habits of contemplation, prayer, penance, liturgy, devotion, and asceticism. As Bernard McGinn has put it, “The study of spirituality requires a desire to try to appreciate how religious people actually live their beliefs.” Moreover, Christian spirituality ranges into affective life, investigating the purpose and the role of the emotions in religious growth. This holistic approach to spirituality integrates bodily existence as well. Indeed, despite stereotypes of “individualism” and “acosmism,” Christian spirituality is rooted in, if not always in agreement with, the Christian ekklesia (“assembly”) or church. Consequently, spirituality engages social life and extends to socio-political movements and communities.

Given its multifarious concerns, the study of spirituality may be approached from a number of disciplines, including ethics, history, and theology. Thus it is an inherently interdisciplinary field, and, for that reason, it often draws on voices of those traditionally marginalized, including laity and women. Furthermore, its objects of study are diverse. To be sure, formal theological reflection is essential, and yet cultural forms such as visual art, film, music, liturgy, popular devotions, novels, hagiography, manuals are increasingly important, shedding new light on familiar ideas and figures.

In all of these ways, the study of spirituality aligns with the Augustinian mission of Villanova. Just as Augustine sought to unite head and heart, belief and practice, mind and body, so does spirituality aim to bring together the plurality of modes in which the divine is known and experienced in human life, from philosophical speculation to cultural praxis. But this point of connection should come as no surprise. After all, in his unique combination of interests, all of which were orientated toward spiritual development, Augustine himself stands as a model for the study of spirituality.

Christian Ethics

Christian ethics is the branch of theology explicitly tasked with articulating the moral, social, political, and economic implications of Christian faith for both Christian disciples and the broader public sphere. The discipline thus underscores and elaborates on the nexus between theological beliefs and their significance for personal and communal living in particular cultural contexts. Christian ethics evaluates the positive influence of culture on Christian beliefs and practices, such as the modern human rights and environmental movements.

At the same time, it also develops critiques of culture, and its influence on the church, in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Christian theological doctrines. For example, Christian ethicists reflect upon and challenge elements of culture such as the “culture of death,” racism/white privilege, consumerism, jingoism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, imperialism, economic oppression, and environmental degradation. At the heart of such critiques is the belief that God became human, thereby establishing the ongoing “indwelling” of Jesus Christ in all of God’s creation. Sacred scripture and Christian tradition generate norms and virtues to guide us towards respecting the presence of Christ’s Spirit in all of creation.

However, Christian ethics done in the spirit of Augustine also utilizes tools and sources such as philosophy, the social sciences, the physical sciences, literature and the arts, to interpret the Christian faith and the existential realities of the world, and to specify and apply the moral wisdom of the tradition to the pressing problems of God’s creation. In short, Christian ethics engages culture to both infuse it with the spirit of the incarnate God and to learn from its positive achievements how to better understand and enhance the situation of the human person and the created order.