Academic Programs 
      

Christian Diversity: Curse or Promise  (TH-655-2)     
Summer 2003

This course will explain the key issues and developments in the emergence of Christian diversity, and will pose two significant questions.  First, is such diversity the manifestation of inherent weaknesses in Christianity, weaknesses that the other great monotheistic faiths do not experience?  Second, is such diversity actually a sign of Christianity’s inclusivity, so that all are called to God by many different means?  By the end of the course, we will have worked out, together, some surprising and challenging answers to these questions.  

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
June 23 – 27, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Gareth Jones
Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ethics and Professor of Theology, Christ Church University College, Cambridge, England

Contact Information:
phone: 
(860) 509-9500
email:
  gj7@cant.ac.uk

Course Syllabus


Aim

The aim of this course is to address a particular, neuralgic point for contemporary Christianity in a world of religions, namely the logic for diversity in Christian ideas and teaching. It will explain the key issues and developments in the emergence of Christian diversity, and poses two significant questions. First, is such diversity the manifestation of inherent weaknesses in Christianity, weaknesses that Judaism and Islam do not experience? Second, is such diversity actually a sign of Christianity’s inclusivity, so that all are called to God by many different means? The course’s goal is to work out some surprising and challenging answers to these questions.


Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate:

  1. A critical understanding of the historic and traditional origins of Christianity, and the rationale for diversity in Christian ideas and teaching;
  2. The independent judgment necessary to evaluate arguments about diversity and pluralism;
  3. The skills necessary to communicate ideas and arguments about the contemporary Church in relation to diversity and pluralism, both orally and in writing.


Outline of Course Requirements

This course will combine detailed lectures from the tutor with intensive seminar discussions, involving full participation from students. There will also be the opportunity for individual tutorials with the class tutor, after 4pm.

Recommended readings are advised for each day’s work, with students writing a 300-500 words book review for the reading for Day 3 (see below). This will be the first part of the course’s formal assessment, and will comprise 20% of the final grade.

The remaining 80% of formal assessment will comprise one written paper of 2000-3000 words, to be completed by 3rd September 2003. Please note that students will devise their own questions for this written paper, in discussion with the course tutor.


Assessment Criteria

The course tutor will use the standard Hartford Seminary “Grading Guidelines” to assess students’ work. These guidelines will be copied and distributed to all students at the beginning of the course.


Ground Rules

There will be no sanction against students who miss individual sessions, though the tutor requests that he be notified in advance of any anticipated absences.


Class Meeting Schedule

Each session – morning and afternoon - will conform to a similar pattern: a lecture by the tutor, followed after a break by a seminar. The lecture will introduce and analyze the specified topic. The seminar will address issues and questions raised by the lecture, as well as considering the reading set for that session (see below).

The following topics, and suggested questions for reflection, are set:

  • Monday AM: Introduction to course, followed by analysis of the historical and biblical origins of Christianity, with particular reference to the Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline Epistles.
  • Q: What social and cultural factors conditioned the original development of Christianity? Did those factors require a pluralistic response from the first Christians?
  • Monday PM: Critique of the beliefs and ideas that governed the initial development of Christianity as a world religion.
  • Q: How did those beliefs and ideas encourage the Church’s claims to religious and salvific uniqueness?
  • Tuesday AM: Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of orthodox Christian doctrine concerning matters of diversity and pluralism.
  • Q: Is Christianity’s ability to exist in many different world cultures a sign of strength or weakness?
  • Tuesday PM: Christianity’s relationship with the other great Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, and a critique of their respective responses to cultural and social diversity.
  • Q: How do Christian truth claims relate to those of Judaism and Islam?
  • Wednesday AM: The Church as moral community: the turn to ethical considerations, and the practical implications of Christianity’s stance on pluralism and diversity.
  • Q: What are the moral and ethical questions that have been traditionally addressed by Christian beliefs and values?
  • Wednesday PM: The philosophical and intellectual questions that shape a contemporary understanding of Christianity’s ethical convictions.
  • Q: What intellectual constraints govern ethical Christian living today?
  • Thursday AM: Christianity in the 21st Century: facing today’s challenges.
  • Q: To what extent does the 21st century present a new set of challenges for Christianity?
  • Thursday PM: Religion in the 21st Century: Reconsidering Christianity’s relationship with Judaism and Islam.
  • Q: In the light of recent events in Iraq and Israel, to what extent is it justified to speak of an inevitable collision between the peoples of the West and the Middle East?
  • Friday AM:  David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope. Harper & Row Publishers, San Francisco 1987, chapter 3, ‘Radical Plurality’, and chapter 4, ‘Radical Ambiguity’.
  • Q: What should Christianity do to flourish over the next century?

  • Friday PM: Reprise and summary of the course’s principal themes and arguments.


Reading Schedule

The golden rule for this course is that while I require every student to undertake appropriate reading for each day’s work, I am only going to recommend specific texts at this stage. (The exception is Robert Wuthnow’s book; see below.) This annotated reading schedule will therefore identify specific areas for specific days – with recommended texts – and for each such area you should try to read approximately 30-50 pages.

If you read the recommended texts, fine! If you discover other books that you prefer, or find easier to obtain, that is also perfectly acceptable. And if you wish to email me to discuss possible reading before the course begins, that will be very welcome.

There are two other fundamental considerations when preparing reading for this course.

First, you must prepare appropriate reading BEFORE the relevant session. If you try to catch up reading after a session, not only with you limit your time to read ahead for the next day’s session, but you will also find it difficult to contribute to the seminar discussions.

Second, this course is about ideas and arguments, and ideas and arguments are cumulative. The topics examined during this course are all related to each other, and you will only get the most out of the course if you seek to understand those relationships. Only in this way will you develop a sophisticated understanding of the course’s subject matter.

These points made, students taking this course should complete the following reading:

1)       Before Monday 23rd June:

To make a good start with this course you need a clear understanding of the world in which early Christianity developed, and also the main beliefs and ideas inherent to Christianity. You may identify your own reading, but the following books are recommended (the Tanner reading is concerned with the course’s general themes):

Bart D Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press, New York 1999, chapters 1-3 inclusive.

Kathryn Tanner, The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice. Fortress Press, Minneapolis 1992, chapter 5, ‘Christian belief and respect for others’, and chapter 6, ‘Christian belief and respect for difference’.


2) Evening of Monday 23rd June:

On Day 2 we are going to consider Christianity’s relationships with Judaism and Islam, specifically around the course’s central themes of diversity, its strengths and weaknesses. You will therefore need a good sense of those relationships and their intellectual features. The recommended texts are:

J A DiNoia, The Diversity of Religions: A Christian Perspective. Catholic University Press, Washington 1992, chapter 3, ‘The Providential Diversity of Religions’.


3)  Evening of Tuesday 24th June:

On Day 3 we will turn our attention to the moral implications of Christian diversity, and also the intellectual constraints that shape or govern our interpretation of Christian ethics. The recommended texts are:

Lewis S Mudge, The Church as Moral Community: Ecclesiology and Ethics in Ecumenical Debate. Continuum, New York 1998, chapter 1, ‘A Calling to be Different’.

David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope. Harper & Row Publishers, San Francisco 1987, chapter 3, ‘Radical Plurality’, and chapter 4, ‘Radical Ambiguity’.

4) Evening of Wednesday 25th June

Having considered the origins of Christian diversity and the relative strengths and weaknesses of its beliefs and ideas, both in itself and in relation to Judaism and Christianity, the course now considers the contemporary challenges that Christianity faces. The required text here is:

Robert Wuthnow, Christianity in the 21st Century: Reflections on the Challenges Ahead. Oxford University Press, New York 1993.

NB: This text is required reading and will form the basis of the first piece of course assessment, a 300-500 word book review due in at the beginning of the morning session on Thursday 26th June. You should, therefore, have read it all before the course begins.

5)  Evening of Thursday 26th June:

Although the afternoon session will be a reprise and summary of the course as a whole, the morning session will introduce one last new theme, namely an evaluation – by the class – of the successes and failures of Christian responses to contemporary ethical challenges. The recommended text is:

Ian Markham, Plurality and Christian Ethics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1994, chapter 6, ‘Plurality and the American Experience’, and chapter 10, ‘Plurality and Theology’.

Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace. Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2000, chapter 7, ‘Church: Graced Community’.


Assignment Due Dates
  • 300-500 word Book Review:  9am Thursday 26th June 2003
  • 2000-3000 word written paper:     Noon, Wednesday 3rd September 2003

NB: each student will devise their own question for the written paper, in individual discussion with the course tutor.


Statement

The book review and written paper should conform to conventional technical, grammatical and stylistic standards (please refer to the document, ‘Hartford Seminary General Guidelines for a Research Paper’).


Required Text

Robert Wuthnow, Christianity in the 21st Century: Reflections on the Challenges Ahead. Oxford University Press, New York 1993.


Recommended Texts

As indicated in the section, ‘Reading Schedule’ (see above).

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500  info@hartsem.edu