The Theology and Religious Studies Department offers two majors which are distinguished by virtue of both their primary content and their methodological approach. Students may choose one of these majors in conjunction with their other studies, or they may double major within the department and get a degree in Theology and Religious Studies.
Theology majors will focus primarily on Christianity. Theology, which literally means the "study of God," was described by Anselm of Canterbury as "faith seeking understanding." It entails methodical study of the faith traditions of a believing community. Christian Theology employs the methods of its sub-fields (e.g., systematic and historical theology, ethics, biblical studies) to explore the bible, Jesus Christ, the church, tradition history, doctrinal development, liturgy, personal and communal morality, and relations with other religions. It is not catechesis, which transmits knowledge about a religion to a believer without critically analyzing the tradition’s beliefs. Theology requires a process of grappling with and critically examining particular expressions of faith in order to articulate them in contemporary contexts. In other words, theology seeks to address the "fears, hopes, griefs, and anxieties" (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 1) of church and world in the present moment. As a discipline, theology converses with the academy, the church, and society. The theology faculty and their students at Saint Joseph’s University aim to assist each of these communities in appreciating the meaning and implications of the tenets and practices of Roman Catholic and other Christian traditions, as well as those of other religions.
Religious Studies focuses upon the study of one or more non-Christian religions. Methodologically, Religious Studies is devoted to the study of religion as a fundamental human phenomenon. Its scope is broad, encompassing in principle all forms of religious experience, belief and practice in whatever contexts they are found. Religious Studies is non-confessional in the sense that it is not committed in advance to any religious (or indeed, non-religious) worldview or doctrine. Religious Studies as we understand it neither endorses a naïve objectivism in the study of "facts" divorced from values nor elevates a single theological, philosophical or scientific principle or program to the level of an unassailable norm. Rather, Religious Studies is intentionally eclectic and open-ended, drawing upon the full range of methods available to the academic study of things human, from philosophy or literary theory, for example, to cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. It is united only by its subject matter, religion as a fundamental, albeit contested, dimension of human experience.