The Theologian’s Vocation in the Academy Today: A Master Class for Graduate Students in Theology

Feb 12, 2022
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Lewis AyresDurham University

Shaun BlanchardNational Institute for Newman Studies

Paige HochschildMount St. Mary's University

Open to current graduate students in theology. Others interested in participating should contact us.

A two-part, online master class for graduate students in theology on the vocation of the theologian in the contemporary academy. 

Dates: January 15 & February 12 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. CST via Zoom



What is the vocation of the Catholic theologian in the academy today? The increasing focus within higher education toward producing economically successful citizens within late modernity’s secularized culture is well-known. Within the theological world itself, graduate programs in theology are deeply compartmentalized into distinct sub-disciplines that often take their self-understanding and academic culture from the need to find a place within the modern research university. These pressures make it difficult to reflect theologically on one’s role in both the Church and the academy—and yet it is evermore vital that we do so. How then do we conceive of the unity of theological disciplines, and how might we—trained in our distinct silos—work towards that unity? Tomorrow’s theologians urgently need resources to reflect on their role within such a vision of the academy.


Seminar 1: The Academic Theologian and Newman’s Idea of a University

If we are to consider our current situation thoroughly, we need to explore a set of deep questions that have endured for theologians since the very beginnings of the modern university. There is no better text to facilitate a dive into these questions than John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University.

While Newman speaks about a college culture very different from ours – research for him is the preserve of the gentleman scholar rather than the university! – two fundamental themes of his work will serve as points of departure for our discussion. The first is his definition of the goal of education as the nurturing of the “liberal” mind; the second is his presentation of a secular education’s failure to teach humility.

By engaging these themes in Idea of a University we can focus our own questions about the goal of college education itself, and examine how far any program of liberal education can instill the virtues at which Christians aim. How does the Christian scholar conceive a career caught in these tensions?

Texts to prepare:  Newman’s Idea of a University,  “Discourses 5, 8, & 9,” accessible HERE.


Seminar 2: Academic Theology and the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian

Often the life of a theologian in the university who is committed also to the life of the Church is cast in terms of a balance between obedience and academic freedom. But perhaps this dichotomy should not be our first consideration when we imagine the theologian’s role in a university.

To engage the question, we will discuss the International Theological Commission’s Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. In what ways does this text sketch an agenda for academic theologians? How does it succeed and/or fail to grasp the tensions in the institutions where we teach? As in the first seminar, our goal is not so much a study of this text, as using this text as a lens through which to explore and re-envision our lives as theologians today.


Lewis Ayres is Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at the University of Durham, UK. He previously taught at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He was also a Distinguished Fellow of the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study (2014-2015). Among his books are Nicaea and Its Legacy (Oxford 2004/6) and Augustine and the Trinity (Cambridge 2010/14).  He is currently working on a book entitled As It Is Written: Ancient Literary Criticism, Hellenization and the Rise of Scripture 150-250 for Princeton University Press.

Shaun Blanchard is a senior research fellow at the National Institute for Newman Studies and Associate Editor of the Newman Studies Journal. He was previously Assistant Professor of Theology at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge, LA. A native of Chapel Hill, Shaun studied at the University of North Carolina, followed by a master’s at Oxford. After completing a doctorate at Marquette University, Shaun published his first monograph, The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II (OUP, 2020). With Ulrich Lehner, he co-edited The Catholic Enlightenment: A Global Anthology (CUA, 2021). His next projects include, with Stephen Bullivant, Vatican II: A Very Short Introduction (OUP) and a monograph study of ecclesiology in the English-speaking world from the Cisalpines to Newman.

Paige Hochschild is chair of the Department of Theology and professor of historical and systematic theology at Mount St. Mary's University (MD). She specializes in Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and the early Church. She also teaches philosophy courses at the Seminary at Mount St. Mary's. She is the author of Memory in Augustine’s Theological Anthropology (OUP, 2012) and publishes on the Church, education, tradition, and 20th century theological debates within the Church.