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Theology and Society

by Amadi Eziokwubundu SJ,

When, in The Analogical Imagination, David Tracy claims that theology has the society, the academy and the church as its publics and that “all theology is public discourse”, he is both situating theology where it belongs and affirming the inseparability of theology from social realities. In simple contextual manner, Rev. Dr.  Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ, the Vice-chancellor of the Institut de Théologie de la Compagnie de Jésus (ITCJ), Abidjan, and the JCAM President, made similar claims and more at a recent theological conversation with the students and staff of ITCJ.

The one-and-a-half-hour conversation, titled “How to Establish Dialogue between Theological Studies and the Society”, took place on 27 November at the theologate. As an opening remark to his three-point reflection, Orobator advised against the separation that is often made between theology and society, describing such as false and misleading. Theology, he said, can only be done within the context of a society. As such, society is intrinsic to theological reflection.

Beginning with the idea of research and publication, Fr Orobator stated that research and publication are essential to theological exercise. While research enables the theologian to ground his reflection with concrete realities, publication enables him to share his idea not only with the college of theologians but also to a wider public. Another point Fr Orobator made was the importance of developing the capability for faith narrative. In researching and publishing theological reflections, the theologian must be capable of telling his own faith stories. He must not be contented or ‘enslaved’ by the already existing theological narratives and concepts. But the quest for the ability for personal faith narrative ought not to ignore the existence and necessity for a common faith narrative. Sharing one’s theological narrative, Orobator added, contributes to theological debate and enriches faith and social dialogue.

According to Fr Orobator, honesty, too, is important for theological exercises, for it allows the theologian to confront social reality objectively. In theology, a field dominated by men, he added, honesty also requires giving ear to non-masculine opinions as well as thoughts that are not necessarily those of the theologian. Furthermore, if the theologian does his research and shares his ideas through publications, if he develops and uses his narrative capability, and if he is guided by honesty, there would be what Orobator called “action-scholarship”. That is, theological exercise-oriented toward achieving a concrete social effect.

The signature idea ran through the theological conversation is that social reality grounds theological reflections. To put it in theatrical language, the society is the theatre of theological drama; its script is shaped by the social reality that the actors and actresses know too well. And, like every good theatre, the goal is to transform the society positively.