Reflection: The Academy as Ministry

By: Zac Karanovich, MTS ’18, current doctoral student in BC Theology Department

I enrolled in Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry in 2016 with the express intention of continuing on to doctoral studies. At the STM, I found myself surrounded by amazing peers, some of whom were, like me, intending to go on for further studies, but many more who were preparing for various forms of ministry: parish work, hospital chaplaincy, high school or university campus ministry, religious education, or other positions in religiously-affiliated non-profits. We were an interesting bunch, not just because of the various goals we had for ministry after graduation, but because of the way those goals informed the unique visions we brought to our courses of study, the frameworks through which we engaged our common readings, and the nature of the questions we asked in class. Rarely, even in the headiest of seminars, would a pastoral question not be raised. Far from irrelevant or distracting, studying side-by-side with those whose careers would be arguably more practical and considering the pastoral implications of our studies pushed all of us to ensure our theology remained grounded, which is an exceedingly important reminder, especially for those of us intending a more “institutionally” academic track.

Now entering the third year of a Ph.D. program in systematic theology in BC’s Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, I am even more convinced of the benefits of studying at the School of Theology and Ministry. I have been a teaching assistant for two semesters now, barely dipping my toes into the vast ocean that is undergraduate instruction. The students here at Boston College have a variety of backgrounds and the classes in which I assisted were largely populated by students who have studied little by way of theology. We approached the core theology course, however, as any other academic discipline: listen intently and look as objectively as possible at the information and materials we present to you, grapple with them, reflect on them, consider them in light of the other frameworks that inform your worldview, and write about them. Yet without fail, even in a class of students of which the majority was there solely to fulfill a requirement, a large percentage of the students in the class often offered some personal reflection in their papers, describing how the materials changed their own relationship with God. At times, it even felt as though I was reading journal entries from a faith sharing group. No complaints, of course, but that it happened was interesting.

While the reasons are many, my experiences, specifically, have allowed me to see more fully how the expansive definition of “ministry” at the STM reflects the reality of the study and conveying of theology. Distinct from religious studies, theology is a confessional discipline—we practice what we teach. While theologians certainly strive for the objectivity that the academy demands, it is nevertheless true that when we write or teach, we are communicating a reality about God that draws from our deeply held convictions of faith and informs those same convictions in our readers, students, or audiences. Even when it is not our explicit intention, we are participating in our students’ interpreting God. And if our teaching is the relational investment we strive toward, then our students are also accompanying us in our own interpretation of God, further influencing our theological reflection by maintaining its grounding in the lived religion of the faithful (as central or marginal as that faith may be in our students’ lives). The STM recognizes this reality and forms scholars in their responsibility to this reality while also maintaining the integrity of theology as an academic discipline. I like to think of it as part of the Jesuit mission of cura personalis: the STM cares for the formation of the “whole theologian.” We are not just repositories of theological facts who dispense information mechanistically. We are persons in relationship with other persons all trying to understand our common relationship with God. To become the latter requires formation in a school that is not just theological, but also ministerial. Thankfully, Boston College has just the place.

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