Analytic Theology and the Academic Study of Religion
- ISBN: 9780198779872
- Published By: Oxford University Press
- Published: March 2021
There is a problem with analytic theology that William Wood wishes to address with Analytic Theology and the Academic Study of Religion. Although young, analytic theology is a variant of Christian theology that is now well established, well funded, and growing. It is no mere academic fad. There is now a Journal of Analytic Theology. Analytic theologians are regularly convening at workshops and conferences. They are publishing monographs and edited volumes with prestigious publishers and in large quantities. Yet, for all this, analytic theology remains isolated in the broader world of religious studies and is often despised even within the narrower world of Christian theology as the work of politically and theologically conservative logic-choppers.
Wood holds that the status of analytic theology in the academy is partly the result of a long-standing and widespread misconception of what analytic theology is. Thus, the author provides a very helpful introduction to analytic theology in the first and second sections of the book. Wood defines analytic theology as theology that “uses the tools and methods of analytic philosophy” (3), a definition he uances but does not substantially alter as the book develops. The relation of analytic theologians to analytic philosophy is analogous to the relation of Thomas Aquinas to Aristotelian philosophy, Wood contends (50). Moreover, analytic theology is not just a way of doing theology but is an “intellectual tradition” in the (Alasdair) MacIntyrean sense of that term, in that it is a discourse with its own particular history and social network (49). Wood also provides a brief review of the historical development of analytic theology, which indicates a shift toward increasing complexity and, frankly, intellectual maturity (5–8).
Wood does more than introduce analytic theology, however. He is an apologist for analytic theology. Wood believes analytic theology deserves respect as a fully legitimate enterprise in theology and in religious studies. For Wood, the current state of marginalization is unjust and unreasonable. He takes on many criticisms of analytic theology from both scholars of religion and from nonanalytic theologians. Most of Wood’s responses follow a particular pattern: yes, some analytic theologians are guilty of academic sin x, but not all of them are guilty, and there is nothing in analytic theology that makes x inevitable.
Wood’s responses to fellow theologians are stronger than the responses to scholars of religion. For example, Wood’s discussions of objections rooted in a wariness of conceptual idolatry and objections rooted in a Heideggerian critique of ontotheology are excellent (108–59). It is doubtful they will convince many critics, but Wood’s arguments are intelligent and healthy provocations to deeper thought.
The greatest benefit of this book, however, is Wood’s good-faith effort to establish a conversation among analytic theologians, scholars of religion, and nonanalytic theologians. Wood makes a strong case that such a conversation would be mutually beneficial. Of course, Wood challenges scholars of religion and theologians to take analytic theology more seriously as a respectable interlocutor. But he also challenges analytic theologians to engage more deeply with religious studies and with nonanalytic theology. Even those who might doubt Wood’s success in showing that analytic theology is worthy of intellectual respect will have no reason to doubt that he is helping to make analytic theology worthier of intellectual respect than it would have been otherwise.
The book does have a few weaknesses. The plural audiences gives the book an unwieldy structure. A book that addressed solely nonanalytic theologians or solely scholars of religion would have been clearer, more focused, and stronger. After all, scholars of religion are an extraordinarily diverse group, and, in a lesser way, so are Christian theologians. Even addressing one of those audiences would be difficult in a single book. Dialogues have a population limit, after all. If they are overpopulated, they become cacophonous and unproductive. The book at times feels overpopulated. The problem of structure also extends to the chapters. Some chapters are quite short, others very long; some are argued in a very focused and rigorous way, and some are more cursory, so that the reader can feel the book was stitched together hastily. The numerous typographical errors in the footnotes do not help.
Even so, Wood’s efforts succeed. Not every argument is persuasive, but Wood makes a strong case on behalf of analytic theology’s legitimacy in the world of Christian theology and in religious studies. At the very least, he demonstrates that despisers of analytic theology will need to make a stronger case against it.
Matthew B. Hale is a doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of America.Matthew HaleDate Of Review:December 27, 2021