Marquette working to change name of theology major

Julia Pagliarulo

Photo by Cassie Rogala/
Theology department chair Robert Masson said he’s excited about the change. Photo by Cassie Rogala/

The theology department is shifting the name of its theology major to “Theology and Religion” to reflect changes in the department.

“People hear ‘theology’ and they think something much more limited, so part of what we want to do is communicate what it is we actually do,” said Robert Masson, chair of the theology department. “By changing the name, we are trying to signal that it’s not the same old thing going on and that we are doing some exciting things, like revamping our undergraduate program and bringing in a new generation of teachers.”

Ulrich Lehner, a theology professor and director of undergraduate studies, said in an email that those changes include adding new classes.

“From fall onwards we will offer 3000-level courses which also fulfill the university core of common studies requirement,” Lehner said. “They will raise questions about theology and economics, the racial divide in our society, the meaning of the Second Vatican Council and the works of the great Protestant writer C.S. Lewis.”

One of the new classes is inspired by slain alumnus James Foley, who was publicly beheaded by the Islamic State in August 2014.

“I developed a course in honor of our alumnus James Foley entitled ‘A Faith Worth Dying for,’ which will introduce students to concepts of martyrdom and holiness in different cultures and religions,” Lehner said.

The department will also offer new opportunities to fulfill “Introduction to Theology,” which is required for all students. There’s the possibility of teaching it from the perspective of health care ethics, world religions and history. Despite the changes, Lehner said all the courses will continue to be connected by common themes and teach common skills and concepts.

Additionally, Lehner said the idea to change the major’s name was his, but Masson and faculty colleagues supported it.

“Decisions of such magnitude always have to be made together and I am grateful that after a good discussion, all my colleagues supported the change,” Lehner said.

Masson said the transition began gradually a couple years ago and that changes have been progressing faster recently. He also stressed that although the department is going through changes, they are not altering their learning objectives and instead are changing the way they approach them.

“I think this change is great,” Masson said. “I just became chair of the department and part of the motivation was to be part of this change and help prepare the way for a younger person to come in and replace my generation.”

Lehner also said he thinks this change will help communicate the department’s message effectively.

“St. Ignatius believed that theology is the core of a Jesuit university,” Lehner said. “As a department, we have to communicate this insight, but also the fact that Marquette houses one of the most distinguished theology departments in the English-speaking world. Many of our faculty are leaders in their fields, but not many students know this.”