If it gets autonomy, Stephen’s will be able to start courses and departments on a self-financing model. The theology course could be a big money-spinner.
New Delhi: St Stephen’s College in Delhi is discussing a proposal to start a degree in theology, a discipline which is not taught in any mainstream college or university in the country except for the Aligarh Muslim University, which teaches Shia theology.
The discussion entails replacing the philosophy course with theology from next year. However, this can only be done after the college gets autonomous status from the University Grants Commission, which is still under consideration with the ministry of human resource development.
The college has submitted the plan to start a theology course in its representation to the UGC for getting autonomous status, sources said.
St Stephen’s principal John Varghese could not be contacted for a reaction on the development.
The development is likely to change the nature of St Stephen’s, which, despite being a minority institution, is largely known for its academic record, whereas theology as a discipline has been limited to seminaries in India. Even the study of religion is a discipline limited to a very few top institutions in the country — Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia, for example, has a course on comparative religion.
Proposal to replace philosophy draws flak
There is a lot of difference between theology and philosophy. While theology starts from a position of absolute certainty, philosophy has to start from a position of radical skepticism.
“Internal discussions about discontinuing the philosophy department and giving way to a theology department have been happening for some time now,” a college professor aware of the developments told ThePrint.
“Some people have even advised ad-hoc teachers teaching in the department to leave the college and look for a job somewhere else, as the department will not be in existence by next year. The number of Christian teachers in the department has clearly increased, which will suit them in case it metamorphoses into theology,” the professor said.
“There are only 10 seats in the philosophy department, and the admission criterion is very strict. Only students who are genuinely interested in the subject are taken in the department, which is why the college has not been treating the department well for the last many years.”
A retired professor from the philosophy department told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “The plan was being discussed at the time of the previous principal Valson Thampu as well. However, nothing could happen that time, because the government would not have funded something like a theology course.”
The retired professor said he sees nothing wrong with the college starting such a course. However, it is wrong if it is done at the cost of the philosophy department, he said.
“If the college becomes autonomous, anything can be done. I see nothing wrong with starting a theology department in the college. As a minority institution, Stephen’s is well within its rights to start such a course,” he added.
Another teacher from the college said: “It will be a very big development if the philosophy department is discontinued and there is a theology department, instead because these two are completely different kind of subjects. One supports the idea of God and another challenges it through scientific approach. It will definitely change the nature of St Stephen’s College.”
Only Christian theology?
If St Stephen’s gets autonomy, it will be able to start courses and departments on its own on a self-financing model. Sources in the college said the theology course could be a big money-spinner.
However, so far, there is no clarity on whether Stephen’s plans to teach only Christian theology, since it is a Christian institution.
“If theology as a discipline is taught, there is nothing wrong with it. The problem will arise if they teach Christian theology, because that is something which is only limited to seminaries,” said a professor who teaches sociology of religion at Delhi University.
Follow the West
Theology as a discipline is taught in universities like Oxford and Harvard, but in India there is no such programme because of the secular nature of Indian education institutions. People who want to become clerics go to seminaries to study Christian theology, so the idea of St Stephen’s opening its doors to this discipline has been welcomed by priests.
“It is great if St Stephen’s starts teaching theology, because it is not taught anywhere else in the country,” said Joseph Kurian, a priest in Ernakulam, Kerala.
“The course should be something like the way western universities teach. That way, people who are interested in learning about religion will be interested in studying there.
“But it is wrong to say that the course will be aimed at producing clerics, because people do not have to go and study in St Stephen’s to become that. Most of the Catholics go to the Papal Seminary in Pune, which is blessed by the Pope himself,” he said.