[…This syllabus is still a work in progress…]

RLST (###)

Theology of Culture:
Advocates and Critics

Instructor: Jessica DeCou
Email: jdecou@uchicago.edu
Office: S503
Office Hours: M/W 11:30-1:30


What attitude ought theology to take toward human cultural achievement? This course will introduce students to the major figures in "theology of culture," a theological discipline that attempts to answer this question. In the first half of the course, we will examine the history and development of "theology of culture" in the 20th century through the work of its advocates and its critics. We will then explore the relevance of these debates for today, engaging new voices in the field (including African, Anabaptist, and liberation theologies of culture and recent efforts in "theology and popular culture"). Our final sessions will survey possible directions for the future of the field.


The following books are available for purchase at the Bookstore and are on reserve at the Library:


Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective
by Craig A. Carter

Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture
by Timothy Gorringe

Theology and Culture: A Guide to the Discussion
by Stephen D. Long

Understanding Theology and Popular Culture
by Gordon Lynch

The Word of Christ and the World of Culture...
by Paul L. Metzger

Christ and Culture
by H.R. Niebuhr

After God
by Mark C. Taylor

Theology of Culture
by Paul Tillich

Course Requirements

Grades for the course will be based on:
  • one take home midterm exam (25%) due at the end of week ten
  • one 10-15 page paper (50%) due at the end of the semester
  • in-class participation (25%)

Details on the assignments will be distributed in due time, but here is a preview of what to expect:

The take home midterm will examine some aspect of the debate over theology of culture in the mid-20th century (Tillich, Niebuhr, Barth, etc.)

For the paper, students will explore or interpret a particular cultural form, utilizing the concepts and methods of one (or more) of the authors from the class. Alternatively (because this course is focused primarily on Protestant thinkers) students may opt to write a paper arguing for or against “theology of culture” (or some aspect of it) from a perspective not explored in the course (e.g. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Atheism, etc.).

University policies



Week 1: Two opposing views of culture- Augustine and Tertullian

Date Topic Reading
08/23 Introduction No Reading
08/25 Augustine and Tertullian on culture (begin reading Long, Theology and Culture, p.1-52)

Week 2: Theology and Culture since Augustine (a survey)

08/30 Medieval and Early Modern views Long, Theology and Culture, p.1-52
09/01 Theology and Culture in the 19th Century Schleiermacher, Speeches, First Speech

Week 3: Theology of Culture in the 19th Century (a survey)

09/06 Theology of Culture in the 19th Century Schleiermacher, Speeches, Second Speech
09/08 Introducing 20th Century Debates Long, Theology and Culture, p.53-84

Week 4: Paul Tillich’s Theologies of Culture- Tillich’s Early Theology

09/13 Paul Tillich and the “Idea of a Theology of Culture” Tillich, “On the Idea of a Theology of Culture” (RP)
09/15 Early Tillich Cont’d Tillich, Theology of Culture (Selections)

Week 5: Paul Tillich’s Theologies of Culture- Tillich’s Later Theology

09/20 Tillich’s Later Method of Correlation Between Theology and Culture Selections from Systematic Theology (RP)
09/22 Later Tillich Cont’d/ Review (no reading)

Week 6: H. Richard Niebuhr

09/27 Niebuhr on Culture Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 1-115
09/29 Niebuhr, continued Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 116-256

Week 7: Karl Barth: NO!

10/04 Against the “Idea of a Theology of Culture”- Karl Barth’s Polemics Barth, Selections from Church Dogmatics and Evangelical Theology (RP)

(Optional: Cohen, “Life amid the Paradigms”- RP)
10/06 Beyond the Polemics: Barth on Culture Barth, “Mozart,” and “Church and Culture” (RP)

Week 8: Karl Barth's Constructive Response

10/11 Barth on Culture Cont’d Barth, "The Humanity of God” (RP)

Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture, Ch. 1
10/13 A Barthian Theology of Culture? Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture, Chs. 2, 4 and 6

** Take Home Midterm Due in Class on October 13 **

Week 9: Adapting Tillich and Niebuhr

10/18 Tillich Revisited Excerpts from Gilkey, Society and the Sacred (RP)

Klemm and Klink, “Constructing and Testing Theological Models,” (RP)
10/20 Niebuhr Revisited Excerpts from Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (RP)

Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture (selections TBA)

Week 10: Postmodernity and Theology of Culture

10/25 Review (no reading)
10/27 Introducing the Postmodern Long, Theology and Culture, p.85-102

Week 11: Postmodernity Cont’d

11/01 Exploring the Postmodern and Theology of Culture Taylor, After God, (Selections TBA)
11/03 Exploring the Postmodern, Cont’d Taylor, After God, (Selections TBA)

Week 12: New Voices in Theology of Culture

11/08 Voices from other traditions Long, Theology and Culture, p.103-112

Friesen, selections from An Anabaptist Theology of Culture (RP)
11/10 Voices from around the world Ihuoma, selections from Tillich's Theology of Culture in Dialogue with African Theology (RP)

Week 13: Liberation Theology and the Theology of Culture

11/15 Liberation Theology Gorringe, Furthering Humanity
11/17 Liberation Theology, Cont’d. Gorringe (cont’d)

Week 14: Introducing Theology and Popular Culture

11/22 Introducing Theology and Popular Culture Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture (first half)
11/24 THANKSGIVING No reading

Week 15: Theology and Popular Culture

11/29 Popular Culture, Popular Scripture Lynch (second half)

Tanner, “Theology and Popular Culture” and “Scripture as Popular Text” (RP)
12/01 Theologies of Popular Culture Romanowski, Eyes Wide Open (RP)

Week 16: Concluding Reflections

12/05 Theologies of Popular Culture, Cont’d Detweiler and Taylor, Matrix of Meanings (RP)
12/07 Conclusions: Humanism, Ethics, and the Future of Theology of Culture Klemm, “Theology of Culture as Theological Humanism” (RP)

Schweiker, “Hermeneutics, Ethics and the Theology of Culture” (RP)

** Final Paper Due by 5pm on Friday, December 8 **

Background image: Tympanum, Vézelay Abbey (Basilique Ste-Madeleine)
Original photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist, used under GFDL) Site Meter