Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Religious Studies

Major Professor

Darrell Fasching, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dr. Mozella Mitchell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dr. James Strange, Ph.D.


Academic theology, Holy, Religion, Questions of ultimate concern, Humanities


This thesis examines whether the secular institutions of American higher education should address students questions of meaning, purpose, wisdom, and human destiny. That is, it investigates the place of the normative analysis of religious experience and behavior within the public university. I use the work of Ninian Smart, Russell T. McCutcheon and Ivan Strenski to illustrate the case against the inclusion of theology and spirituality in the academic study of religion. In their view, theology is at best an artifact, like ritual or religious art and not an academic discipline. Conversely, I use the work of Paul Tillich, John Dunne, and Darrell Fasching to argue for the emergence of an academic theology that can play an important role in the contemporary university. In their view, theology and spirituality address the questions appropriately raised by the humanities, and can be done as long as confessional and apologetic strategies are rejected. I will show how their theories help us understand the nature of the academic study of religion to be inclusive of theology and spirituality, and so respond constructively to the negative views of Smart, McCutcheon and Strenski. My thesis is that, contrary to Smart, McCutcheon and Strenski, theology and spirituality are essential to the academic study and teaching of comparative religions in state universities. If higher education is to achieve the ideals of a liberal arts education and to offer more than the aims of a technical-vocational college curriculum, I maintain that the university education should address students' questions of meaning, purpose, wisdom, and human destiny and not just their need for technical skills. This should be offered under the umbrella of the humanities, including the religious studies department and is best represented in an academic theology that can inspire students to live a life that facilitates a cross-cultural and inter-religious ethic of human dignity.