Religion Matters is a transdisciplinary blog that engages the latest insights from scholars and practitioners working in the areas of religious practices and practical theology. Each week we host a new voice from a variety of perspectives that will help to shape the conversation according to the five focus areas around which this blog revolves: the field(s) of religious practices and practical theology; recently trending issues in the field; reviews of and events in the field(s) of religious practices and practical theology; further reflection from scholars and practitioners who have contributed to Practical Matters; and a look at what lies ahead in the field(s) of religious practices and practical theology.
What are Religious Practices?
Religious practices have a broad semantic range. They can include modes of engagement in society, personal acts of devotion, communal performances, ways of reading, and much, much more. As scholar Ted A. Smith notes in a recent essay, “Practice has become a word to conjure with, a potent tangle of meanings that has been deployed for a wide variety of purposes” (“Theories of Practice,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology, p. 244). Smith goes on to explain how what one means when one conjures the word “practice” is structured according to one’s particular angle of vision, or theoretical framework. Practices can be investigated from many different spheres of analysis: ethnography, performance theory, ritual studies, hermeneutics, moral philosophy, social theory, and of course, practical theology. Rather than restricting the connotative and denotative vigor of the term, in this blog we encourage our authors to employ it according to their own scholarly and/or religious perspectives. This will allow for a rich conversation to emerge, one that we hope you will participate in.
What is Practical Theology?
Practical theology, like religious practices, centers on the “doing” of theology. Bonnie Miller-McLemore, a leading contributor to discussions of practical theology, defines it this way:
Practical theology is a term commonly used in Christian theology for a general way of doing theology concerned with the embodiment of religious belief in the day-to-day lives of individuals and communities. Its subject matter is often described through generic words that suggest movement in time and space, such as action, practice, praxis, experience, situation, event, and performance. Its subject is also associated with action-oriented religious words, such as formation, transformation discipleship, witness, ministry, and public mission. (“Practical Theology,” in Encyclopedia of Religion in America, vol. 1, pp. 1739-40)
Following this rich and expansive presentation of the scope of practical theology, Miller-McLemore explains that practical theology is used in four primary ways: as a way of life, as a method of inquiry, as a curricular area of study, and as a discipline. As with religious practices, we welcome conversation along these broad modes of inquiry.