Religious Studies, Theology & the Scholar-Practitioner

The voice of the scholar-practitioner emerges from a confluence of well-established disciplines, both inside and outside the academy. The scholarly study of religion and spirituality in the West is formally located in the fields of Theology and Religious Studies; practitioners draw from these and also (or alternatively) from monasteries, ashrams, contemporary yoga studios, secular meditation centers, and more. The natural process of combining scholarship and practice is central to the formation of spiritual leaders, as demonstrated by centuries of seminary and monastic institutions around the world. Yet, in the modern academy, where the emphasis is more often religious literacy and critical thinking, practice and subjective experience are regarded by many scholars of religion as less serious and overly biased.1 Still, an increasing number of respected scholars have begun to talk about how their practice informs their scholarship, and vice-versa. This is an important transition because the scholar-practitioner of today is distinct from earlier Christian theologians and/or missionaries and yet the process of integrating historical and traditional knowledge with the contemporary experience of faith or practice remains essential, especially for the formation of spiritual leaders and teachers and for the possibility of dialogue and peacemaking efforts between newer and established religious communities. The scholar-practitioner offers an emic, or insider’s perspective, that draws from contemplative practice, combined with a rigorous desire for knowledge grounded in traditional sources, emerging research, and new ideas.  

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