Studying Protestant Theology - An Introduction

1. Studying Protestant Theology

Theology as a course of studies is divided into five different subject areas, which are also called disciplines. These are: Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Dogmatics and Moral Theology, and Practical Theology. All of these five disciplines are taught at every theological faculty. Göttingen’s Theological Faculty also offers two more disciplines- Religious Studies and Jewish Studies.

Old and New Testament are exegetical subjects. They require specific language knowledge, which can be acquired at the faculty: Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. Exegesis means looking at each verse of a biblical passage and interpreting it in different ways (i.e. from a philological, historical and theological point of view). The subjects also provide information on the historical background of the biblical texts.

Church History deals with historical events related to the Church. The Theology and Dogmatics History is a sub-discipline: it focuses on the formation and development of theological concepts, as well as doctrines and confessions. The entire history of ideas and philosophy also plays an important role for this subject.

Dogmatics and Moral Theology constitute the Christian doctrine (dogmatics) and the Christian conduct of life (Ethics). Dogmatics and Ethics are taught in relation to one another, to the Bible, to the history of theology and the history of ideas as well as with respect to other Christian denominations and other philosophies of the present.

Practical Theology reflects on the Church’s different obligations: preaching, pastoral care, services, religious education and the organization of the community. Sometimes the following technical terms are used to describe the individual fields:
Homiletics= preaching theory
Poimenics= theory of pastoral care
Liturgics= theory of (religious) services
Catechetics= theory of religious education
Cybernetics= theory of ministry (and organization of the community)

Religious Studies is not limited to Christian denominations but looks at all historical religions in a theological, sociological, cultural, philosophical and psychological way.

Jewish Studies focuses on Judaism in all of its different manifestations. There is a variety of classes to choose from, with different methods and aims. In Göttingen Jewish literature from the 20th century is a thematic priority, for example.

2. Course organization

a) Lectures usually provide a broad overview. The lecturer reads out his script while the students take notes. Students are expected to work through the input again at home and make use of accompanying literature if necessary. During the lecture questions are usually welcome.

b) Seminars are partly similar to lessons in high school. The students work together on texts with the lecturer and discuss relevant contents and issues. Homework is quite common and prepares the students for the upcoming sessions. Presentations and written session reports are also frequent methods of testing. Unlike in lectures attendance in seminars is mandatory, but missing three classes per semester is usually allowed. If you pass the class you get a certain amount of credits for it or a “Schein” (certificate), which has to be turned in at the examination office.
Introductory Seminar Courses (Proseminare) help students to get acquainted with working scientifically. This mean they learn how to work with different texts (sources, secondary literature) and how to prepare presentations and structure papers.
Exegetic introductory seminars (Old and New Testament) require specific languages (Hebrew and Greek) because students have to deal with the original texts.
To pass an introductory seminar course students have to turn in a paper (15-20 pages in four to six weeks, usually during the semester break). The papers will be graded and are mandatory in Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Dogmatics and Moral Theology, and Homiletics in order to be able to take advanced seminars on these disciplines.
Advanced Seminars (Hauptseminare) intensify the work on specific topics. Preparation and homework are the reason why these seminars are very time-consuming.
In these seminars different kinds of credits can be acquired: a “Sitzschein” for simply attending the class regularly, an “Erfolgsschein” for taking an exam or giving a presentation, and a “qualifizierter Schein” for turning in a paper and passing it. This paper is usually longer than the one in an introductory seminar.

c) Exercises can be compared to seminars but no credits can be acquired. They are supposed to deepen one’s understanding and practice working on texts.

d) Tutorials are similar to exercises but relate to specific language courses, seminars or lectures. With the help of a teacher the students repeat issues from the related class, prepare texts for the next session and find answers to questions and problems.