Theology from Undergraduate Life Stories

At Fordham, I have the challenge and distinct joy of working with many different kinds of theology students, from undergraduate to master's to doctoral students, often in the space of a single day. This term, I teach an undergraduate course that is an introduction to practical theology. We are a small group that meet around a seminar table twice a week to delve into some basic approaches to thinking about how theology comes from and is oriented to practice, action, performance, understood quite variously in the theological tradition.

One of the approaches we studied looks at the ways theologians have appreciated the power of constructing one's own life narrative as a generator of compelling theology (and often serving as part of a silenced substructure on which academic theologies are built).


I asked my students to think about theologically significant learnings from their own life stories. With their permission, I share them with you here, perhaps as a way of occasioning your own thinking about whether and in what ways your own theology comes from the story you tell about yourself. Here is how we summarized the theology coming from their lives:

"Don't limit love"

"We don't have secrets"

"I have a different kind of care"

"Be open to letting people in"

"Remember that I'm all right"

Their resonance as potential mantras speaks to the power of the ways these young adults are able to live from the complexity of the lives they have already undergone. I find myself returning to these student apophthegmata and wondering how they are true for my own theological life.

Perhaps you have other theologically significant learnings that are the overtones of your narrative. Our class is trying to look critically and carefully at the ways such practices as telling a life story frame the theology that people can have.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
david power
8 years ago
Great idea but I think you should have developed each mantra or filled in the details a little.They are left hanging in the air as it is and maybe we could all be enlightened if you gave even a paragraph to each one. I am convinced that each believer has a similar childhood theology and it is good that you have people getting it down on paper   
Margaret Riordan
8 years ago
Thinking about this, I don't think my mantra would be like any of these. I have wonderful memories of early family life:- as the eldest daughter I know I was the 'apple of my father's eye.' But my father died when I was eight, and my mother died when I was 15, and we were left orphans.
I was listening to tomorrow's reading on the 'pray as you go' site this evening, and there was the line "In you the orphan finds mercy." Maybe so. But suddenly my mantra became sort of clear, and it was "My God, why have you abandoned me?'


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Long before Pope Francis earned the nickname, St. John Paul II was known as “the people’s pope.” St. John Paul II recognized the value of modern travel and mass media in spreading the Gospel and a global message of good will.
The EditorsMarch 22, 2018
Retired New York Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh distributes Communion during a Mass on the March 17 feast of St. Patrick, patron of the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
“It is clear that what matters to Pope Francis is the transformation of individuals and communities through their attentive and communal participation in the sacramental mysteries."
Surveys suggest that younger Americans are turning away from religion, but they may not have been properly introduced to the church in the first place.
Robert David SullivanMarch 22, 2018
Photo: R2W FILMS
A feel-good film that actually reaffirms one’s faith in humanity
John AndersonMarch 22, 2018