“Theology cannot be replaced by religious studies,” according to the Conference of European Churches.
Representatives of European theological faculties and church theological institutes have warned against universities dropping the teaching of theology in favour of religious studies that are seen as a more general approach.
"Theology has a major role to play within the university by countering stereotypes, demonstrating ways of dealing with religious conflict, and working out its own unique specificity in dialogue with other disciplines," said Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, the president of the Conference of European Churches.
He was speaking in the Austrian city of Graz at a meeting of theological faculties in Europe.
"Theology cannot be replaced by religious studies," said Emmanuel, according to a 12 July release issued by CEC after the July 7 to 10 Graz meeting.
"The move to religious studies is in part a response to a decrease in student numbers, in part a reflection in the religious pluralism of Europe," participants noted in a final statement.
"Because of increased financial pressures on universities, many theological faculties have been reduced in size, merged, or even closed," the participants in Graz said. They said theology and religious studies could be "complementary disciplines" in a faculty.
The meeting, the third of its kind, was organized by CEC and the Catholic Theological Faculty of the Karl-Franzens University of Graz. CEC groups about 120 churches, principally Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant.
CEC’s acting general secretary, the Rev. Viorel Ionita, said the meeting aimed at encouraging cooperation between different networks of European theological faculties, as well as, "finding new ways for promoting theological research in Europe".
Participants also warned that "the move to religious studies" is encouraging a trend by churches to send candidates for ordination to church theological institutes rather than to university theology faculties.
However, Austrian Lutheran Bishop Michael Bunker, the general secretary of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, said, "Education provided by theological faculties is essential and complements practical ministerial training."
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the Catholic bishop of Mainz, spoke about the relationship between theology, reason and faith saying, "Reason includes both listening and asking questions, and a thinking faith is necessary to interpret the Gospel in a way that a pluralistic world can hear and receive."