Department of Theology | University of Portland

Department of Theology

Theology: What Is It and Why Is It?

Jesus said to them, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

Theology literally means, “talk about God.” It’s an intellectual-spiritual discipline that first tries as far as humanly possible to express, responsibly and accurately, the reality of who God is. Theology then attempts to express what it means to be human in God’s world by describing as well as it can who we are and what is our place in God’s teeming natural cosmos. So theology does not merely theorize but boldly affirms both that an ultimate Reality transcends our personal existence and that we are under obligation to respond to it and live appropriately.

But we cannot respond well to this mystery unless we begin to understand it. Theology initiates that process using tools and concepts drawn from particular religious traditions, in our case, Jewish and Christian traditions. For Jews and Christians, talk about God draws first and foremost upon the images and concepts drawn first and foremost, but not only, from the authoritative texts of the Bible. So it is for the Catholic tradition in which the University of Portland stands.

Sooner or later questions arise in everyone’s life about the reality that stands above and beyond and within us. Using theological language inspired by the Bible, we might phrase these questions this way: Who is God or what is the ultimate reality we call God? How may I (we) relate to this God? Then immediately other questions address the mystery of our existence as human beings. Did you ever lay awake at night and find yourself stewing over big questions about ultimate mysteries, wondering, for instance, why it is that a few years ago you didn’t exist on earth, now you do exist, and if you are an undergraduate now, in 70 or so years (not that long really) you again won’t exist. Is anybody out there? And more importantly, do they care? What is this thing called Life all about anyway? Is it all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”? The greatest works of art and literature mull over the same mysteries that inspire questions like: Who am I? Who are we? Who am I, who are we? Where are we going, who are we becoming? Why are we here?

The language of interiority is sorely missing in our culture, with its relentless consumerist obsession with trivialities, clueless indifference to violence and basic human dignities, mindless distractions that titillate while picking your pocket, and endless deceptions that mock honesty and faithful integrity. If you want to live well and justly, you must choose to do so. But how does one choose this? Theology proposes ways of thought and life that actively search out this habit of choosing well by envisioning a good Creator who has made human beings in the image of God and ordained them for a life of love and justice that flows from embracing and acting in relationship to him. You will be able to compare these teachings with your own rapidly developing adult choices. What are your life goals? How do you define success? What kind of person do you want to become? What kind of person will you become? How do you become competent to decide such a thing? What is a “good” life?

These are the challenges and invitations of the special liberal arts discipline of reflection known as theology. We invite you to join us! Welcome to the journey!



Tyler Tangen

Tyler Tangen - Class of 2019

"Maybe God is actually calling me to give my entire life to this type of work."

Learn more about Tyler Tangen