The Archivist’s Nook: College Theology Society Offers a New Voice for Teaching Theology

Certificate of the Title Change of the College Theology Society, 1968

This week’s post is by Elizabeth Siniscalchi.

Theology had a marginal status as an academic discipline for undergraduates until the mid-twentieth century.  Most colleges and universities offered undergraduate courses that taught religion rather than theology, which incited clerics and members of religious orders to create a national organization, the College Theology Society in 1954.  CTS began as the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine until 1968 when they decided to become ecumenical and change their name.

They continue to grow today by building a community of theologians through regional and national meetings, annual conventions, and publications.  As a society, CTS exchanges ideas on the variety of ways that scholars can approach theology and religious studies as academic disciplines.  The CTS Records in the Archives at the Catholic University of America show the dynamics of CTS as they have sought to guide the direction in the interpretation of theology and religious studies for undergraduate students, as it aligns with Catholic values in colleges and universities.

Officers of the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine. Brother Luke, treasurer; Brother Alban of Mary, president; Most Reverend John M. Fearns, Auxiliary Bishop of New York; Reverend Thomas Donlan, former president; and Sister Rose Eileen, secretary, ca. 1955 (front left to right).

Directing such a path, however, has not been easy.  CTS tackled controversial issues such as autonomy and academic freedom, particularly in 1986 when tension arose with the doctrinal interpretations of Father Charles Curran at CUA.  CTS has initiated a dialogue with other theological societies such as the Council for the Society of Religion, the Joint Committee of Catholic Learned Societies and Scholars, and the International Federation of Catholic Universities in order to define the role of theology as a field that evolves.  Some of the CTS presidential letters in the CUA Archives show that CTS also contacted hierarchs, including Cardinal William W. Baum and Timothy Cardinal Manning as a way to bridge a few of the differences in opinions and perspectives among scholars and bishops.

Within the Society, the variety of perspectives is enriched as well by the extent of CTS members who consist of theology and religious studies professors and students from over 60 colleges and universities in America, Canada, and Europe.  CTS members met throughout the year in nearly every region of America to discuss theological issues that seem to affect the course curriculum from each member’s academic institution.

Fr. Freeman, Fr. Tkacik, Fr. Finn, Fr. Schwegel, Miss Bown, and Sr. Leontine (from left to right) at the second day of sessions of the Organizing Committee for the Missouri-Kansas Region, 1954

In the Washington, DC-Maryland region, for example, CTS members gather from Dumbarton College of Holy Cross, the Dominican House of Study, Immaculata College, Georgetown University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Catholic University, and Trinity College.  Additionally, CTS held a number of their national events in Washington, DC as early as their first national meeting in 1955 at Trinity College.  The national meetings, however, have not been limited to one city by any means, whether they took place in Chicago or Philadelphia, and the national meetings soon turned into Annual Conventions as of 1961.  The Annual Conventions have included noteworthy speakers such as David Tracy and Raimon Panikkar.

As a result of the Annual Conventions, CTS publishes an Annual Volume.  The Annual Volume is a collection of academic papers on the theme from an annual convention, but it considers papers that were not delivered as part of the proceedings as well.  The academic paper, Teologia De La Liberacion Y Marxismo by Enrique Dussel is just one of the typescript drafts that is in the CTS Records.  CTS also publishes an award-winning peer-reviewed journal, Horizons that includes articles, roundtables, and book reviews on a wide range of religious studies and theological topics and their intersection with other fields such as anthropology or ecology.

Delegates to the Second National Meeting at Notre Dame University, 1956

This year, CTS will host its sixty-third Annual Convention on June 4, 2017 at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island where they will discuss American Catholicism in the 21st Century: Crossroads, Crisis, or Renewal?


Elizabeth Siniscalchi processed the CTS Records at the CUA Archives as a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida.  She works with texts and manuscripts in theology and religious studies.

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