Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-jhnrh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-05T09:23:06.537Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Can a theology student be an evil genius? On the concept of habitus in theological education

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2007

Christopher Craig Brittain*
School of Divinity, History & Philosophy, Department of Practical Theology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UB,


This essay explores the emphasis on habitus in contemporary approaches to theological education, particularly as developed in the recent volume Educating Clergy. Attention is given to the roots of the concept in the social theory of Pierre Bourdieu, and how it is developed in the work of Talal Asad, in order to illustrate why habitus is frequently emphasised as a helpful way to bridge the gap between theory and practice, knowledge and the good life. The analysis demonstrates a number of weaknesses in the concept, both from a practical and theological perspective. It uncovers some guiding presuppositions about the nature of ‘religion’ in Educating Clergy, which highlights the lack of homogeneity in the concept of habitus, as well as the fact that it is epistemologically ambivalent. The discussion serves to demonstrate the need for theological education to attend to the norms and sources which provide the critical leverage with which to evaluate differing habits and dispositions.

Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 The Republic of Plato, trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1945), p. 220 (ch. 23).

2 Foster, Charles R., Dahill, Lisa E., Golemon, Lawrence A., Tolentino, Barbara Wang, Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Imagination (Stanford, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2006), p. 4Google Scholar.

3 Charry, Ellen T., By the Renewing of your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997);Google Scholar Stanley, Hauerwas, Dispatches from the Front: Theological Engagements with the Secular (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1994)Google Scholar; John Milbank, ‘The Conflict of the Faculties’, in Mark Thiessen Nation and Samuel Wells (eds), Faith and Fortitude: In Conversation with the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), pp. 39–58. For representative articles stressing ‘practices’ in theology, see Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass (eds), Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002); Reinhold, Hütter, ‘The Church: The Knowledge of the Triune God: Practices, Doctrine, Theology’, in Buckley, James J. and Yeago, David (eds), Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001)Google Scholar.

4 Pierre, Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard, Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), p. 155Google Scholar.

5 Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 36. For a helpful introduction to Bourdieu's social theory, see: Richard Jenkins, Pierre Bourdieu (London and New York: Routledge, 1992).

6 See Clodovis Boff, Theology and Praxis, trans. Robert Barr (Mayknoll: Orbis Books, 1987; from the Spanish, 1978).

7 Edward, Farley, Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), p. 133Google Scholar.

8 Charry, By the Renewing of your Minds, p. 4.

9 Hauerwas, Dispatches from the Front, p. 7.

10 Foster et al., Educating Clergy, p. 7.

11 Talal, Asad, Powers of the Secular Modern, ed. Scott, David and Hirschkind, Charles (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), p. 287Google Scholar.

12 Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), pp. 39–42.

13 Farley, Theologia, p. 179.

14 Milbank, John. ‘The Conflict of the Faculties’, in Nation, Mark Thiessen and Wells, Samuel (eds), Faith and Fortitude: In Conversation with the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), p. 43Google Scholar.

15 Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p. 256.

16 Craig, Dystra and Bass, Dorothy C., ‘A Theological Understanding of Christian Practices’, in Volf, Miroslav and Bass, Dorothy C. (eds), Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, 2002), p. 16Google Scholar.

17 Foster, Educating Clergy, p. 4.

18 For all his emphasis on the idea of theology as a ‘metanarrative’, Milbank is not generally specific as to its content and boundaries. In Theology and Social Theory it might perhaps be identified basically as the doctrine of the Trinity. In his more recent work, his preferred trope appears to be the concept of ‘gift’. Reinhold Hütter emphasises ‘hospitality’ as the primary practice (in ‘The Church: The Knowledge of the Triune God’); while Daniel Bell Jr. suggests that the practices of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘penance’ represent those ‘technologies’ which properly discipline the Christian subject (see: Liberation Theology After the End of History (New York and London: Routledge, 2001)).

19 Foster, Educating Clergy, p. 30.

20 Milbank, ‘The End of Dialogue’, in Gavin D'Costa (ed.), Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), p. 190.

21 For similar concerns with regard to Bourdieu's social theory, see Jenkins, Pierre Bourdieu, ch. 4.

22 Asad, Genealogies of Religion, p. 211.

23 Foster, Educating Clergy, p. 4.

24 Republic, 219.

25 Nicholas, Healy, ‘Hermeneutics and the Apostolic Form of the Church’, Toronto Journal of Theology 7/1 (2001), p. 29Google Scholar.

26 Rowan, Williams, Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 2000)Google Scholar.

27 Rogers, Brubaker, ‘Social Theory as Habitus’, in Robbins, Derek (ed.), Pierre Bourdieu, vol. 2 (London: Sage, 2000), p. 43Google Scholar.