Theology and Anthropology, what’s the difference?

I was asked this question last week. At the time, I rambled a bit but managed to conclude “so, theology’s preaching while anthropology is listening”. But I would like to recant. I think it’s a question about who (primarily) you are listening to, or perhaps where you get your data from.

That is, theology is primarily tasked with listening to and interpreting the word of God, while the primary task of a social anthropologist is to listen to and interpret people. Now, of course, a good theologian also listens to and understands people, and a good anthropologist engages with the sacred texts of the people they’re working with. Please don’t hear me say that theologians don’t listen to people and that anthropologists don’t interpret scripture. But I think it is fair to say that the source of the theologian’s authority is the persuasiveness of their interpretation of Scripture and the anthropologist’s authority comes from the believability of their representations of people.

The preaching/listening dichotomy doesn’t do justice to either theologians or anthropologists – they both engage in both activities. That is, both theologians and anthropologists are concerned with attending to an external source of information and both endeavour to persuasively share their insights with an audience.

What do you think the difference is? Why do we need both theology and anthropology?

H/T to Philip for asking the question in a very interesting conversation we had with Regina.


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