Since its release, students have been using Theologica to study for assessments and compose theological essays. In this post, I’d like to highlight some of the ways students are using the app for exegetical research.
Theologica is designed to be a comprehensive theological resource for the iPhone. As such, it has 5 tabs that each serve a different purpose and enable learning about theology in various contexts. When students recently used the app to help them in the composition of their papers, they made extensive use of the app. One of the questions for the Junior essay assignment was:
How does the author of the Deuteronomic History portray Jeroboam in negative light after the northern kingdom secedes in 1 Kings? How does the Elohist author also do the same in Exodus 32? What would his motivation be for doing so? How does Exodus 32 criticize the southern kingdom and Temple?
How can Theologica help students answer essay questions such as these?
The Overview tab provides what I like to call a “wide-angle” view on the discipline of theology as a whole, especially highlighting its primary sources and its relationship to larger society and culture. Many students accessed the “Scripture” section of the tab where they were able to get a description of the nature of Sacred Scripture and its relationship to theology in the form of various citations from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. They included citations from this section in their papers.
Students were also able to find relevant secondary sources for the Deuteronomic History in the Reference tab under the Scripture section. The Reference tab includes a curated list of online resources for each section which corresponds to that section in the Overview tab. The Scripture section includes live links to curated online resources for Sacred Scripture, beginning with the New American Bible Revised Edition, and including other academically and theologically sound resources, such as Biblica, the journal of the Pontifical Biblical Association. Students can then search these sites within Theologica itself (without being redirected into Safari) for further reference within these sites. Students were able to access journal articles related to the downfall of the northern kingdom and Jeroboam’s alternative cultic system at Dan and Beth-El.
As a teacher, I use specific terms to help create a theological vocabulary for both students with some experience in, as well as for students without any, prior theological education. I require students to use and define terms from class in their papers, so the Dictionary tab provides not only a comprehensive collection of 500 of the most commonly used theological terms, but includes both a filter for terms according to their respective subdivisions within theology as well as a study feature with the ability to bookmark terms for quick access to a customized list. Many terms include both Hebrew and Greek etymologies, the phonics of which can be spoken by Siri using the “speak selection” feature in the Accessibility section of the Settings app. Students were able to select only biblical terms and then add terms related to the essay question such as “Asherah”, “Ba’al”, “Documentary Hypothesis”, “Deuteronomic Code”, “Elohist Source”, “Ephraim”, and “Exegesis” to the Saved list for quick reference. Using links for further reference, they soon learn that Exodus 32 is written by the Elohist author, who portrays Aaron as the progenitor of idolatry by using Jeroboam’s infamous words of dedication in 1 Kings 12. Thus, the Golden Calf story criticizes Aaronid priesthood for violating the 2nd Commandment against graven images (on the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple) and Jeroboam for choosing non-Levites to serve as priests.
The Dictionary tab includes both concise, sharable definitions (via Twitter, Facebook, or email) as well as an extended commentary on each term with relevant live links for further reference. This last feature is the one I like the most. Imagine a resource that not only provides a customizable Dictionary tab with over 500 of the most commonly used terms in theology, but a list of terms each with their own live links for further reading. Where possible, these live links include relevant sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Papal Encyclicals, and other Magisterial documents. Where relevant, I have also included both video links as well as journal articles that are freely accessible online, such as various back articles from Theological Studies. The novelty of the Dictionary tab is that it bundles these excellent online resources in the context of a theological vocabulary. Students were able to share terms like “Deuteronomic Code” and reference journal articles related to “Historical-Critical Method”. They are presented with an excellent overview of the latter by Fr. Joseph Fitzmeyer, whose works they almost certainly would not have thought to read on their own.
The Maps tab includes over 50 of the most common geographic locations referenced in theology, from biblical studies to church history to social justice concerns. Like the Dictionary tab, Maps are also filterable by category. Students were able to make use of the geographical information about northern kingdom worship sites such as Beth-El in their analysis of the essay questions.
Finally, the Explorations tab offers video lectures on various topics in theology. Students study these multimedia notes while composing their essays. Like the other resources of the app, any references to them require proper citation. Students can learn about the fundamental principles of biblical hermeneutics with comparisons to their own, familiar experience of texting in addition to getting a summary of the major themes of Magisterial teaching regarding biblical interpretation.
Most high school and college students today carry smartphones, and in the Catholic school in which I teach, most students carry an iPhone. I suspect that is also the case in many other Catholic schools here in the United States and in other English speaking countries. As an Apple user and developer, I wanted to create a resource for the iPhone that would allow students to better learn and understand theology. The result is an app which serves as a self-contained theological library that presents theology in multiple contexts and offers opportunities for sharing theological reflection. Since they have started using it this year, the quality of students’ papers has increased when using this app in contrast to those who have not. Not only are their sources pre-approved and vetted (which also saves me considerable time responding to multiple requests to approve secondary sources), but they also have access to a comprehensive survey of the major categories and currents in the discipline of theology from which they can select whichever sources they deem best to support their essays. Some students have been kind enough to leave reviews in the App Store.
Theologica is a work in progress, and I intend to update it on a regular basis with new terms, references, commentary, locations, and lectures, all with no upgrade fees. It has already been updated twice since its initial release, and I have some big plans for it later on this year.
I invite other teachers to examine the app for themselves and see if it’s something they might consider recommending to their own students. I believe high school, college, and seminary students in particular will find Theologica to be a valuable addition to their home screens.