At its inception, Theology Night Live (then known as Theology on Tap) was an opportunity for faculty and students to informally gather and discuss theological issues. Terry Nichols, a theology professor at St. Thomas for 27 years and the founder and co-director of the university’s Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center, launched Theology on Tap in 2005.
Over the years, the gathering morphed into Theology Night Live, yielding more lecture-like sessions on campus intended to show students the relevance of theology to everyday life and the current world.
"This is a way to engage undergraduate students about St. Thomas outside the classroom and align with the message of the university," said Mark DelCogliano, assistant professor of theology, who currently coordinates Theology Night Live. "The mission of the university is to be inspired by the Catholic intellectual tradition."
Theology Night Live has had discussions on everything from faith-based community activism; how theology relates to sports; how Stephen Colbert functions as modern-day theologian; to how gadgets can improve spiritual life. Faculty volunteers and brainstorm their own topics, which means that many present from either their areas of focus or as a way to explore an interesting idea.
Associate professor of theology Amy Levad - who has presented multiple times at Theology Night Live, including on faith-based community activism - said she tries to give students a complex idea to think about.
"It enables you to hit on some more controversial or challenging topics and leave them there on the table," Levad said. "A lot of times it’s just sort of planting a seed with Theology Night Live of something to consider as you go about your life. That can often be a good opportunity to invite people to self-reflection and further exploration in a different way than a classroom."
Associate professor of theology Mark McInroy, who has presented on the connections to sports and Colbert, said that for theology students who are already convinced of theology's relevance, he hoped they would walk away with an ever deeper understanding of that relevance from a new perspective.
"[Students I haven't had in class] come up and speak with me, and it will be revealed that they attended a Theology Night Live, and in some cases, they wanted to follow up and take courses on the topic" McInroy said.
Theology Night Live also presents an opportunity for faculty members to learn from one another.
"I see my colleagues in their element, teaching. I don’t normally see them in the classroom," DelCogliano said. "I see what works with students, what engages them. I benefit in my own pedagogy in the classroom, and how to better relate to my own students by seeing the students at the events."
Through its shifting topics, Theology Night Live continues to stay relevant more than a decade after its founding.
"[Theology] has something to add to the conversation today dealing with our more pressing problems as a church, nation, world," DelCogliano said. "So, it’s a body of wisdom ... a tradition of thinking about reality that has something viable to say even now."
Theology Night Live has two sessions left for this semester. Associate professor of Theology Kim Vrudny will lead "Is God Black?" on Wednesday, Nov. 8, from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Leather Room. Adjunct professor and associate director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning Hans Gustafson will lead "Interreligious Encounter" on Wednesday, Dec. 6, from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Leather Room.