The Theological Society, which has not been active since the 2018/19 academic year, is due to be relaunched with a renewed focus on Christian doctrine, rather than facilitating discussion on a variety of religions, as had been their modus operandi in recent years.
The main driver behind the effort to revive the society is Lucas Dowling, a masters Classics student who currently serves as Captain of Trinity’s GAA Handball Club and Treasurer of Trinity Young Fine Gael.
Speaking to Trinity News, Dowling confirmed that “there is no cross-over” in organisation with the previous incarnation of the society. Despite this, the new social media accounts continue to refer to it as “one of Trinity College’s oldest societies” and “founded in 1830”.
In order to once again operate as a Trinity society, the Theological Society, often referred to as “the Theo”, will need to gain the approval and recognition of the Central Societies Committee (CSC), that recognition having lapsed automatically in 2019 when the Theo failed to hold an AGM.
In an email statement, the outgoing CSC committee for 2019/20 confirmed that they had given Dowling permission to “help generate interest in the society” but said that “CSC will oversee the AGM”. However, all organisation for the meeting and communication with new members was done by Dowling. He also appeared to have made a number of decisions about the conduct of elections for the society’s committee.
In setting out how committee elections would run Dowling made several deviations from the society’s constitution, such as reducing the notice period for committee nominations from one month to 24 hours. Queried about these provisions by a member, Dowling said in an email “I decided in this case the spirit of the law should be upheld…to avoid abuse”. It is unclear if CSC was consulted on these decisions. According to a list of nominees for committee positions circulated to members, Dowling is the sole candidate for Auditor.
The Theo has not had a committee since the end of the 2018/19 academic year. The CSC’s constitution states that “a University Society’s status of recognition shall automatically lapse” if it fails to submit certain reports to the Committee at the end of a given financial and reporting year, including financial records and the names of a new elected committee.
In its statement, the outgoing CSC committee said that the Theo was “suspended”. This term does not appear in the Committee’s constitution, and the statement did not define it. The society has not made a formal application for new CSC recognition. Despite this, it appeared on the Societies Hub in time for Freshers Week and was allowed to accept payment for memberships.
Societies which lack recognition from the CSC must make an application accompanied by the signatures of 200 registered students/staff. If the committee deems it potentially worthy of recognition, it must operate satisfactorily as a “provisionally recognised” society for at least one year before applying for full recognition at the CSC AGM.
In the years leading up to the society’s abeyance, the Theo had held events focusing on a diversity of religious traditions, including hosting a psychic in 2016 and interviewing a group of druids in February 2018. According to CSC, “the Theo’s society objectives have not changed since before its suspension.” However, social media and promotional posters erected on campus describe it as hosting “discussions on Christian Theology, paper readings, debates, and guest speakers.”
Dowling commented that “the Society’s fundamental laws define its sole purpose as the study of Christian Theology, and that’s what it has always done.”
“The decision in recent years to include that vaguest of phrases: ‘and religion’, is symptomatic of a misunderstanding of religion generally, and the value of studying Christian thought in particular.”
He added that “there are enough religious societies in College to address the breadth of culture and spirituality of various minority groups”. Among societies focused on a number of world religions, Trinity has two existing Christianity-focused groups, the Catholic Laurentian Society and the non-denominational Christian Union.
The CSC has refused recognition to proposed societies in the past on the basis of perceived crossover with the focus of existing societies. In 2018, TCD Women in STEM was refused full recognition partially for this reason, and its members were told that the group would be better served by being part of DU Gender Equality or SciSoc. CSC did not respond when asked if the Christian focus of the revived Theo might cause a similar issue.
Despite not having an elected committee yet, the society already has an event scheduled for next Monday, when “Professor Maureen Junker-Kenny” is due to speak on “Theodicy and Coronavirus: The Justice of God in a Time of Pandemic”. Dowling also confirmed that he has plans for at least two other events.
The society’s AGM is due to be held this evening at 5pm via Zoom.