Original Research - Special Collection: UP Faculty of Theology Centenary Volume One

The theory–practice distinction and the complexity of practical knowledge

Bonnie Miller-McLemore
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 4 | a3381 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i4.3381 | © 2016 Bonnie Miller-McLemore | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 February 2016 | Published: 31 August 2016

About the author(s)

Bonnie Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture, The Divinity School & Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University; Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, United States


Over the past few decades, theologians have recognised the value of practice but have been optimistic about the ease with which practice is incorporated into theology. People use all sorts of adjectives to characterise the complex relationship – ‘integrally related’, a ‘deeper reciprocity’, ‘bound up in thickly intertwined ways’ – but connecting the two is not as easy as these words suggest. This article returns to the age-old question about the relationship between theory and practice. But it studies this question from the angle of practice. Although many scholars have analysed the distinction between theory and practice as it functions conceptually, few have examined challenges in relating the two as they emerge in practice. The article argues that there is an inevitable distinction between theory and practice that receives considerably less attention and needs more understanding and even respect. It also argues that the discipline of practical theology adds a distinctive angle on this discussion because it considers how the concepts function practically.


Knowledge; Theoretical; Relationship between theory and practice; Power; Politics; Institution


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Crossref Citations

1. Practical theology and the call for the decolonisation of higher education in South Africa: Reflections and proposals
Jaco S. Dreyer
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies  vol: 73  issue: 4  year: 2017  
doi: 10.4102/hts.v73i4.4805