One of the Most Important Things I Learned in Seminary and Why

In my first semester of seminary, we were required to take a course called “Introduction to Theological Thinking and Writing.” It covered the basics of theological reading, writing, and taught us how to observe the school’s ever-changing style guide.

But we also learned something applicable to life, not just seminary.

Social Location

Have you ever heard of it? Social Location is a compilation of information that identifies your position in your community, group, society, etc.

But not only that, your Social Location is the lens through which you see the world. It affects the way you read books, watch the news, who you “naturally” might make friends with, and more.

Elements of Social Location

There are numerous factors that make up your social location, but these are some of the main ones:

– Religious background (or your “embedded” theology)
– Race/ethnicity
– Nation of origin/geography
– Socio-economic status
– Gender (or gender identity)
– Sexual orientation
– Political affiliation
– Educational background
– Profession/training
– Personality traits

Why Identifying Your Social Location is Important

Alexander Mueller. Creative Commons.
Alexander Mueller. Creative Commons.

Many of us power our way through life and never give a second thought to why we think the way we do, why we see the world the way we do, and the impact those perspectives might have on others around us.

It’s important for seminarians to identify our Social Location because it helps us recognize the biases we bring to the texts we read, like the Bible.

Similarly, it’s important for all of us to identify our Social Location because it helps us recognize the biases we bring to the world around us.

Remember I said our Social Location is like the “lens” through which we see the world? Well, you’re the only one who sees the world the way you do.

Sure, you might be a white Christian, but there’s a reason your lived experience is going to be different than black Christians or gay Christians or poor Christians or rich Christians or educated Christians or uneducated Christians and… you get the point.

When we have a solid understanding of how we see the world and why, it opens the door to gaining an understanding of how others see the world and why.

How to Identify Your Social Location

When you do this, you have to be honest with yourself. Be obnoxiously honest, actually. You’ll do yourself a disservice if you aren’t.

But then go through the elements of social location (see above) and dig deep into them.

For example: Identify your race/ethnicity. But go beyond that. Ask yourself how it affects the way you see the world. Are you white? How has that privileged you? Why do you think that is?

Go through each of the elements of social location until you’ve done this with all of them.

When you’re finished, go out and observe the world. Listen to your friends and family as they discuss the evening news or talk about their days. Can you identify the lenses they’re viewing the world with?

I’m forever grateful for this little exercise in seminary. It’s changed the way I read everything, but also how I interact with the people around me. It’s allowed me to spurn offense when someone says something I disagree with; instead, it’s afforded me a methodology for understanding why they see the world the way that they do.

I hope it helps you!



About Matthew Snyder

Matt is a thirty-something writer and young adult minister. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Merridith, and their dog, Finn.

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