Neo-Orthodoxy Today from Historical Legacy

October 26, 2022
Introduction   Today, we hear stories of Orthodox Judaism, and in this recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, we learn that ‘new orthodoxy’ is a ‘thing’. Image: Online story, Sylvia Goodman. ‘Alternative’ or ‘Sham’? Yeshiva U. Created a New LGBTQ Club — but Won’t Recognize the One That Sued, The Chronicle of Higher […]



Today, we hear stories of Orthodox Judaism, and in this recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, we learn that ‘new orthodoxy’ is a ‘thing’.

Image: Online story, Sylvia Goodman. ‘Alternative’ or ‘Sham’? Yeshiva U. Created a New LGBTQ Club — but Won’t Recognize the One That Sued, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 24, 2022.


Dogmatists have been great at denying ‘new orthodoxy’ as a ‘thing’ since the claim brings modification to ‘correct belief’, creating incorrect belief; according to the dogmatists. However, the existence of many ‘new orthodoxies’ proposes an inescapable problem, for the dogmatist. The problem here is not confided to Orthodox Judaism, or even western  religions, but any belief system which attempts to avoid admitting systemic error.


The focus here, for the concept of a new orthodoxy or neo-orthodoxy, goes to the worldviews of the Protestant and Catholic schemas, including secular expressions. So, the paper/article/blog (is there a difference today?) puts aside Orthodox Judaism and the Orthodox Christian traditions for obvious reasons, that ‘new orthodoxy’ is intellectually denied. Islam is too complex a story for orthodoxy and lies outside the specialist work of the author. In any case of ‘other religions’ and their schemas, it may well be the case that in ‘other religion’ new orthodoxies exist. The author argues that in the last few centuries the creation of new orthodoxies had come from the evolution in Protestant thought. The key understanding is the three Broad Academic Schools in Studies of Religion and 14 Academic Schools in the Philosophy of Religion


Three Broad Academic Schools in Studies of Religion and 14 Academic Schools in the Philosophy of Religion


The three main academic schools are:


1. That which centred on a general theory of religion developed by Rudolph Otto (1869 – 1937) and then later by Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965). The school had universal thought towards ‘religion’ and it is what began the larger enterprise of the academic studies of (or in) religion. The distinction between ‘academic studies’ and education broadly is made below.


2. That which centred on phenomenon, in opposition to a general theory. It was known as phenomenology of religion and developed by Mircea Eliade (1907 – 1986) but the concepts applied were generated from the leading phenomenologists and existentialists, and in particular, Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976). In this regard, Paul Tillich’s ‘ultimate concern’ becomes phenomenological.  This is a movement in the academic studies that predominated in the mid-twentieth century. It, nevertheless, coexisted with the education of the general theory, and arguably would not have existed without it.


3. That which centred on cultural pluralism. This is particularly the British school of Ninian Smart (1927 – 2001; Lancaster University) and John Hull (1935 – 2015; Birmingham University) in the academic studies, but a fair number of American and British philosophers of religion have been particularly important in the education: Huston Smith (Why Religion Matters, 2001) and Don Cupitt (After God: The Future of Religion, 1997) are significant.  The school of ‘religious’ thinking came late; in the last few decades of the twentieth century, and is now predominant in the early 21st century. The school conjoins the phenomenological concern as cultural pluralism and the deeper skepticism of the fourth school emerges from the work of Fitzgerald and McCutcheon which focuses on the conceptual challenges of cultural pluralism.


All together the scholars across the academic studies are known as ‘religionists’. Before looking closely at the three main schools, religionists need to be distinguished with ‘religious educators’. There is a separate academic field of education which is also concerned with the academic studies of religion, but concerned with marrying these theories and concepts of religion to those of educational studies. In this regard, a few more scholars also have to be examined in relation to the Queensland history. John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was a very well-known broad educator whose views on ‘religion’ were very influential among American educators of religion. Dewey’s general theory was A Common Faith (1934), a humanistic study of religion originally delivered as the Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale University.  Influencing Dewey and other educators on religion was William James (1842 – 1910). James’ ‘The Will to Believe’, a lecture first published in 1896 is seminal.  It brought ideas of Personal Idealism (George Holmes Howison 1834 – 1916) and of Personalism (F. C. S. Schiller 1864 – 1937) into the arrangement of American Pragmatism. Other major influences in the American Religious Education movement were Eric Erikson (1902 – 1994) for his work in the psychology of religion, and Charles Hartshorne (1897 – 2000) for his work in process philosophy. The institutions and persons in the American Religious Education movement will be considered further on.


The 14 Theological Directions from Studies of Religion and Wider Consideration of the Philosophy of Religion


The philosophic thinking has streamed between 30 to 40 theological directions and taken aboard wider consideration of contemporary philosophy of religion than what has generally been recognised in academic theological discourse in relation to the curriculum, but nevertheless has representation in 20th century education for belief and doubt, including formal programs of religious education or Christian education. Seeing how philosophical thinking streams and overlaps into the diverse theological directions, which are represented in educational programs, better provides the wide range of the educational discourse. Ranging from the earliest shift in Christian thought, following from the conventional to the less popular or less known programs, the schools of thought can range from the German Neo-Orthodox Stream to the Anglo-American Atheist-Deist Stream. At this point of the research, the focus is the scoping of Protestant Thought, bearing in mind that innovations in Catholic thought and the continuing non-innovation from the Orthodox tradition will also need to be considered. Furthermore, there are often officially-unstated influences between the three Christian broad traditions. For this reason, Catholic ‘theologians’ who are influential in Queensland, a state where Catholic thought overlapped into the thinking of broad ‘Protestant’ institutions, have to be noted. The following might not be a comprehensive listing of the theological or atheological streams, but the list is extensive and includes all major players who informed religious/Christian education:


  1. German Neo-Orthodox Stream – Liberal Neo-Orthodoxy

Karl Barth

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jürgen Moltmann

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Karl Rahner Nouvelle théologie; Transcendental Thomism
Romano Guardini
Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)


  1. European Reformed ‘Neo-Orthodox’ Stream – Liberal Neo-Orthodoxy

Emil Brunner

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Edward Schillebeeckx Dominican


  1. German ‘Neo-Orthodox-Process’ Stream – Liberal Neo-Orthodoxy

Wolfhart Pannenberg


  1. German Existentialist ‘Neo-Orthodox’ Stream – Liberal Neo-Orthodoxy

Rudolf Bultmann

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Jacques Maritain Existential Thomism


  1. American Neo-Orthodox-Realist Stream – Liberal Neo-Orthodoxy

Reinhold Niebuhr

Richard Niebuhr

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Bernard Lonergan Transcendental Thomism
Avery Dulles


  1. Anglican ‘Orthodox’ Stream 

Richard Swinburne

John Milbank


  1. Anglo-American Existentialist ‘Neo-Orthodox’ Stream

Paul Tillich

John Macquarrie


  1. Anglo-America Process ‘Neo-Orthodox’ Stream

Paul Weiss

Charles Hartshorne

Robert Cummings Neville

John B. Cobb


  1. American ‘Neo-Liberal’/Universalist Stream (‘Neo-Orthodox’?)- Quietism-New Thought-Unitarian-Universalist (Christian) Stream

Langdon Gilkey

John Shelby Spong

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Hans Küng Rejection of Papal Infallibility; Global Ethic
John Courtney Murray Religious Liberty; Dignitatis Humanae


  1. East ‘Asian’ Influence of Confucian-Buddhist-Tao-Shinto (‘Neo-Orthodox’?) Stream – Evangelical Sub-Steams 3. and 4. Radical Discipleship and Liberation

Watchman Nee

S. Song

Simon Chan (AOG)

Kwok Pui-lan (Asian feminist theology)

Chung Hyun Kyung (Asian feminist theology)

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Thomas Merton Trappist
Bernadette Roberts Carmelite
Aloysius Pieris Sri Lankan Jesuit


  1. Anglo-American African Black Revolutionary- Africana Stream (‘Neo-Orthodox’?)

Cornel West

James H. Cone

Albert Cleage

Barney Pityana

Allan Boesak

Zephania Kameeta


  1. Anglo-American Quietism-New Thought-Unitarian-Universalist (Christian) Stream (the original modern Christian ‘neo-orthodoxy’?)

Parker Palmer (Quaker)

Elton Trueblood (Quaker)

Rufus Jones (Quaker)

Richard Foster (Quaker)

Emil Fuchs (Quaker)

Ernest Holmes (Christian New Thought)

Johnnie Colemon (Christian New Thought)

James Luther Adams (Unitarian-Universalist)

Webster Kitchell (Unitarian-Universalist)


Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Henri Nouwen Catholic Quietism
Jean-Luc Marion Postmodern Phenomenology


  1. Anglo-American ‘Death of God’-Secular Theology Stream (the basis for secular ‘neo-orthodoxy’?)

Harvey Cox

Don Cupitt

Paul van Buren


(14) With 30. Anglo-American Atheist-Deist Stream

Antony Flew

Brand Blanshard


There might be other ways to slice the Protestant and Catholic pie, but the schema is a very accurate worldview outlook in the widest scoping, and it has secular expression in every case.


The collapse of ‘religion’ and the rise of Studies-in-Religion


In last 40 years, the studies in religion discipline had been shaken by a broad set of criticisms for the philosophical category of ‘religion’ and ‘secular’; from a large body of literature, led by well-known scholars, Jonathan Z. Smith (1982), Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1990), Talal Asad (1993), Russell T. McCutcheon (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2012 with William Arnal, 2014), Timothy Fitzgerald (2000, 2007), and Tomoko Masuzawa (2005).



There is urgency in providing education which will defuse the explosive confusion of popular misconceptions in the history of ‘religious’/Christian instruction/‘education’.[1] Education policy makers and the general public have not caught up with the trend in higher education scholarship, and are still thinking in the outdated models of the academic discipline. If we take the last four decades as being the era of the fourth school of philosophical skepticism, there have been three previous academic schools of thought that shaped religious/Christian education: that which focused on a general theory of religion; focused on phenomenology; and focused on cultural pluralism.



These four-way schemas are being applied in research for a book to provide the Queensland case study. This is an important and urgent analysis since the characterisation of Queensland reinforces the retrograde national narrative for outdated models of church-state relations, and will continue to do so, unless better education for faith and belief is provided. This paper will mark out the Queensland historical players and events on the pathway that shifted back and forth between religious instruction, Christian education, and religious education.


The collapse of ‘orthodoxy’ and the rise of nuanced pluralist models in monist frameworks.


At a local and regional level, as in my research on Queensland intellectual paradigms, neo-orthodoxy is translated, and can be translated, into nuanced frameworks during particular time periods, based on who lived in that local society at the time and the global waves of reading and dialogues (often overlapping):


  1. Colonial Period


Anti-Erastian Christianity

British Classical Education

Christian Biblicalist Education

Christian Broad-Curriculum Education

Christian Church Education

Christian Classical Education

Christian Conservative Education

Christian Secular Education

Christian Secular Modernist Education

Literary Austra-European (Colonial-Patriotic) Intellectual Education

Pre-Vatican I Catholic Education


  1. Federation Period


Recap: Colonial Literary Folk Education

British Classical Education

Christian Biblicalist Education

Christian Classical Education

Christian Conservative Broad-Curriculum Education

Efficient Broad-Curriculum Education

International Laborite Education

Irish Loyalist Catholic Education

Liberal-Left Evangelical Education

Vatican I Catholic Education


  1. Nation-Building Period


Adult and Community Education

Christian Biblicalist Education

Christian Broad-Curriculum Education

Christian Classical Education

Christian Conservative Modernist Education

Christian Modernist Education

Christian Secular Education

Conservative-Liberal Evangelical Education

Egalitarian Utilitarian Agrarian-valued Education

Irish Loyalist Catholic Education

Liberal-Left Evangelical Education

Literary Folk Education

Megachurch Prosperity Gospel Education

Modernist Social Work Education

Post-Idealist Christian Modernist Education


  1. Period of Mid-Century Neo-Orthodoxy and Heresy


Broad-Curriculum Education

Charismatic Christianity

Christian Broad-Curriculum Education

Christian Conservative Broad-Curriculum Education

Christian Conservative Modernist Education

Christian Modernist Liberal Education

Christian Modernist Social Work Education

Christian Secular Modernist Education

Confucianism (‘foreign’ integrated/appropriated syncretic)

Conservative Evangelical Education

Conservative-Liberal Evangelical Education

Conservative-Liberal Evangelical Indigenous Education

Diagnosis and Remedial Education

Domestic Technical Education

Educational Psychology

Fundamentalist Christianity (Creationism)

Liberal-Left Evangelical Education

Literary Modern Education

Megachurch Prosperity Gospel Education

Modernist Liberal Indigenous Education

Progress Philosophy

Renegade Laborite Education

Traditional Reformed Theology Education


  1. The Late Modern Period


Charismatic Christianity

Christian Conservative Broad-Curriculum Education

Christian Evangelical Skeptical Education

Christian Modernist Social Work Education

Christian Modernist-Postmodernist Liberal Education

Christian Multiculturalism and Religionist Historiography

Conservative Evangelical Education

Conservative-Liberal Evangelical Education

Conservative-Liberal Evangelical Indigenous Education

Fundamentalist Christianity (Creationism)

Liberal-Left Evangelical Education

Megachurch Prosperity Gospel Education


  1. The New Century


Christian Modernist Liberal Education

Christian Modernist-Postmodernist Liberal Education

Conservative-Liberal Evangelical Education

Modernist Social Work Education

Traditional Reformed Theology Education


The continual reinvention of orthodox belief was a key part of the frameworks.[2] Together, it works, not as a singular belief system, but as Randall Collins’ The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change model for charting relationships of cultural and social transmissions (e.g., ‘Queensland Intellectual Scatterplot Matrix’). The historiographical model is an explanation of the global-local layering, and in my research specifically to:


  1. Theological Education;
  2. Church Education Programs; and
  3. Christian schooling.


On a global scale Collins (1998) argues that cultural and social transmissions happen as networks of scholars, in different types of relationships, and often beyond boundaries of the instituted ‘schools’. The traditional ‘schools’ outlook leads into the critique of Ivan Illich (1970) for “Deschooling Society”. Schools lack the capacity of correcting for the inadequacies for established and personal worldviews. With the movements of transnational histories and the dynamics of global-regional-local relations, we can see how the Queensland intellectual and educational environment was reshaped by scholars between the University of Queensland, Griffith University, and the rest of the educated society.




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[1] B.01 Education for Faith & Belief: ‘Education for Faith and Belief’: The Problem of Popular Misconceptions in Queensland, 2022 Australian Historical Association, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, Thursday 30 June 2022.

[2] Historical Sociology of/for Christian/Religious Education in Queensland: Mapping 1859-2022 and Beyond, 2022 Australian Sociological Association Conference (TASA), University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Wednesday 30 November 2022.

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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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