Theography is a term that’s been used in various contexts. The common thread is in rhetorical purpose rather than meaning: it refers to something that the author wants to distinguish from theology. Etymologically it means to write or create visual marks about God.
I want to co-opt the term for an important distinction. As far as I know this use of the term is original, but I’m more than happy to be corrected.
Theology is discourse about a particular view of God, as such it is distinct from Philosophy of Religion, Comparative Religion, or the various Religious sciences (religious history, historical criticism, sociology of religion, religious anthropology, etc.). If you do orthodox Christian theology, you start with some notion of the triune orthodox Christian God, and use that to work out implications for doctrine, for practice, for liturgy, for social justice, or whatever else you are concerned about. One can talk about ‘a theology’ as being such a consistent working out from a single concept of God and some set of concerns. We might produce ‘a feminist theology of grace’, for example.
Theography is the study of theological thought. To publish a commentary on Barth is to do theography. One could talk about western theography: the cultural legacy of nearly 2000 years of theological thought and writing. Which allows us to see that theographies too might be specific nouns: western theography, liberation theography, feminist theography. Each of which is a set of methods, shared assumptions and structures that form the infrastructure of any amount of theological work.
Why is this distinction important? Because it brings to theology a distinction that I find important in historical thought. Very much the same distinction arises between history and historiography.
Theography provides a term for the meta-level of theology: consideration of method, of voice, of scope and of purpose. Having a word for this is important, because theography has been, by and large, folded into theological thought. So much so that often Theologians don’t seem to understand themselves whether they are doing theology or writing about theology.
There is a job of theography to do before you can start to do theology. One has to understand and relate one’s own position to the work that has gone before. If one is bringing new methods to bear, then one has to elucidate and criticize the methods they are replacing or augmenting. Theography is the hard business of being a theologian.
There are armchair theologians by the million. It is as easy to do theology as it is to do history. It is easy to wax lyrical on the causes of the second world war or who shot JFK. But it is much harder to do history based on a consistent, compelling and rigorous historiography. The same is true of theology. There is lots of theology around. The web is full of it. But it is only at the level of its theography that we have the tools for sorting out what is good theology, and what is opinionated piffle.
I majored in theology for my undergraduate degree (actually it was a dual major, the other half being Artificial Intelligence), my wife majored in History. She didn’t get taught much history in her course, but she was inducted (inculcated, even?) into academic Historiography. The historical questions she was lead to consider were merely training grounds for learning the historiographical rules. Likewise, I didn’t get taught much theology either, in hindsight. But I was exposed to theography.