The Common Good
September/October 2009

More Social Justice Seminaries

by Kaitlin Barker | September/October 2009

Seminaries and theological schools historically have trained two kinds of people: pastors and academic theologians. But more and more these institutions are realizing they need to develop and nurture students to serve outside those lines. Helene Slessarev-Jamir, a professor of urban ministries at Claremont Theological School, has a vision for her students to become “practitioners that inter-relate religion with whatever work they’re already doing; be it nonprofit, environmental, or global hunger issues,” she says.

Here’s more information and more programs to spark your imagination.

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School: Seattle Pacific University

Unique Program: Business and Applied Theology

Location: Seattle, Washington

The financial world is in great need of faithful, ethical professionals. Seattle Pacific University’s answer is a joint endeavor between the schools of business and theology with a new master’s degree in business and applied theology. “People are beginning to see the mutual benefit of socially-minded business people working cooperatively with theologians,” Doug Strong, dean of the school of theology, told Sojourners. “Such a cooperative endeavor will help to ground theological study in the real world and will help Christian businesses to understand their obligations to develop a more just society.”

The program is designed not only for church leaders to improve their finance skills and business people to integrate faith into their work (the degree can also be combined with an M.B.A.), but also, says Strong, “for those who are hoping to use business as a means for social change—especially through nonprofits, microfinance organizations, or social venture enterprises.”

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School: Claremont School of Theology

Unique Program: School of Ethics, Politics, and Society

Location: Claremont, California

Rooted in a United Methodist heritage, Claremont School of Theology is an ecumenical institution and building toward inter-religiosity. In response to Southern California’s communities are becoming multi-ethnic and multi-religious, Claremont is experiencing an identity shift. Claremont hopes to “create new spaces for people who think and work out of their religious identity,” urban ministries professor Helene Slessarev-Jamir told Sojourners, “both to deepen that identity while also thinking about a variety of fields related to ethics, politics, and society.” In fall 2010, Claremont will launch the School of Ethics, Politics, and Society connected to its School of Theology. Additionally, the doctorate programs in philosophy and ethics will be moving from Claremont Graduate University to the Claremont School of Theology.

The “ethics, politics, and society” mix is one of several justice-minded emphases offered for master’s of divinity students at Claremont, as well as contextual education and urban studies. Master’s of arts students can concentrate studies in community organizing (which includes courses on immigration and nonviolence) or inter-religious understanding. Either degree can emphasize peace and justice studies. “At Claremont we talk about teaching religion in ways that heal the world,” said Slessarev-Jamir. “That means justice work as well as spiritual care and nurture.”

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School: Wesley Theological Seminary

Unique Program: Urban Ministry and Communal Living

Location: Washington, D.C.

One year after celebrating its 50th anniversary, Wesley Theological Seminary is expanding its suburban Maryland-based campus to take a contextual seat in the middle of Washington, D.C. Wesley at Mount Vernon Place is the seminary’s new home to studies in urban ministry and public theology, as well as an opportunity for communal living, where students literally will live in their classroom, learn to “engage the poor and the powerful,” and experience directly the complex social issues of the inner-city they seek to serve. From community organizing and advocacy to internships with social service organizations and diverse, urban congregations, the city streets have a lot to teach about who needs ministering and how. The Urban Fellows program (for M.Div. students) will launch in fall 2009 and a doctorate of ministry degree in urban ministry will begin in January 2010

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School: Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE)

Unique Program: An ecumenical partnership of 12 U.S. seminaries

Location: Chicago, Illinois

This unique ecumenical partnership of 12 seminaries from around the U.S. committed to training community developers and urban ministers through experiential learning, SCUPE offers four primary programs of study: A master’s of divinity through the Center for African American Theological Studies; theological study paired with urban ministry experience with their Graduate Theological Urban Studies program; a one-year urban ministry certificate for pre-seminarians; and a master’s of arts in community development.

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School: United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities

Unique Program: Racial Justice Leadership and Justice and Peace Studies

Location: New Brighton, Minnesota

An ecumenical theological school of the United Church of Christ, United Theological Seminary takes context seriously—“Our own context, the context of the oppressed in our culture and in other countries and cultures,” says Glen Herrington-Hall, director of admissions at UTS. “If you take context seriously, then social justice is no longer an option but a vital part of how we live out our faith.” UTS offers two concentrations (for both M.Div. and M.A. degrees) focused on peace and reconciliation. The first is Leadership Toward Racial Justice (also available to D.Min. students and as a certificate program) focused on dismantling white privilege, anti-racism training, and the rich religious history of communities of color. The second is Justice and Peace Studies, which began in 2008, to train students in the theology and social analysis needed to understand war, conflict, and violence and prompt creative leadership in peacemaking.

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School: Iliff School of Theology

Unique Program: Justice and Peace Studies Concentration

Location: Denver, Colorado

A seminary of the United Methodist Church, Iliff School of Theology also identifies as ecumenical and interreligious. As part of its commitment to fostering understanding and transforming people, Iliff’s Justice and Peace Studies Concentration (in conjunction with M.Div. and M.A. in Specialized Ministry degrees, but open to participation from all Iliff students) connects faith to economic, racial, and gender oppression, and trains students in the art of reconciliation. Seminars encourage reflection on LGBTQ issues, homelessness, immigration, and consumerism and simple living. The school’s location also lends itself to immersion learning, which have recently included trips to Native-American reservations and U.S.-Mexico border areas in the Arizona desert.

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School: Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Unique Program: Conflict Transformation

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia

Under the umbrella of Eastern Mennonite University, the 125-student seminary offers master’s of divinity students a dual degree option through the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s (CJP) master’s of arts in conflict transformation (MACT). Seminary training looks at the church’s role in social transformation, congregational conflict, Anabaptist peacebuilding, and the ethics of nonviolence. There are five peacebuilding concentrations to choose from within the MACT degree: strategic peacebuilding, restorative justice, trauma healing, development, and organizational leadership. Sixty-three Fulbright scholars from 20 countries have graduated from EMS’ conflict transformation program.

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School: The Alternative Seminary

Unique Program: Community-based Theological Education

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Open to all desirous participants, seminarian or not, the non-accredited Alternative Seminary is an “informal, grassroots, non-institutional” community education program, informed by varying theological inspirations (liberation, feminist, gay and lesbian, the Catholic Worker, faith-based peace and resistance movements, and Jewish renewal). Most alternative seminarians are involved in urban ministry or social justice and want to root their work in biblical, theological study, but there is no student prototype. As a constant reminder of the need for workers and voices of justice, most of the small classes intentionally meet at sites that double as housing for the formerly homeless.

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School: University of Notre Dame

Unique Program: Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Location: Notre Dame, Indiana

Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute is one of the few schools where undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students can all earn degrees in peace studies. The Catholic university’s Kroc Institute offers training in five key areas: global politics and international norms; religion, conflict, and peace; political economy of war, peace, and sustainable development; culture, war, and peace; conflict analysis and transformation. A semester in one of the institute’s field sites (Israel/Palestine, South Africa, Uganda, or Southeast Asia) is part of most graduate programs study.

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School: Vanderbilt University Divinity School

Unique Program: The Carpenter Program on Religion, Gender, and Sexuality

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Open to students in the divinity, graduate, and undergraduate schools, the Carpenter Program offers a space for dialogue and reflection on the crossroads of religion, gender, and sexuality. Through courses in textual interpretation, theology, ethics, and contemporary practice, and a culminating community-issue based project and presentation to an open forum, the certification program seeks to foster communication “across religious affiliations, ideological bases, and cultural contexts.” Classes offered in fall 2009 examine the history, authority, and nuances of women’s preaching; the ancient history of marriage (including issues of religion, law, and socioeconomics); feminist and African-American spirituality; and constructive ethics through the lens of the African-American women’s literary tradition.

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School: Duke Divinity School

Unique Program: Gender, Theology, and Ministry

Location: Durham, North Carolina

In addition to Duke’s Center for Reconciliation, which offers courses on global conflict, race, and ethnicity, the school has also launched a focus on gender studies by offering a. certificate program in gender, theology, and ministry, which examines the way gender shapes agency within the church and society; effective ministry to woman and men; the social and religious functions of gender roles; the church’s use of language, liturgy, and symbolism; and gender in the global church. The gender track was “the most formative and powerful part of my seminary experience,” said recent Duke graduate Christa Mazzone Palmberg. “It taught me how to approach theology and ministry with greater sensitivity for justice—especially issues relating gender, race, and sexuality—and how to think critically about power dynamics in the church and in the world.”

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School: Yale Divinity School

Unique Program: Numerous joint degrees

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

The collaboration between Yale Divinity School and Yale’s many professional schools gives M.Div. and M.A. in Religion students an impressive array of interdisciplinary options at their fingertips. Bringing spirituality and social witness together, joint degrees are available through Yale’s Law School, Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health, and School of Management (business), as well as with the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

But the divinity school’s most unique JD is with Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, a relationship that “reflects the opening up of religious bodies to reflect on a more expansive understanding of creation and our responsibility to live in it with respect for all life,” said the divinity school’s associate dean Emilie Townes. Not only is it valuable to “explore the role of the environment through a theological lens,” said Townes. “But we believe that the opposite is important as well—that students explore religious reflection through the lens of the environment.”

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Global Context

School: Payne Theological Seminary

Unique Program: Doctor of Ministry South Africa Immersion Experience

Location: Wilberforce, Ohio and South Africa

This historically African-American theological seminary has joined with Bakke Graduate University in Seattle to offer a one-of-a-kind D.Min. degree in transformational leadership for the global city. The program allows doctoral students to combine an African-American perspective and a global Christian context, with special emphasis on ministry in urban centers. “The joint Payne/Bakke program takes students to Capetown, Soweto, and Pretoria, South Africa. The cities are the labs and practitioners become professors,” Payne’s president Leah Gaskin Fitchue told Sojourners.

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School: Duke Divinity School

Unique Program: Center for Theology, Writing, and Media

Location: Durham, North Carolina

In addition to Duke’s Center for Reconciliation, which offers courses on global conflict, race, and ethnicity, and the school’s new certificate program in gender, theology, and ministry, Duke also has the Center for Theology, Writing, and Media. The program nurtures writing as a valuable ministerial gift, “as integral as prayer and preaching,” and encourages language as a source of “inspiration, renewal, and transformation.”

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School: Palmer Theological Seminary

Unique Program: Master’s of Theological Studies with an emphasis on Christian Faith and Public Policy

Location: Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Under the wing of Eastern University, Palmer (a Baptist rooted seminary) is committed to nurturing “holistic ministry that addresses not only spiritual and emotional needs, but social and material needs as well.” In order to respond to those social needs, the seminary offers several dual degrees for students who want to intertwine theological study with other professional skills. In conjunction with Eastern University, Master of Divinity students can earn an M.B.A in Economic Development or an M.A. in International Development; a dual M.Div./M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) can be pursued through any outside, accredited institution. A concentration in Christian Faith and Public Policy is also available in the Master of Theological Studies degree.

Kaitlin Barker is editorial assistant for Sojourners.

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