The Common Good
September/October 2009

Seminary 2.0

by Kaitlin Barker | September/October 2009

Retooling seminaries for the world of today -- and tomorrow.

What does it mean to prepare for God’s work in today’s world? As communities expand to include not just next-door neighbors but bordering countries, the traditional seminary preparation, focused primarily on church work, preaching, and teaching, is also expanding.

Southern California, for example, “is an environment that is so in flux that you can’t just do church the way you’ve always done it,” says Helene Slessarev-Jamir, professor of urban ministries at Claremont School of Theology. “You have to be able to connect church to community.” To help students better understand the lives of the immigrant community around them, Helene created an experiential course with the U.S.-Mexico border south of Tucson, Arizona, as its classroom. To stimulate critical thinking on the theological implications of immigration, students witnessed a federal court hearing for 60-some immigrants accused of crossing the border illegally. “Within an hour they had prosecuted them all en masse. All pleaded guilty,” said Slessarev-Jamir. Later that week, the students crossed into Mexico and talked with recently deported migrants, learning about the issue in a way that the traditional classroom might never have been able to teach.

Seminary programs across the United States are rethinking what it means to “do ministry”—embracing an expanding view of the world as community and neighbor—and responding to the real needs of our ever-changing social context with innovative, intentional programs of study. Here are a few that may make you want to head back to school.

NEW 2009
Seattle Pacific University

Business and Applied Theology
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,” says Doug Strong, dean of the school of theology. “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.”

NEW 2010
Claremont School of Theology
School of Ethics, Politics, and Society
Claremont, California

Rooted in a United Methodist heritage, Claremont School of Theology is an ecumenical institution now building toward becoming interreligious as well. In Southern California’s rapidly changing social context, where communities are becoming multiethnic and multireligious, Claremont hopes to “create new spaces for people who think and work out of their religious identity,” says Helene Slessarev-Jamir, “both to deepen that identity while also thinking about a variety of fields related to ethics, politics, and society.” In fall 2010, Claremont will also launch a School of Ethics, Politics, and Society connected to its School of Theology. Additionally, the doctoral programs in philosophy and ethics will be moving from Claremont Graduate University to the Claremont School of Theology.

NEW 2009
Wesley Theological Seminary
Urban Ministry and Intentional Living
Washington, D.C.

Wesley Theological Seminary is extending its campus to the middle of Washington, D.C., with the opening of “Wesley at Mount Vernon Place.” This will be the seminary’s new home for studies in urban ministry and public theology, as well as an opportunity for intentional 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 much to teach about ministry, empowerment, and servant-leadership. The Urban Fellows Program (for M.Div. students) launches this fall and a doctorate of ministry degree in urban ministry will begin in January 2010.

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
Racial Justice Leadership and Justice and Peace Studies
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.

Eastern Mennonite Seminary
Conflict Transformation
Harrisonburg, Virginia

Under the umbrella of Eastern Mennonite University, the 125-student seminary offers master of divinity students a dual-degree option through the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s master 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 the EMS conflict transformation program.

University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
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. This Catholic university institute offers training in five areas: global politics and international norms; religion, conflict, and peace; political economy of war, peace, and sustainable development; culture, war, and peace; and conflict analysis and transformation. Most graduate students spend a semester at one of the institute’s field sites (in Israel/Palestine, South Africa, Uganda, or Southeast Asia).

Duke Divinity School
Gender, Theology, and Ministry
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. The certificate program in gender, theology, and ministry examines how gender shapes agency within the church and society; effective ministry to women 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,” says 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.”

Yale Divinity School
Joint Degree in Religion and Forestry and Environmental Studies
New Haven, Connecticut

Yale Divinity School offers an array of innovative joint degrees, but the most unique is with the 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,” says the divinity school’s associate dean Emilie Townes.

Payne Theological Seminary
Doctor of Ministry South Africa Immersion Experience
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 Cape Town, Soweto, and Pretoria, South Africa. The cities are the labs and practitioners become professors,” says Payne’s president Leah Gaskin Fitchue.

Kaitlin Barker is editorial assistant for Sojourners.

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