The straw poll taken of a seminary faculty group spoke volumes about the religiously diverse world in which we live and work. The show of hands revealed that every one of the dozen or so clergy and scholars in the room—who gathered for an annual training seminar at Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education—had immediate family members who identified as adherents of faiths other than their own.
The finding suggests that religious diversity is a central issue for contemporary theological education—not only in the political or global contexts in which it is often discussed, but also in the pews and around dinner tables.
But that’s the thing about straw polls—they don’t always correspond with realities on the ground, or in the classroom. A December 2007 study by Auburn’s Center for the Study of Theological Education asked 2,300 seminary graduates to rank 14 areas of study in order of relevance to their professional life and work. “World religions” was ranked 13.
So which is the true read on how theological seminaries are thinking—or not—about how to prepare their graduates for work in a religiously diverse world?
Interfaith dialogue is a touchy subject, if an extremely relevant one in a world in which wars are often rooted in religious disputes, fears of terrorism are often accompanied by religious misunderstandings, and an estimated one-quarter of all American marriages wed two faith traditions as well as two people. The concept of “interfaith” brings up difficult questions: Do we all believe the same thing at our cores? If my religion is true, does that mean yours is false? How can I live and work in community with someone who believes something fundamentally different from me?