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Imagining the Future of Theological Education: Episode 5

Podcast Episode 5


A conversation with Dr. Michael Gilligan, President Emeritus of the Henry Luce Foundation in New York City & Rev. Dr. Boyung Lee, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Illiff School of Theology in Denver, bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today.

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Read the show notes for Episode 5

Community-Based Models of Theological Education

Rev. Dr. Boyung Lee, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Iliff School of Theology and Dr. Michael Gilligan, President Emeritus of the Henry Luce Foundation share perspectives about the future of theological education. The discussion includes a look at shifts in faculty composition, international students and the extent to which theological programs are serving LGBTQI students.

3 questions covered in this episode

  1. How are the format and values of religious education evolving in the 21st century?
  2. What are some risks and opportunities associated with the traditional “hub and spoke” model of international theological education?
  3. How is a significant increase in students who identify as LGBTQA influencing religious education?

Episode Summary

The conversation considers how social moments, an increase in international students as well as a rise in students who identify as LGBTQIA present opportunity for theological education to address faculty formation, educational format and the systemic values embedded in theological education.

Conversational Highlights:

2:33 – What factors in the current landscape of theological education that demand a change in faculty composition and what are some of those changes?

  • The format of theological education in America is largely rooted in 19th century models that contain elements of system racism and are framed in a cis-gender perspective. Viewed in context with events happening today – a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter and police brutality, these models demand a change in the format of theological education.
  • Values must be reevaluated and rethought, which requires rethinking the makeup of faculty

6:40 – How do the values embedded in theological education today affect doctoral level theological education programs?

  • Interdisciplinary efforts connecting theology students with other programs can help facilitate conversations about race and transnationalism in religious institutions affiliated with a university
  • Mentoring program that engage faculty in mentoring students of color and international students of color can help students and faculty become more aware of values systemically integrated into educational models
  • While faculty have traditionally modeled lifelong learning, now is an urgent moment for right-sizing a faculty that represents the richness and breadth of humanity. Theological schools must look beyond historic faculty criteria such as credentialing, to assess the ability to effectively work with students but also beyond the academy to reach the greater world. Given that schools are preparing students to transform the world, there is a need to focus on practical fields
  • Faculty have traditionally been formed in environments that do not reflect the multi-epistemic framework that is reflective of today’s environment
  • The needs of the time demand a present reality-based approach to education

13:20 – International theological education is becoming more common in the U.S. What are the threats and the opportunities?

  • Traditional models have been leveraged a “hub and spoke” model with institutions at the center. Highly effective examples of this model include the Church of the Nazarene and its efforts from Kansas City to support global efforts, or the Seventh Day Adventists efforts. However a disparity of resources presents risks with a hub and spoke model
  • There is a risk of colonialism, however, if institutions hold too tightly to impressing their approaches on international communities
  • While the pandemic pause has halted many international study programs, racial unrest has resulted in international student becoming more active in protests and more invested in the culture than students of past generations. Solidarity movements around the world are framing student perspectives even before they arrive at U.S. institutions

19:53 – Dislodging the hegemonic narrative of Christianity in the U.S. will require changing how programs approach the complexity of religious education so that it reflects international students, gender identity, ethnic identity and a more accurate representation of Christianity

  • Programs need to approach narratives as “complex” vs. “problematic”
  • Programs should be mindful that as the growth in Christianity has been most rapid in the South and East, international students represent the majority of Christians in the globe
  • Religious education is beginning to embrace greater intersectionality

24:05 – As educational institutions have seen a significant increase in students who identify as LGBTQIA, to what extent is religious education changing?

  • Queer theology is creating a way of viewing religion in the world that extends well beyond gender and sexuality, while helping reframe what has been regarded as normative
  • Queer theology is presenting an opportunity to connect with racial justice movements, and schools are seeing the efforts as intersecting
  • Growing interest in queer theology presents new ways of reading and interpreting the Bible
  • A challenge for theological education institutions is to make space for students to experience their identity

31:40 – Imagining the future of theological education, what would you like to see happen?

  • Theological education is much more than a pipeline for preparing pastoral leaders and is encompassing humanity more broadly
  • Opportunity exists for institutions to work cooperatively instead of competitively
  • Institutions continue to move from a credential-focused perspective to a broader vision
  • Credibility of theological education is supported by intellectual programs and an integrated model of learning
  • Theological institutions will use this moment as a reminder of their role in the formation of moral leadership in the world