Theology Schools, Facing Lean Times, Look to One Another and the Web

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Source: The New York Times

CLAREMONT, Calif. — If you are looking for a manicured lawn and a gracious quadrangle — Gothic maybe, or redbrick with shutters on the windows — you will be disappointed.

Claremont Lincoln University, a spinoff of a traditional divinity school, the Methodist-affiliated Claremont School of Theology, sits in the bowels of an anonymous office building on a busy strip in this Los Angeles suburb. Surrounding the college are an acupuncture clinic, a hair and waxing salon, and a company that sells a premature ejaculation drug on late-night infomercials.

That Claremont Lincoln looks nothing like a traditional divinity school seems fitting. Its classes are online only, with students logging in from all over, and its offices are a command central for curriculum planning and marketing; no actual teaching happens here.

Most of its 70 students do not plan to be members of the clergy, and while the university offers classes called “Mindfulness,” “Collaboration” and “Dialogue,” it has none on, say, the Old Testament, the Gospels or the Quran. Instead, the classes are intended to “develop capacities for compassionate leadership,” according to its mission statement.

The idea behind the classes is that in a multicultural society such as ours, the right habits and tools matter more than specific knowledge, which is something that can be acquired elsewhere.

When we met around a conference table, the college’s president, Eileen Aranda, explained the lack of explicitly religious coursework. “We have moved past the knowledge piece,” said Dr. Aranda, a former management consultant with an M.B.A. but no training in religion. Claremont Lincoln is more interested in teaching dialogue skills, she said, than literacy in Judaism, Christianity or any particular tradition. “It’s not enough to know the religions.”

While Claremont Lincoln has been extreme in jettisoning “the knowledge piece,” it is not alone in sensing that divinity schools need to change to survive. According to a study released this week by the Association of Theological Schools, 55 percent of its member schools have declining enrollments. The students are aging, too — by 2020, “there may be more 50+ students than 20-somethings.”

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1 reply

  1. Theology school – an utter waste of intellectual endeavour- you may as well study the collected adventures of Harry Potter

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