A Guide to Seminaries, Schools of Theology, Theology and Religious Studies | Best graduate schools

Anyone who finds religion fascinating and cares about the subject can pursue a university degree in this field.

Enthusiastic followers of a well-known world religion like Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Taoism or of an obscure regional religion like Santería often seek to better understand their beliefs, traditions and their rituals. Some want clarification of how their personal religious doctrines and customs compare to those of others. Devout people, whose major life decisions are guided by theology, frequently desire divine enlightenment by being exposed to inspiring preachers and by zealously seeking guidance on how to be godly.

Meanwhile, secular people might be curious about the doctrines and behaviors of religious people other than themselves, or they might want to investigate how religion influences society.

Studying religion at the college or higher level can be approached from an academic perspective, a denominational perspective, or a combination of the two.

“People think you have to be religious to specialize in religious studies, and that’s completely wrong,” says Jeanne Kilde, director of the religious studies program at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. “Most of our students, in fact, have very little religious background.”

How Divinity, Ministry, and Theology Compare to Religious Studies

People with religious-related graduate degrees say there is a clear and important distinction between the closely related academic disciplines of divinity, ministry, and theology – each of which assumes some kind of religious belief – and the field of religious studies, which neither assumes nor demands pious intention.

“For me, as a specialist in religious studies, I look at what religious people do and say,” said Vivian Asimos, researcher with a doctorate. degree in religious studies from Durham University in UK, wrote in an email. “Whether their religious beliefs are ‘good’ or not really doesn’t matter to me – it doesn’t change what they do and say. So that’s what I’m focusing on. ”

Asimos, senior director of academic site Alt-ac.uk and founder of educational site IncidentalMythology.com, adds, “We tend to borrow from sociology and anthropology, but you can also see traces of history, literature and other disciplines. also.”

In contrast, degrees in theology, ministry, or theology are often intended for current or future preachers, missionaries, and theologians who intend to provide spiritual instruction to others. MA and Ph.D. religion-related degrees, such as those focused on religious philosophies, typically involve assessing religious traditions from a neutral perspective, which does not favor one perspective over another.

According to the American Academy of Religion, a non-sectarian scholarly society focused on academic analysis and public understanding of religion, degrees related to deity, ministry, or theology are typically professional degrees aimed at preparing someone. one to a religious vocation.

Religiously Affiliated Colleges vs Theological Seminars vs Theological Schools

Anyone who intends to study religion at university, college, or both should understand that many types of academic institutions offer this type of education. Applicants to college may want to attend an undergraduate institution affiliated with a religion that reflects their values ​​and education. For Evangelical Protestant Christians, this may mean looking at Bible colleges, while Catholics may wish to attend one of the many Catholic universities around the world.

Meanwhile, at the graduate level, prospective students may choose to attend a theological seminary associated with a specific faith, such as the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Massachusetts, the Institute of Buddhist Studies in California, or the Islamic Seminary of America in Texas. Alternatively, they can attend a college affiliated with a university, such as Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts, which educates future religious leaders and trains objective academics who provide insight into religious cultures.

Deepak Sarma, professor of Indian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, says a person with a religious and academic orientation can benefit from attending a theology school linked to a major university.

“You are part of a much larger intellectual world, whereas if you were in a seminary, it’s really independent of any university, and it’s a very different kind of thing,” says Sarma, who earned a degree. doctorate. in Philosophy of Religions at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School.

Anyone who enrolls in a pluralist theological school should expect to hear the opinions of classmates and teachers with divergent religious beliefs, Sarma says. “You have to be open to being exposed to many different religions and speaking on behalf of your own,” says Sarma, who identifies as an American Hindu. “You must become the spokesperson for your religion.”

There are challenges associated with being in a religious minority in a theological school, and it can sometimes seem “isolating,” Sarma says. Yet he notes that he learned valuable lessons from peers and teachers whose backgrounds differed from his own.

What a career as a religious leader looks like

According to experts, compensation varies widely within professions related to religion, depending on the size of the congregation or organization where a person is based and the compensation models within the religious denomination, according to the experts. . It is possible to combine religious work with secular work, which is common in remote areas where places of worship tend to have a small number of worshipers, experts say.

“This is also quite common in church planting roles, where there is not yet a stable congregation or funding source,” wrote Jaimie Eckert, a ministry official with the Seventh Adventist Church. day, in an email.

“Over the past decades, faith-based organizations around the world have been inspired by the Apostle Paul, who has engaged in bivocational ministry as a tentmaker and evangelist. collar work with religious work – sometimes 50/50, or sometimes work five days a week and dedicate the weekend to ministry. Sometimes tentmaker ministry is a permanent career choice and sometimes a transition choice. “

How to become a religious leader and why

The standard training regime for potential religious leaders depends on the religious group, although in general there must be formal training in religion such as a theology degree, experts explain. The following steps are generally required for a religious career.

Pursue higher studies in religion.

“Methods of religious education vary according to religious traditions and denominations or sects within each tradition,” says Eckert, who is pursuing a doctorate in missiology, which is the study of missionary techniques and practices. “In the Christian tradition, for example, the Catholic and Orthodox branches tend to emphasize Christian history and the writings of the Fathers of the Church; the main Protestant traditions emphasize the biblical languages ​​(Greek and Hebrew) and biblical exegesis; evangelical or charismatic traditions may emphasize pragmatism. Christian witness, such as evangelism, deliverance ministries, community development, and acts of the Holy Spirit. ”

Eckert, who provides spiritual guidance on her website Scrupulosity.com, notes that the Adventist educational system in which she was trained tends to combine doctrinal lessons with service projects and hands-on jobs, many of which require manual labor. .

“This educational system brought me two advantages: firstly, my body and my brain were used equally throughout my academic years, which helped me to avoid mental exhaustion” , she says. “Second, as a graduate, I had a huge pragmatic advantage over students at other universities. An education system that combined theory and practice meant that I could take on a ministerial role in any setting – in the United States. United or abroad – and being ready to serve my community needed it in any way. If necessary, I could grow food; I could cook and serve meals; I could write and edit newsletters. fundraising; I could take care of basic medical care; and I could preach the Word.

Evaluate your reasons for joining the clergy and your character.

Generous provision is necessary for a career as a religious leader, experts say.

“An individual who wishes to choose the rabbinate must first and foremost be interested not in himself but in others,” said Doctorate Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky. in social welfare and is dean of undergraduate Torah studies at Yeshiva University in New York, explained in an email. “He should see his role as one who cares about the underprivileged and can inspire others to greatness. A rabbi should exude kindness and be globally and act as a role model and a mensch,” who is a person of honor and integrity.

Eckert points out that intelligence and eloquence are not enough to make someone an excellent religious leader.

“Many people think that the ability to perform religious texts and preach a good homily is the qualifying characteristic of a religious worker,” she says. However, many hiring entities are more interested in high quality interpersonal skills – not only for interactions with parishioners, but also for the extended ministry team. Managing a religious organization is similar to managing of a non-profit organization – the team should be motivated through the heart, not the wallet. “

She adds that arrogance and callousness are disqualifying traits for someone who intends to work in a religious organization.

“Most people who have been in the ministry for a while – even those who work in smaller places of worship as opposed to larger ministry organizations – have nightmare stories they can tell about narcissistic leaders from around the world. type A who can preach well but wreak havoc on all interpersonal relationships within the organization, ”she says. impressive, have confidence in themselves and speak well. But the narcissistic type of religious leader is the worst possible for his role because of how he hurts so many others who are trying to be a positive force for good in the world. ”

Kindness, patience and emotional intelligence, Eckert stresses, are essential qualities for religious leaders.

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