Research: Multifaith Education in Seminaries

In December 2009, the Center for Multifaith Education released Beyond World Religions: The State of Multifaith Education in American Theological Schools, a first-of-its-kind study of how seminaries across the United States are dealing with the challenge to educate religious leaders for a religiously diverse world.

Each year, more and more theological schools are using multifaith education to prepare future religious leaders for a religiously diverse world. Yet beyond the work of a few high profile institutions, little is known about the state of multifaith education in theological schools across the United States.

Auburn Seminary has taken a step toward closing this knowledge gap. Between January and August, 2009, the study's authors surveyed 150 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and multi-religious institutions in America that train religious leaders, representing approximately one-half of the accredited theological schools in the U.S. The report creates a snapshot of the state of multifaith education in theological schools today.  We are grateful to the Henry Luce Foundation for supporting this study.  See the navigation menu at left for details about the study.

Four Key Findings

  1. Contrary to common perceptions, many American seminaries are offering a surprising and impressive range of academic course offerings about other faith traditions.  This survey found 1,210 academic courses about other faiths being offered by the 150 institutions in the study.   Not surprisingly, there was a wide range of the number of offerings.  Luther Seminary in Minnesota had the largest number of course offerings that met the study's criteria (43).  About half (49%) of the surveyed schools offered 5 or more courses, while 29% of the schools offered 2 courses or less.
  2. Islam and Judaism were the most represented faith traditions among academic course offerings included in the study - at roughly equal levels. Two-thirds (68%) of non-Muslim schools offered a course relating to Islam, and two-thirds (66%) of non-Jewish schools offered a course relating to Judaism. Only 14% of the academic courses used a traditional "world religions" approach (survey of 5 or more faith traditions).
  3. The most common frame for learning about other faiths in the classroom is through the lens of theology: 87% of courses included a theological approach to the material. For comparison, 44% of courses included a historical approach.
  4. There are a variety of theological approaches and rationales informing the use of multifaith education in American seminaries.  This study identified three such approaches:
  • a. Multifaith education makes better religious leaders: Religious leaders must have a working knowledge of other faith traditions to minister effectively in the religiously diverse 21st century.
  • b. Multifaith education strengthens faith: Learning about, and from, other religious traditions helps a seminarian grow in his her own faith tradition.
  • c. Multifaith education enhances proselytizing: Understanding other religious traditions improves one's ability to effectively proselytize to members of other faith communities.

See the navigation menu at left for details of the study's findings.