Executive Summary

What is the impact of a seminary education on the formation of character, virtue, and the spiritual life of seminarians who will one day lead future churches, denominations, and NGOs?  To date, the answer to this question remains largely unknown—especially from an empirical standpoint.  One of the most pressing issues facing the world of theological education today concerns the challenge of formation and assessment--that is, how does one accurately and robustly assess whether changes in character & spiritual life have occurred? Consequently, although the human and spiritual formation of future religious leaders remains at the very heart and mission of theological education, it is vitally important for seminaries to be able to accurately discern the extent to which they are actually fulfilling the most vital part of their mission.

Over the past three years, planning and pilot grant projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation have made possible the development of an ecumenically scoped,

theoretically robust, and psychometrically sound character / spiritual formation assessment instrument that has now been pilot tested on Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic seminary students. And over this time, in partnership with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), we have assembled a multidisciplinary team representing 17 North American seminaries, within which we are collecting longitudinal data among 2-3 cohorts of seminary students over a period of 3 years.  Accordingly, the areas of focus for our project is twofold:

  1. to launch a comprehensive empirical research initiative designed to help seminaries and religious educators to more thoughtfully & effectively cultivate virtue, character, and spiritual vitality in their students, and

  2. to launch a collaborative initiative with ATS to help seminaries better support and equip their faculty to more thoughtfully and effectively shape the character and spiritual life of their students.

Research Questions

1.

To what extent does a seminary education (inclusive of its curricular and co-curricular elements) shape (over time) the character and spiritual life of its students over the course of their seminary years?​

 

To what extent does a seminary education shape one’s spiritual life--e.g., one’s engagement in spiritual community, one’s attachment to and relational dispositions towards God, one’s intimacy or closeness to God, one’s quest to pursue God?

 

To what extent does a seminary education shape one’s sense of calling and vocation?

 

To what extent does a seminary education shape one’s human development--e.g., one’s self-awareness, one’s capacity to form intimate relationships with others, one’s ability to tolerate and cope with stressful situations, one’s ability to lead and steward power/authority?

2.

To what extent does a seminary education cultivate specific character traits such as honesty, humility, compassion, patience, kindness, gratitude, joy, self-control?

3.

What specific aspects (curricular or co-curricular) of the seminary environment (e.g., relationships with faculty or peers, theological learning/academic rigor, chapel, specific spiritual practices, field education, spiritual formation coursework and programming) are most predictive of positive changes in character and spiritual life?

Relatedly, are these aspects of the seminary environment equally predictive of positive changes in character and spiritual life among different clusters of students (e.g., those entering seminary straight from undergraduate studies, those entering seminary after decades of ministry experience, female seminary students, male seminary students, single seminary students, married seminary students, seminary students of different ethnic/cultural backgrounds, seminary students of differing Christian religious traditions)?

4.

Do differences exist in the effectiveness of online-only, hybrid, and fully-residential seminary programs in their ability to cultivate character and spiritual maturity in their students?

5.

To what extent does one’s religious tradition or ethnicity/culture shape the trajectory of one’s character and spiritual development both before and during seminary?

6.

To what extent are character and spiritual development interrelated?  Are specific indicators of spiritual maturity in fact predictive of greater character traits?

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