ClassroomWhat key trends in theological education are you watching?

Theological education has always had substantial diversity, but the institutional forms through which education is being delivered are becoming even more diverse in our current era. That is in large part because of the variety of ways that higher education is becoming more diverse and the ways that congregational life is becoming more diverse.

Is the growth in online education a reflection of this diversity?

Absolutely. The tremendous growth in online education provides the possibility for schools to attract students who need more flexibility in their schedules while still receiving high quality instruction. 

Is declining seminary enrollment another trend?

Yes. One of the reasons for this trend is that people in the United States are less religious overall and are less attached to institutions. This is backed up by data from the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project. There are more “nones”—people who aren't affiliated with any religious tradition—than before. Many of these nones feel drawn to what we might call religion, but they don't like to use that term.

How is Candler responding to these trends?

We’ve been asking ourselves, “If the church is changing, do we need to change the way we're serving the church?” The answer is “yes.” One of the ways is the return of the Doctor of Ministry degree, which is a practitioner's degree designed for those working hands-on in the local church. It’s Emory University's first online doctoral program, which allows those already serving in the church to continue their work while furthering their education and enables them to put new knowledge to work immediately in practical, concrete ways in their congregations. 

Candler is deeply dedicated to serving the church. Eighty percent of students in the last decade have gotten the MDiv degree. But if there are fewer people wanting the MDiv because there are fewer churches to serve, we have to find other ways to serve the church.

That realization lead to the question, “If there are leaders in the church who are not ordained, do we have anything to offer them?” The answer is “yes.” The new Master of Religious Leadership degree is aimed at them. Many churches have people serving in ministry positions that don’t require ordination. Whether they work with youth, music, outreach or administration, they can enrich their ability to serve and improve their marketability by furthering their education.

Why is Candler now offering a degree for professionals outside the church?

Religion permeates every aspect of life. We discovered that accountants, nurses, social workers, doctors, lawyers and many others need to know more about religion than in generations past, especially in light of the growing religious diversity of the country. We want to offer them the opportunity to learn about religion at Candler so that their professional engagements that involve religious dimensions can be completed more easily and more productively.

Our new one-year Master of Religion and Public Life program will create more informed lay people in the church and in society, people more able to adeptly navigate issues of religion and public life. And if the people in our communities become more educated about religion in public life, they hopefully will be better citizens overall.