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New Options for Interreligious Studies

Arthur Holder

At The Intersections Of Religious Encounter

The GTU is a great place to study different religious traditions. Resources abound for students interested in Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox), Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, and now Hinduism and Sikhism. But in today’s increasingly pluralistic world, many students come to the GTU not to study any single tradition but to explore the connections between two or more of them. Students may be interested in Muslim-Jewish relations, or Buddhist-Christian dialogue, or the history of interaction between Hinduism and Sikhism. Or they want to learn how different religious traditions address a critical contemporary issue such as climate change or religious violence.

GTU President Riess Potterveld (center) with Venerable Thepo Rinpoche, the 8th Thepo Tulku (6th from left), and members of the Northern California Tibetan Community at an exhibition of Tibetan art and artifacts at Flora Lamson Hewlett Library at the Graduate Theological Union.

In 2012, a group of GTU faculty responded to the needs of these students by designing an Interreligious Studies area of concentration within the Master of Arts program. As they envisioned it, the purpose of this area would be “to foster the study of multiple religious traditions, their practitioners, and their expressions in different cultural contexts.” Topics of focus and methodologies for this new emphasis might include “historical and contemporary relations between religious traditions, comparative theology, comparative religion, interreligious dialogue, and interreligious pastoral practices.”

This new concentration on interreligious studies has already attracted a lot of interest at the GTU. Five students have completed the MA program in the Interreligious Studies area. Several more are currently enrolled, and three have applied for admission next fall. But other prospective students with interest in interreligious topics have been discouraged by the limitations previously imposed by the GTU’s consortial structure. In order to make this area of study accessible for a more diverse range of students, the Council of Deans has approved some new options within the GTU’s MA program.

Until now students in this area have been required to affiliate with one of the member schools of the GTU, an option that is well suited to students who have an affinity with one of those religious communities. But what about people whose background or religious affiliation doesn’t match the profile of any member school? Or what about Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu students whose research interests are broader than the requirements of the MA program in those specialized areas of study?

Beginning in fall 2015, it will now be possible for students in Interreligious Studies to affiliate directly with the GTU, enabling them to work in closer relationship with GTU academic centers in Jewish Studies and Islamic Studies, as well as with our new Hindu Studies Initiative. In addition, students in Interreligious Studies now have the option of affiliating with the Institute of Buddhist Studies or the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, as well as with any of the GTU’s eight member schools.

With these changes, the GTU can now provide an appropriate home base for anyone who wants to study an interreligious topic. Advising and student services will be provided by the institution of affiliation. As always, GTU students can take courses from faculty anywhere in the consortium as well as the University of California, Berkeley.

In line with our new options in Interreligious Studies and Hindu Studies, the application deadline for fall admission to the MA program has been extended until July 1. Prospective students are encouraged to contact the GTU Admissions Office by email at admissions@gtu.edu or by calling 1-800-826-4488.

Arthur Holder is Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the GTU; this article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Currents.