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September 23, 2002

Lilly grant to help train PhDs

By Elaine Justice

The Candler School of Theology has received a $10 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to build a model doctoral program in practical theology and religious practices. The move is expected to help change the course of graduate education in religion and improve the training of a new generation of ministers and religious leaders at Candler.

“The program is designed to produce very quickly at Emory 40 new PhDs—a significant community of teacher-practitioners—who intend to teach in the areas of religious practice or practical theology in theological schools across the country,” said interim Provost Woody Hunter.

The new PhDs will be in high demand because “the current supply of well-trained scholars in the ministerial or practical fields—persons equipped to teach and play leadership roles within theological schools—is inadequate,” said Candler Dean Russell Richey, director of the grant.

Richey’s assertion is based on both quantitative and qualitative studies. Over the past year, Candler faculty and administrators interviewed more than 100 denominational leaders, pastors, seminary deans and presidents, as well as faculty in practice-related fields. Their findings track closely with a recent study by the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education, which found that more than half of faculty currently teaching in the practical fields is scheduled to retire by 2006. The study also found an inadequate supply of qualified PhDs to fill those vacancies.

“Every indication is that the need for such scholars will increase dramatically in the near future,” said Carl Holladay, Charles Howard Candler Professor of New Testament and chair of the grant proposal committee. “Significant changes in American church life demand a new kind of pastoral leadership. It’s essential that tomorrow’s pastors be taught by professors who can equip them to serve in a perplexing and fast-moving world of many cultures, many faiths, many competing values and many hungers.”

Each year for five years, the new doctoral program will admit eight highly qualified candidates who intend to teach in the areas of religious practice or practical theology, such as preaching, pastoral care, worship, religious education, ministry, administration or evangelism. The program will aim to recruit “students who have demonstrated capacity as outstanding practitioners themselves and as outstanding teachers of crucial religious practices,” Holladay said.

According to Richey, Emory is one of very few universities prepared to undertake this kind of initiative. He cites the Auburn study, which found that only five schools in the nation, Emory among them, “have a longstanding, broad-based commitment to provide doctoral education in the practical fields.”

Emory faculty and administrators credit their success in the field of religious practice and practical theology to the strong ties among its top-rated doctoral program in the Graduate Division of Religion (GDR), the Department of Religion and Candler. But the partnership between Candler and the graduate program is only one of several successful graduate and professional programs at Emory, Hunter said. Attracting substantial outside funding for such efforts, he said, “is further proof of their value to both academic and professional communities.”

Faith communities also stand to benefit from the program made possible by the Lilly grant, said Steve Tipton, director of the GDR and professor of sociology of religion.

“More diverse, better-educated communities of faith in our society have grown hungrier for practical wisdom in shaping their worship and way of life,” Tipton said. “This is the right moment, and Emory is the ideal place, to form scholars who can not only practice what they preach, but better understand how such practice both embodies tradition and transforms it.”

“The quality of theological education for ministry is utterly dependent on the ability of key doctoral programs to train new generations of seminary faculty who can truly prepare seminary students for pastoral excellence,” said Craig Dykstra, vice president for religion at Lilly. “Emory’s commitment to developing a new doctoral program in practical theology and religious practices is extremely important for all of theological education and for Christian ministry in the United States.”