Emory Report
November 17, 2008
Volume 61, Number 12



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November 17
, 2008
$4.5M to reshape theology doctorate

By Elaine Justice

Candler School of Theology has received a $4.5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to continue building the doctoral program in religious practices and practical theology. The award follows an earlier Endowment grant to Candler in 2002 of $10 million that founded the program, which is changing and strengthening the training of a new generation of ministers and religious leaders.

“In six years Emory has helped reshape the landscape of graduate education in religion and theology,” says Provost Earl Lewis. “We have become recognized as one of the leading university-based practical theology programs in the country.”

Candler Dean Jan Love says that “with this continued support from Lilly Endowment, Emory will have a profound impact on the way theology and religion is taught, and in turn, the way ministers and religious leaders are educated in the future.”

The grant will continue to build Emory’s cohort of new Ph.D.s in religious practices and practical theology in the Graduate Division of Religion. The program’s current enrollment is 33, with more growth expected with the entrance of this year’s doctoral class, says Elizabeth Bounds, who directed the program for the past six years alongside administering the Graduate Division of Religion.

These new Ph.D.s will be in high demand, says Bounds, because of a shortage of well-trained scholars in ministerial and practical fields and because today’s ministers and religious leaders need instruction from a new kind of faculty. “The program trains future faculty not only in fields such as religious education and pastoral care, but also in systematic theology and ethics so that faculty members all across the curriculum are able to teach and do research about the ways people live out their faith,” she says.

“Theological seminaries across the country are working hard to develop new, more effective ways to prepare their students to be excellent pastors,” says Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at the Endowment. “Emory University and its Candler School of Theology are at the vanguard of this effort. The new doctoral program in religious practices and practical theology is helping theological education as a whole to re-conceive the ways theology and ministry are thought and taught, while also producing a very talented and much-needed new generation of scholar-educators who are well prepared to teach and lead in new ways.”

“Doctoral work in religion and theology has generally been text-based,” says Thomas Frank, a colleague of Bounds who is directing the program going forward. “We’ve discovered that doctoral education comes alive in new ways when students come into contact with actual, contemporary faith communities.”

The program also includes a postdoctoral fellowship, which allows recent Ph.D.s to spend a year reorienting their research and teaching toward engagement with religious practices.

“The feedback from students here has spread to other schools,” says Bounds, adding that Emory has become known “as a very creative and desirable place to do graduate study in religion and theology.”

Emory Ph.D. candidate Ben Stewart, who was hired this fall as an instructor in worship at Lutheran School of Theology (LST) in Chicago, says Emory’s approach to the religious practices program was a gift “that pushed me out from textual study and got me into congregations.” He spent time “seeing how people are constructing theological meaning as they participate in worship.”

That kind of background, says Stewart, made him an attractive hire at LST. “There will be growing demand for Ph.D. graduates who speak this language and have been trained this way.”

This grant is part of the private support being sought for Campaign Emory, a $1.6 billion fundraising endeavor that combines private support and the University’s people, places and programs to make a powerful contribution to the world.