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Post-Corona Turmoil in Theological Education

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Summary

There is a need to broaden the vision – for a theological education without borders – keeping and developing the interconnectedness between nations and cultures. This may point towards finding new ways to merge various world-views, new ways to serve, especially those in needy situations, new ways to even up an increasingly unequal and uneven world. The higher education system for religion studies will have to be more tolerant and inclusive, and this may mean rewriting staunch doctrines.

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Education in theological studies involves several interrelated components that are necessary to train men and women to know and serve their respective religion. It has the potential to be the seedbed for the renewal of religious places, serving ministries, community enriching missions, commitment towards global unity in the changing world. This education puts morality first and teaches the claims of divinity leading towards ethical living and global welfare. Investment in theological education is an investment of hope in the future and mission of renewal of the world.

 

Three months have passed since the pandemic was declared, but the crisis is still wreaking havoc and is growing at a rapid rate. One can expect that COVID-19 virus will be around in some form for the next few years, impacting human lives in different ways. One can also be sure that there will come a time when life will return to mostly (pre-COVID) normal, but it would never be the same for the theological Higher Education sector.

 

Theological education is a training ground to prepare frontline spiritual responders. It prepares leaders, who are supposed to go out and provide hope and help to people. But the subject faces a double battle since it is not clear how theological education will survive and evolve in the future. All subjects are seeing dropping enrollment, students being stressed about courses, administrators tightening budgets and wondering how to adapt to this new paradigm. There have been many predictions that have gone wrong, but it seems that this time,  society is going to change in a very drastic way. Theological education will have to respond to these changes and also will have to prepare the students by enabling society to face this threat. Society is likely to face a gradual change of mood although it is difficult to estimate precisely how this is going to be. However, one can surely expect that more ‘hope-givers’ will be required in the coming days.

 

The pandemic precaution of social distancing has shown how necessary it is to keep in touch and teach via the internet. There are effective programs such as Skype/Zoom/Team, and most universities, colleges and seminaries are already running a Virtual Learning Environment. For some years now, theological education has been working more online compared with much of the Higher Education sector because of financial and contextual pressures already in the system.

 

The world-wide recession that is gradually creeping in will lead to less spending money for ordinary citizens. Colleges for religion studies were already suffering financially before the corona virus, so the financial pressure will surely increase. Since these institutions depend on donations, it may be difficult for them to survive.

 

There is a growing divide between the developed world and the developing world that may lead to an increase in the gap in theological education, based on the source of funding, where the power is, and where the students come from.  Theological education has found it hard to adapt with the rising network culture and is sure to face monetary problems in the future. Colleges for religion studies, already in crisis now, will face even more threat in the next year or two since the education sector itself will probably go through one of its periodic lean times.  Under these circumstances it will be very difficult for the theological sector to maintain its mission statement and full set of objectives, to serve the respective faiths, culture, and the world in general, by developing students intellectually, morally, spiritually,  with the ability to serve humanity at this time of moral and psychological crisis.

 

The Indian Higher Education system has coped adequately so far, successfully conducting online exams in most universities. Given the nature of the subject, the effectiveness of the online education in colleges for religion studies is still questionable, but one can hope that new methodologies of practical teaching online are developed as a positive response towards the current crisis.

 

If the present isolation has taught us anything it is that human beings need to be together, both literally and physically. And for learning, there is a need to embrace new dimensions of getting together by going online.

 

There is a need to broaden the vision – for a theological education without borders – keeping and developing the interconnectedness between nations and cultures. This may point towards finding new ways to merge various world-views, new ways to serve, especially those in needy situations, new ways to even up an increasingly unequal and uneven world. The higher education system for religion studies will have to be more tolerant and inclusive, and this may mean rewriting staunch doctrines.

 

As always, different socio-religious philosophies across India pursue their own ideological benefits, but in these unusual times there is a need to raise more inter-religious dialogues. Theological education colleges should not view themselves as institutions separated from the world of technological advances and sciences but must recognize their role as intermediaries. Future students of such institutions will need to genuinely relate to the changing world mood and render possible help to those in need of moral and spiritual guidance.

 

 

Nitin S. Cherian is a Bachelors of Divinity (B. Div.) student at Mar Thoma Theological Seminary which is affiliated to the Senate of Serampore College (University). Views expressed are personal.

 

This article is part of a series called New Directions in Higher Education in India after COVID-19. The remaining articles of the series can be found here.

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