The Claremont School of Theology is in the news for its ambitious plans to create a new interdisciplinary theology program:
At a press conference this morning, we announced our agreement to co-create the first graduate consortium in the world that will provide theological education for Christians, Jews, Muslims, as well as students from other faith groups. Each group will maintain its own curriculum and have the opportunity to contribute to a unique shared interreligious curriculum designed to provide students with the experience of interreligious dialogue and study alongside students from other religious traditions.
I know what you’re worrying — if Christians are exposed to Muslim teachings, and so on, some of them might change their minds about what they’re studying! After all, isn’t that how education works? Someone goes to college thinking he’s going to study chemistry, and then he takes a philosophy course and switches his major, and then he takes another philosophy course and switches it back, and then he breaks too much glassware, so he switches to physics, and then he breaks a really expensive atom-smashing apparatus, so he switches to math, and then math is too hard, so he switches to sociology?
In secular studies that’s an OK thing to do. The chemistry department and the physics department might have different explanations for a few things, but at a deep level physics and chemistry complement each other. Believing the principles of chemistry doesn’t logically require you to disbelieve the principles of physics, nor vice versa.
Theology is different, though. You can’t logically believe both “Jesus Christ is both god and the son of god” and “Jesus Christ was just some dude with long hair.” That doesn’t work.
Fortunately, it turns out that “learning about other religions” doesn’t really mean learning about other religions:
Another truism is that interreligious dialogue is more about deepening the existing religious identity of an individual than it is about conversion to another religion. Furthermore, research shows that individuals who learn in religiously diverse environments usually do not convert to another tradition.
So basically, the classes about Islam “deepen” Muslims’ conviction that Islam is correct, and they “deepen” non-Muslims’ conviction that Islam is wrong. Similarly for the classes about Christianity, about Judaism, and about other religions.
This is, if you think about it, a pretty impressive thing to accomplish. Nonetheless, I’m not sure whether “strengthening students’ pre-existing superstitions” really should count as a “new paradigm for theological education.” Isn’t that what they’ve been doing for centuries?