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Najeeba Syeed-Miller, Assistant Professor of Interreligious Education, announces the launch of a project at the Claremont School of Theology that will integrate the education of ministers, rabbis and Muslim religious leaders.
Drawing from classic American entrepreneurial wisdom — when faced with extinction, innovate — and a commitment to engage today's multi-faith culture, this fall Claremont will commence a first on U.S. soil: a "theological university" to train future pastors, imams, and rabbis under one roof. The experiment to end isolated clerical training brings together Claremont, the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) and the Academy for Jewish Religion California. The hope of officials at all three organizations is that when leaders study their own religious traditions together alongside friends of other faiths, they will develop the respect and wisdom necessary to transform America's fractured religious outlook.
The project hatched naturally from Claremont's desire to engage southern California's religiously diverse population. "We're trying to catch up with the practical reality of how congregations, synagogues, and mosques are already trying to create some rapport among themselves," says Campbell. Not only will the project offer comprehensive multi-faith classes, but also it hopes to establish the first accredited imam-training institution in the U.S.
The Claremont project, which so far has helped the school boost enrollment for this coming year by nearly 10% compared to last year, is part of a broader trend in American theological education as schools face an increasingly pluralist society. While none go as far as Claremont will to broadly train non-Christian clerics, other big-name Protestant programs have added world religion classes as well as partnerships with Jewish and Muslim programs. Hartford Seminary is known for its specialty in Christian-Muslim studies, and Harvard Divinity School requires in-depth study of at least two religious traditions.
When the project was announced, a group of more conservative Claremont students considered leaving, but no Claremont professor has resigned and only one Academy for Jewish Religion faculty has taken a leave of absence in response to the new joint initiative. Claremont Christian History Professor Esther Chung-Kim acknowledges that from a historian's perspective, Claremont is going out on a limb. But, as she says, "If we don't try it, who will?" Long-term enrollment will determine the venture's sustainability. "I'm willing to push ahead and see what happens," Chung-Kim says. It will be up to America now to prove Claremont's hypothesis.