Thursday, January 19, 2006

Training Clergy for the 21st Century

I was challenged the other day to imagine a Jewish seminary for the 21st century, and as I did so I discovered a much broader vision, one that sought to train seminarians from different faiths on the same campus.

I imagined a wisdom academy comprising a core curriculum that all students would share even as they pursued specific tracks leading to ordination in one religious tradition or another. These ordination programs would operate much as departments do in universities. The campus would be designed for maximum interaction and dialog among traditions, teachers, and students.

While I would leave the details of each ordination path to the sponsoring religion and religious denomination, the core curriculum would look something like this:

• Physics for Philosophers, Poets, and Mystics. This class focuses on the philosophical and religious implications of contemporary astrophysics and quantum mechanics. Twenty-first century religious thinkers must understand and grapple with the wisdom and insight of science and the scientific method, and this class will help them do just that.

• The Ghost and the Machine: The Origins and Meaning of Consciousness. Neuroscience, the study of the brain, perception, emotion, dream, and consciousness points to what it is to be human. This class examines current brain/mind theories, and their impact on our understanding of religion, faith, mysticism, and contemplative practice.

• Myth, Metaphor, and Meaning. Using the works of Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, and Ananda Coomaraswamy students explore the mythic power of sacred texts and stories, to see how scripture can be taken seriously without being taken literally.

• Interspirituality: The Many Faces of Wisdom. This is an overview of the world’s great religious teachings, looking at where they agree and disagree. Students will get a grounding in world religions to allow them to better work with and learn from them.

• One Into One: A Look at Mystics and Mystical Experience. The teachings of William james, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadata Maharaj, Alan Watts, Wei Wu Wei, Thomas Merton, Rufus Jones, the Beguine Women, Krishnamurti, Rumi and others will be the lenses through which we peer into the nondual reality toward which all mystics point.

• Awakening the Shaman Within: Tools of Contemplative Practice and God-realization. Using the teachings and practices of the mystics, students are helped to fashion a life of contemplative practice, and learn how to create opportunities for meeting the divine in various situations they will find themselves as clergy persons (hospital visits, life cycle events, etc.). This class is repeated each year to help students broaden their knowledge and deepen their experience.

* Hearing the Silence, Seeing the Void: Spirituality and the Arts. Students will be exposed to the great artistic traditions including music, painting, poetry, and calligraphy, as means for spiritual maturation. Students will not only learn about the arts, they will learn to “master” one for themselves.

What kind of clergy would graduates of this program be? What would happen to religion if seminarians were trained together? The questions are intriguing, and the idea worth pursuing. I welcome your input.

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