Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools

Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools

Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools

Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools

Synopsis

This book offers a close-up look at theological education in the U.S. today. The authors' goal is to understand the way in which institutional culture affects the outcome of the educational process. To that end, they undertake ethnographic studies of two seminaries-one evangelical and one mainline Protestant. These studies, written in a lively journalistic style, make up the first part of the book and offer fascinating portraits of two very different intellectual, religious, and social worlds. The authors go on to analyze these disparate environments, and suggest how in each case corporate culture acts as an agent of educational change. They find two major consequences stemming from the culture of each school. First, each culture gives expression to a normative goal that aims at shaping the way students understand themselves and from issues of ministry practice. Second, each provides a "cultural tool kit" of knowledge, practices, and skills that students use to construct strategies of action for the various problems and issues that will confront them as pastors or in other forms of ministry. In the concluding chapters, the authors explore the implications of their findings for theories of institutional culture and professional socialization and for interpreting the state of religion in America. They identify some of the practical dilemmas that theological and other professional schools currently face, and reflect on how their findings might contribute to their solution. This accessible, thought-provoking study will not only illuminate the structure and process by which culture educates and forms, but also provide invaluable insights into important dynamics of American religious life.

Excerpt

This society is a strong believer in the importance and efficacy of education-- even when expectations are often disappointed. It not only looks to its schools to provide knowledge and technical skills essential for contributing to an increasingly complex world but also expects that, somehow, our schools will play a critical role in forming the character of their students. the Greeks called this kind of education paideia. How both of these things happen, when they do, is often a mystery--like the proverbial "black box" through which things pass and are changed in the process. This book, as we explain in greater detail in the following chapters, is an effort to peer inside the black box to gain at least a partial answer as to what transpires in the educational process. in particular, it is an effort to understand the critical role of a school's culture in the formation of its students. We interpret this process in large measure by telling stories: stories of the interaction of faculty members, students, and administrators in two Protestant theological seminaries. One school stands in the stream of so-called mainline or liberal Protestantism, and the other reflects Protestantism's evangelical or conservative stream. By telling their stories and then stepping back to reflect on what we have observed and learned, we try to give insights into the ways in which a school not only imparts information but also shapes the beliefs, values, and perspectives of its students. in the course of doing so, given the two schools and their respective heritages, we also provide insight into some of the important dynamics of contemporary American religion--what some have referred to with metaphors such as "culture wars" (Hunter 1991) or "fault lines" (Wuthnow 1988). Although we believe (and argue) that these metaphors overstate the differences that we found in our two schools, our descriptions of their cultures illumine some of the issues and conflicts that currently are being played out in the broader context of American religious life.

This book is the result of almost eight years' collaboration on the part of the four authors. Several institutions have made our work possible. We are especially indebted to the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Spencer Foundation for generous . . .

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