May 30 2024

The Transnational Character of Theological Education: Issue Introduction

by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Southern Methodist University
Editor, Spotlight on Theological Education

photo of river confluence

“The teaching of theology has not changed to catch up with the new global situation,” writes Kwok Pui-lan in the opening essay in this issue of Spotlight on Theological Education! Interest in this topic was evident at the American Academy of Religion workshop in Baltimore in 2013: “Teaching Theology in the Globalized and Transnational World.” The workshop drew over a hundred attendees, including a significant number of international participants. In her essay, Pui-lan raises challenges and concerns in teaching theology across national, cultural, racial, denominational, linguistic, and religious differences. These concerns include matters of content and process. In addition to examining theological curriculum, Pui-lan asserts that we must pay attention to the “glocal”—“the dialectical relationship between the global and the local.”

Randi Jones Walker adds to the conversation by illustrating both the richness and the rigor of cross-cultural teaching. Her adventure in cross-cultural teaching started with a shared meal in Seoul, Korea. It developed into team teaching in both Seoul, Korea, and Berkeley, California. Walker describes this joint venture with Professor Yeon as students engaged in historical narrative, storytelling, and critical engagement with these stories. She also participated in ATS-sponsored “Teaching Across Borders” workshops. She closes her essay with a recent trans-Pacific team teaching experiment with Professor Tafa Muasau from Kanana Fou Theological Seminary in American Samoa, and she concludes with practical recommendations, not least of which is to make room for surprises.

Najeeba Syeed-Miller poses questions to frame the coalescing of interreligious educational and theological training. In her questioning, she presents innovative current scholarship. The reality of “contesting frameworks” forming the rubric of the enterprise of theological education may impose extra-educational pressures or expectations: “The transnational nature of theological education," she argues, "is by definition a non-neutral public square that carries with it the flavors, nuances, power dynamics, and citizen-participant expectations of religious adherents.” The issue of hybridity and religiously multiple communities will demand a nimbleness and agility from transnational education as well as established theological institutions. As Syeed-Miller describes religion as “dancing” in the lives of some communities, she is aware that scripted sounds of a “set of rules” will not always be part of the dance. How will scholars follow these “rousing lines of inquiry” and yet stay in established systems and schools of religion without becoming outcasts?

If theological education is to be a visionary challenger of the status quo, Namsoon Kang underscores the necessity of a “prophetic criticism” of the world. She calls our attention to the “growing disjuncture between the globalization of knowledge and the knowledge of globalization.” The uneven distribution of resources between the global South and the global North is just one example of this disjuncture. How is an “insurrection of subjugated knowledge” possible in global theological education today? Kang points to several concerns; among them is the naturalization of English, German, Spanish, and French by ATS theological schools as the authentic languages for scholarly research. This linguistic imperialism fosters, unwittingly, “the EuroUS-centrism” in theological education. The way US academia sets the academic standards impacts the rest of the world. Kang closes her provocative essay with the query: How can theological education recover its universalizing function without subalternizing certain knowledge systems?

Jeanne Stevenson-MoessnerJeanne Stevenson-Moessner is professor of pastoral care at Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University), member of the International Academy of Practical Theology, a Henry Luce III Fellow, former chair of the Society for Pastoral Theology, and an American Association of Pastoral Counselors Fellow. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Basel, Switzerland. In 2012, she was a resident member of the Center of Theological Inquiry (Princeton, NJ) and a guest professor at The University of Luzern.

Transforming the field of pastoral theology, she has edited or coedited four volumes involving fifty contributors over twenty-two years: Women in Travail and Transition (Fortress Press, 2000); Through the Eyes of Women (Fortress Press, 1996); In Her Own Time (Augsburg Fortress, 2000); and Women Out of Order (Fortress Press, 2009). Additional publications include The Spirit of Adoption (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), A Primer in Pastoral Care (Augsburg Books, 2005), and A Prelude to Practical Theology (Abingdon Press, 2008).  She was honored with AAPC’s Distinguished Achievement in Research and Writing Award.