Appropriate Qualifications

It makes sense that if you want to get ahead in higher education, you should pursue graduate and doctoral studies. Setting an example for the students is one of the most powerful tools we have as educators. We set ourselves in front of the classroom and say ‘if I can manage student loan debt, working two or three jobs, and overcoming familial pressures, you, my students, can also achieve your educational goals.’

Most career tracks in higher education are clearly defined. The path to the Dean or Vice President of Student Services is not a new position, nor is the path to such a station. In the interfaith field of education there is no such pathway. We are literally defining the career advancement track as we are slowly building the interfaith movement. This is an incredible and exhilarating opportunity. We are literally trailblazers.

When I get asked the question, “where do you see yourself in ten years?” I often answer, “directing an interaith engagement department in an institution of higher education.” Then I follow up and say, I think that we will begin to shift our current ideas of what “multi-culturalism” and the current buzzword “inclusivity” mean to our institutions. I do not think we should shift all our attention to religious or intentionally secular identities. There are a variety of characteristics that we form our identities around. Faith is one of those facets. For students, faith could be the most essential component of their identity, for others it might be sexual orientation, economic status, or race. The prevailing idea that race or ethnicity is the singular defining identity trait is losing its relevance to young people, but that is a topic for another article.

The question I am most interested in answering is, what are the appropriate qualifications for individuals in interfaith leadership? Is there a difference between private universities verses public institutions? According to the Pluralism Project there are about seven institutions in the United States that have programs for Interfaith Education at the graduate level. If you don’t have an education from one of these institutions, what are appropriate substitutions?

I recently interviewed for a position working with interfaith programming at a private university. The “preferred qualification” was a Masters of Divinity. There is something to be said for the way students of each educational field are trained and socialized to their profession, but are we in the interfaith community limiting ourselves by excluding individuals who have degrees with other emphases? For those of you who have Divinity degrees, what are the specific skills that you utilize in interfaith cooperation that are exclusive to your Divinity training? Do you think you are limited by your training in any ways that a degree in another field might have better prepared you to work in higher education?

As I think about my educational background, I don’t know that if I could go back in time, I would choose a different Master’s degree. I don’t know if one degree would get me further down my chosen career track. I wonder if there are different answers for public institutions verses private universities. I know there are many more questions here than there is a real story, but I do think it is a worthy conversation. What are the appropriate qualifications for those building the interfaith movement on a campus of higher education?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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7 thoughts on “Appropriate Qualifications

  1. Can you please cite where on the Pluralism Project’s website you obtained information about the seven institutions that offer graduate interfaith programs?

  2. These are interesting questions that you pose regarding qualifications. I know some who have MDiv degrees but do not feel qualified to lead their own congregations. If the MDiv training fails to meet the needs of a single faith tradition’s needs, does this suggest that the MDiv training is inadequate for interfaith work as well? Or is the work of ministering (whether interfaith or single faith) so eclectic in nature and so demanding that no training could ever prepare someone for the position?

    It does seem that our Divinity schools need to prepare individuals for interfaith work. This should probably include theory and praxis. Are there divinity degrees preparing individuals for interfaith work?

    Thanks for the good questions.

    Terry

    1. Terry,
      Thank you for your response. It is surprising to me that MDiv students do not feel prepared to lead within their own faiths. I would be interested to hear the specific skills they feel they need to improve? So much of interfaith is about a practical experience, but the reason for the article is the majority of the interfaith position postings in Higher Education prefer MDiv degrees. What would your MDiv friends say are the skills they have gained that qualifies them to work within the interfaith environment?

      1. Ellie,

        Many of my MDiv friends complain that they were given a lot of Bible knowledge (or Biblical resources) but less practical knowledge as it relates to counseling, assisting, encouraging, mediating, and building relationships with their congregants. Humans are interesting creatures and can find themselves in some unique situations.

        Additionally, I think the mediating the political nature of their faith communities is lacking.

        If they are qualified, it is in researching religious traditions to discover beliefs/practices/rituals, etc.

        Terry

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    1. Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I would be interested in your opinions. What are the appropriate qualifications for interfaith leaders in Higher Education?

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