“People of faith here in the United States have much to learn from the faithful throughout the world. We want our students to be thoughtful participants in this global interreligious conversation. To do this well, we must have a robust global education program that encourages our students to think outside the well-studied Western European religious traditions.”
—Emilie M. Townes, dean, Vanderbilt Divinity School
For more than 15 years, the Divinity School has been invested in fostering a strong global education initiative for our students. This initiative began in the 1990s offering cultural immersion experiences in China, South Africa, Namibia, Nicaragua and Thailand. Additional support from other donors has helped our school expand the scope of our efforts in global education. In particular, we have concentrated on broadening our students’ understanding of Christianity as well as understanding religious difference beyond Europe and North America.
With the arrival of our new dean, Emilie Townes, in 2013, the Divinity School renewed its commitment to global religious education. Fueled by an awareness of the global reality of our lives, Dean Townes has made it a priority to increase our efforts to engage students and faculty in the global dynamics and realities of religion. It is an exciting time to be at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
There are many ways the Faculty, staff and students at VDS take up the themes of religion in the global context. Our faculty work hard to include a global perspective in their courses, no matter the subject area, and we will continue to globalize our curriculum by bringing in the voices and perspectives of scholars, leaders and activists from around the world, both in our syllabi and as conversation partners. In addition, we continue to see our local setting here in Nashville as a globalized space. Nashville is striking for its religious and cultural diversity. It is home to many immigrants and refugees, and students have the possibility of working with these communities through field education, course work, and student led initiatives. In addition, the school offers some specific global engagements.
The goal of our global education program is twofold. First, it seeks to prepare students for ministry and global citizenship through a rigorous engagement with global Christianity, other religious traditions within their indigenous contexts, and theories of globalization and mission appropriate for the contemporary world. Second, it aims to help faculty incorporate international faith traditions into their curricula by involving them in conversations about the global dynamics and realities of religion. Ultimately, both goals are critical to preparing the next generations of ministers, scholars and justice advocates to be effective leaders in the global arena and closer to home.
The Divinity School’s Global Education Program is guided by the School’s deeper set of commitments, which focus on issues of poverty and economic injustice, racism and ethnocentrism, sexism, and sexual and gender identities (http://divinity.vanderbilt.edu/about/Living%20the%20Commitments.pdf). These themes play out both at home and on the global stage.
Going forward, we want to especially focus on three dimensions of global religious life that are central concerns of the Divinity School: poverty, sexuality and gender, and health and healing. In each of these areas, we analyze the dynamics of religion in the production of the current state of communities, evaluate the ethics of various forms of engagement by religious persons and institutions, and prepare religious leaders who can act with integrity to “heal the world” (tikkun olam). These topics require us to understand the history of colonialism, neo-liberal politics and economy, and the broader dynamics of globalization, as well as the particular roles of various religious traditions in each of these. By focusing on these topics, we are able to draw on our faculty and students, community and religious partners, and existing Divinity programs such as the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality; the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies; and the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership. Situated in a university context, we also are able to draw on university resources and the expertise of our professional schools in these three areas.
The Global Education Program in the Divinity School is directed by Dr. Graham Reside. For more information graham.reside@Vanderbilt.edu; or by phone at (615) 322-4491.