Seminary Initative

JustPeace is committed to educating the new generation of leadership by establishing conflict transformation deep in the life of seminaries across the country.

Working with Boston University School of Theology and Boston Theological Institute, we introduced a concentration in Religion and Conflict Transformation in degree programs at Boston University School of Theology.

Plans are in place to share the curriculum of this pilot project with various constituencies including prison chaplains and U.S. Army and Navy chaplains.  Addressing trauma and healing with persons who have been involved in armed conflict is an emerging area in resource development.  We continue to work with presidents and deans of other schools in helping to train our students to fulfill their calling of being ministers of reconciliation.

Context and Need

Until relatively recently, religious conflict was thought to be an epiphenomena of allegedly deeper underlying struggles over resources, blood, or power. The academy was dominated by the notion that modernity is categorized by the diminishing relevance of religion. Gradually the academy has begun to acknowledge the central and substantial role of religious experience and expression in modern life and in the conflicts that beset it at all levels. It has taken even longer for the academy to see that religion functions in the modern world as an instrument for peace as well as a source of conflict. Religious peacebuilidng has been marginalized in the academy and one of the results is that the church has allowed itself to be marginalized in the process of peacebuilidng .The church has struggled until recently with the place of peacebuilding and reconciliation in its message and work.  This was seen, for example, in the diminished attention given to corporate forgiveness in the writings of seminary professors.  The calling of all Christians is to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:15-17), but this has not been the central focus for the work and mission of the church.

Building peace within our communities requires the full participation of faith communities themselves, especially their leadership.  Religious leaders are called and positioned to use their faith, knowledge, and stature to encourage conflict transformation. Religious leaders, following the principles and mandates of peacebuilding in their religious traditions, can be and will be significant resources for peacebuilding in this world, if conflict transformation and the ministry of reconciliation is put at the center of their theological education.

At the same time, religious leaders clearly need and want competence in peace-building in their daily work. Many practicing ministers are shouldering the burdens of conflict within their congregations and communities without the skills or support that they need to meet this challenge effectively. Church leaders report spending a significant portion of their time dealing with conflict – personal, ecclesial, and civil on a national and international scale – but lament that they have not received training in seminaries or schools of theology for this work. A recent study by Hartford Seminary found that the major indicator of church decline was destructive conflict within the church. The alumni, faculty, students and church officials we assembled with the help of the Luce Foundation in 2004-05 vocally affirmed the need to prepare religious leaders in the theology, theory and practice of conflict transformation as a central mission of the seminary and the church. The program proposed here aims to put the theology and practice of conflict transformation and the ministry of reconciliation back at the center of seminary education.

History of BU’s Program

The program in Religion and conflict transformation builds on the work and contribution of various partners. Beginning in the mid 1990’s, the Boston Theological Institute engaged with member schools to provide information on how churches deal with conflict. From 1997 on, the BTI instituted an international workshop and seminar to study how faith communities in different parts of the world dealt with conflict.

Then, in 2001 the BTI partnered with the Justpeace Center for Mediation to begin work in Restorative Justice with churches and prison chaplaincies. Justpeace and BTI held conferences on Restorative Justice which explored the emerging movement of restorative justice as an alternative to retributive justice; its theory, its theological and biblical grounding and its practices. These conference were focused on not only the criminal justice system but on the culture of the church in the world.

In 2003, the Board of Trustees of the BTI voted to establish a Certificate program in Religion and Conflict Transformation. This certificate is awarded by the BTI in recognition of courses taken in Religion and Conflict Transformation, and related areas, at the schools of the Institute. Ray Hart, Dean of Boston University School of Theology offered his institution to provide an anchor for the program.

In 2004-05, the Henry Luce Foundation granted Boston University School of Theology, in partnership with the BTI and Justpeace,  $25,000 to advance institutional planning for a Concentration in Religion and Conflict Transformation. This program built on the work of BU as well as other seminaries by piloting the religion and conflict transformation concentration. The pilot programs at BUSTH and BTI enrolled its first students in the fall of 2006.  There were 15 students in the concentration/certificate program during that academic year and 29 students in the program during the 2007-2008 academic year. 12 students were awarded the certificate in 2008-2009.

In November 2008, the School of Theology received a three-year grant of $375,000 from the Luce Foundation to help realize its broader vision for the program. The grant supports a full-time program coordinator, teaching assistance, and administrative support needed to sustain the program. The grant also provided scholarship support for students, and stipends for practicum or internship placements.

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