(RNS) – Graduate Theological Union, a 60-year-old consortium of Californian seminaries and religious study centers, wants to think beyond the ivory tower.
Known for its interfaith orientation, the interfaith institution is not interested in replacing religious degree programs, but it wants to make its scholarships available to new audiences.
“What if we designed an online platform that works as a channel to deliver the wisdom and knowledge we already have in our system and give it to the public?” asked Uriah Kim, president of GTU.
That’s the goal of GTUx, the Graduate Theological Union’s new online learning center for interfaith activism. Launched on March 1, the website offers pre-recorded lectures and learning modules on topics such as religion during the January 6 uprising, rituals to alleviate eco-anxiety, and the relationship between psychedelics and Spirituality.
So far, the platform has gained more than 2,200 users who access offers and pay what they want or consult for free. A trial last year brought in more than 1,000 users in two months, and GTUx is currently adding around 200 new members a week, according to its developers.
The Graduate Theological Union was formed in 1962 to enable several theology schools in the California Bay Area to combine their resources and offer stronger programs. Kim said their last project lasted at least five years.
“Millennials and Gen Z really don’t need the church to create a social network, but they still desire spirituality and to engage with others on a metaphysical level and with the divine spiritually,” Kim said. , which pointed to the well-documented rise of the religious ‘no’.
“That’s where GTUx comes in. We want to reach those people who don’t need to go to church, but want spirituality.”
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Kim also sees GTUx as a way to share knowledge directly, instead of relying on a “cascade” model of education in which their graduates bring their knowledge to lay people.
“What we do must have a direct impact on people who face injustice and inequality on the ground,” Kim said. “We have realized, if we mean what we say, that we want to make a difference in this world, then we have to devise a way to send our knowledge and our wisdom to the ground level, where people are struggling to create community. beloved in their neighborhoods.
Kim insists that GTUx is no substitute for a thorough in-person study program. Instead, he said, the online platform is a complement to the traditional model and will eventually support GTU’s existing programs by adding a new revenue stream.
Schools of religion across the United States have been forced to adapt to the country’s changing religious landscape as interest in institutional religion wanes. In the spring of 2021, GTU member Pacific School of Religion launched a six-week online cohort program for leaders interested in spirituality and justice. Last fall, Hartford International University in Connecticut added religious diversity training for professionals and executives. For Kim, these types of innovations are not only necessary, they are also encouraging.
“It’s not a negative thing,” Kim said. “I think this is really an opportunity to reinvent and recreate theological education for the 21st century.”
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