What is the impact of a seminary education on the spiritual, character, and virtue development of seminarians who will one day lead future churches, denominations, and NGOs? To date, the answer to this question remains largely unknown—especially from an empirical standpoint. In fact, one of the most pressing issues facing the world of theological education today concerns the problem of formation and assessment--that is, seminaries are largely ill-equipped to accurately and robustly assess whether changes in character and spiritual life have occurred in their students. Consequently, although the human and spiritual formation of future religious leaders remains at the very heart and mission of theological education, seminaries continue to be unable to accurately discern the extent to which they are actually fulfilling the most vital part of their mission.
Over the past three years, planning and pilot grant projects funded by JTF have made possible the development of an ecumenically scoped, theoretically robust, and psychometrically sound character/spiritual formation assessment instrument that has now been pilot tested on Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic seminary students. And over this time, we have formed a formal partnership with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and have assembled a multidisciplinary team representing a diverse group of 15 North American seminaries, setting into place an infrastructure for longitudinal data collection at each location. Accordingly, the purpose of this proposed 3-year project is twofold: 1) to launch a comprehensive research initiative designed to help seminaries and religious educators to more thoughtfully & effectively cultivate virtue, character, and spiritual vitality in their students, and 2) to launch a collaborative initiative with ATS to help seminaries better support and equip their faculty to more thoughtfully and effectively shape the character and spiritual life of their students.