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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Summer 2009
Vol. 36 No. 2

Spirituality in Higher Education:
Toward a Holistic Approach to the Development of Future Faculty in
Theology and Religion

Elizabeth Drescher

The Graduate Theological Union is grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in an engaging session with Helen Astin at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion last November in Chicago. We are likewise excited by the present sustained reflection on the role of questions of meaning and value in postsecondary education—and the role of postsecondary educators in facilitating engagement with those questions—and we appreciate the opportunity to extend conversation to a wider community of teaching scholars in the field of religion and theology. This is particularly the case with regard to the focus of the GTU’s Teagle Wabash Preparing Future Faculty Project, which highlighted what we see as an often-neglected element in efforts to draw upon a core disciplinary strength in facilitating meaning-making in postsecondary classroom: the development of what we came in our project to call “Big Question Pedagogies” among doctoral students preparing to teach in seminaries, colleges, and universities.

It is perhaps worth noting that the project directors became aware of this gap in two areas of study and practice as we shaped the GTU Teagle-Wabash Project. First, we learned very quickly that the bulk of the literature on the development of doctoral students as future faculty members focused primarily on questions of career preparedness1—the development of networking and job search skills, and classroom teaching, research, and publication competencies—and on disciplinary formation.2 While these are important—indeed, essential—elements of the professional formation of future faculty members, our project sought to take a clearer pedagogical and philosophical position on both what happens in the postsecondary classroom and how that is shaped by the pedagogical philosophy and practice of the faculty member. In this sense, our project had a more expressly and unapologetically ideological aim than is found in many other doctoral student development efforts. That is, we built the project on the belief that engaging questions of meaning and value in the classroom is at the heart of the mission and purpose of postsecondary education, and that the preparation of future faculty had to include attention to the development of knowledge, skills, and experience that would enable new faculty members to effectively and ethically bring such questions into the classroom. This was, as we saw it, very much within the scope of the larger Teagle Foundation “Big Questions” project, albeit in a perhaps more nuanced way than other projects which, with great creativity and worthiness, focused more on what we might see as the dual anchors of the educational process—faculty in place and the students in their classrooms.

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