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Jewish Journal

$50 million gift creates interfaith school for clergy

by Ryan E. Smith

May 16, 2011 | 2:40 pm

Three regional religious institutions are taking the next big step in a unique partnership to teach Christian, Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders, thanks to a historic $50 million gift.

Claremont School of Theology on Monday announced the donation from philanthropists David and Joan Lincoln — the largest in the school’s history — which will establish Claremont Lincoln University. In a cooperative effort with the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR, CA) and the Islamic Center of Southern California, it will include a consortium of professional graduate schools for religious education.

The seeds of the project were made public last year with the announcement that the Lincolns pledged $10 million towards what was then called the “University Project.” Now the Lincolns, an Arizona couple whose family fortune was built on arc welding and electric motor inventions in the early 1900s, are adding $40 million so that future religious leaders from different faiths have opportunities to study side by side.

“Joan and I are particularly pleased with the idea of creating a multi-faith university that reflects the power and potential of the ‘Golden Rule,’ which the many faith communities have in common,” David Lincoln, a member of the Claremont board of trustees, said in a statement.

“We believe the outcome of this kind of education will be tolerance and respect among religions and the ability to better address global problems where religious cooperation and cooperating are needed to reach solutions and repair the world.”

Each participating institution will contribute to the curriculum at Claremont Lincoln, which will offer such graduate programs as interreligious studies, comparative religions, and conflict resolution. The aim is to add other religious traditions in the future.

Students pursuing ordination will continue to receive that training from their home institution, but there will be opportunities to take courses with students of other faiths, officials said.

Claremont Lincoln’s programming is slated to begin this fall. It will be a welcome addition for Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, president and dean of AJR, CA, whose students currently have only one world religions course available to them. The academy is a transdenominational educator of rabbis, cantors, and chaplains.

“We felt that in the 21st century … it would behoove them to know about other religions as well because we live in an interconnected world,” he said.

The purpose of Lincoln University is to do even more than add depth to the education of future spiritual leaders. It is a recognition that the entire model needs to change, according to the Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, president of Claremont Theological College, which offers clerical training as an ecumenical institution of the United Methodist Church.

“The board of trustees and the faculty were troubled in the fact that a high percentage of the American population associated the idea of religion with conflict,” he said. “We decided as an institution that we would try to look at how we might reduce religion as a cause of conflict and kind of reconstruct it as a source of peace and harmony.”

He continued: “This is, I think, an experiment the world ought to watch.”

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