New California multi-religious university to train rabbis, imams, ministers


SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — The Claremont School of Theology, a Christian divinity school in Los Angeles, will use a $50 million gift to expand into a multi-faith university that will include seminaries that train  Muslim and Jewish clergy.

The gift from David and Joan Lincoln of Arizona, $10 million of which was given last year, will help Claremont transform itself into the Claremont Lincoln University, which will offer interfaith degree programs as well as the training of rabbis, imams and ministers.

It will be the first U.S. school of its kind, according to Tamar Frankiel, dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

The academy, which is not affiliated with a particular Jewish stream, will provide the Jewish clerical training, and will continue to ordain its own rabbis and invest its own cantors under the umbrella of the new university. The academy has 60 students enrolled in its rabbinic, cantorial and chaplaincy programs, said Frankiel, and plans to institute distance learning as early as this fall to help students not located in Los Angeles.

The Islamic Center of Southern California will train and ordain the Muslim clerics. The Claremont School of Theology, which has about 240 students enrolled in master’s and doctorate programs in religion and counseling, and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, will continue to educate Christian ministers. 

All three institutions will remain in their existing locations, with degree programs and courses coordinated through the new university.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a plan announced last year to train clergy for all three faiths in one college upset the United Methodist Church, which has funded the seminary since its creation. The three-part structure for the new university was developed so that only the Christian program will receive church monies.

Claremont officials are hailing the interfaith initiative as unique.

Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., a nondenominational theological institution founded as a training school for Congregationalist ministers, also offers a degree program in Islamic chaplaincy, as well as a graduate certificate in education for imams, a school spokesman told JTA.  But it does not train imams or rabbis.

Neither that spokesman nor Frankiel were aware of other similar programs in the United States. 

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