HARTFORD, CT (November 30, 2011) Hartford Seminary is pleased to announce that it has received a $700,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to enlarge the conversation of engaged scholars studying congregations and to develop a website that disseminates resources for and insights from congregational studies.
The new grant will support the Engaged Scholars program, which is coordinated by the Congregational Studies Project Team, a national coalition of scholars and researchers who share an interest in congregations. The program provides funding and mentoring for academic fellows that helps them refine research engaged with the faith life of congregations. James Nieman, Academic Dean and Professor of Practical Theology at Hartford Seminary, will be the project director.
Entitled ?New Circles of Learning for Engaged Scholars Studying Congregations,? the project will start in January and continue through December, 2015. It extends and expands work carried out during two earlier Engaged Scholars grants in 2004 and 2007.
The previous grants invited younger scholars and religious leaders, whose focus is on the practices of local communities of faith, to enter into a program of research and networking. The program sought to promote responsible research engaged with faith communities and then broaden this pool of relationships to include other clergy and scholars who would benefit from wider support networks in trying to explore and understand congregational life.
The new project will modify that earlier mentoring work, with a significant outreach to groups underserved in the first six cohorts of fellows. In addition, it sets in motion the development of a new web-based educational resource, designed in collaboration with the Boston University School of Theology, which will make the insights of congregational studies accessible to interested parties in any location.
?Hartford Seminary is a leader in the study of congregations, which promotes the well-being of communities of faith. Our Hartford Institute for Religion Research provides nationally recognized reports on the health of congregations and religious leadership,? said Heidi Hadsell, President of Hartford Seminary. ?We are deeply appreciative of the support of Lilly Endowment for this new project, which will allow the project team to engage diverse ethnic and religious groups, institutions and faith communities in congregational studies and to share the information globally.?
?Once again, Hartford Seminary faculty are developing research programs that will dramatically improve our understanding of the religious scene,? Hadsell said.
Supplementing the ongoing impact of the Engaged Scholars fellowship program, an important dimension of this new project will involve developing a web-based learning resource that expands the circle of scholars engaged in congregational studies far beyond what has previously been attempted.
To develop the website, the team will hire a website director who will work with the Information Technology and Media Services of Boston University. Nancy Ammerman, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Boston University and former faculty member at Hartford Seminary, will be the coordinator of this portion of the project.
The website will offer new resources of three types: (a) written articles and/or audio podcasts by team members, fellows, and others, focused on current topics or issues related to congregations, (b) case studies and interpretive tools, in written or video form, that can become part of online learning experiences or used for classroom instruction, and (c) vocational and leadership stories (video or written) that explore the role of studying congregations in the lives of scholars and leaders. ?By so doing, our aim is to generate an extensive, committed audience of users who want to share in the site?s learning potential. A modest set of online community tools using social media also will be introduced,? Nieman said.
This new phase of the project also continues the highly popular fellowship program. During this round of fellowships in particular, the Project Team will seek participants specifically in fields such as practical theology, history, constructive theology, and biblical studies with special attention to those teaching in institutions focused on theological education. The grant provides funding for three cohorts of three fellows each, and running 18 months for each cohort.
Each of the fellows will provide a report on his or her fellowship activities and accomplishments, This will likely include an article to be published in a place appropriate to their academic guild, as well as some combination of an account of their study of congregations that is oriented toward a broad public audience of leaders and others concerned about the well-being of congregational life, insights to be shared on the project website, and a syllabus or other resources for instructional use.
?Through the selection of grant fellows and mentoring by members of the Congregational Studies Project Team, the fellowship portion of the project will intentionally incorporate a national scale of involvement. More than this, the website resource will connect with a very wide range of audiences interested in congregational studies, not simply on a national scale but potentially on a global one,? Nieman said.
For more than thirty years, the Congregational Studies Project Team has been a national leader in exploring congregations, and now is involved in mentoring pre-tenure scholars interested in learning how better to understand faith communities.
In addition to Nieman and Ammerman, the other members of the Project Team are: Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania; Lawrence Mamiya, Vassar College; Gerardo Marti, Davidson College; William McKinney, formerly of the Pacific School of Religion; Omar McRoberts, University of Chicago; Joyce Mercer, Virginia Theological Seminary; Robert Schreiter, Catholic Theological Union; R. Stephen Warner, University of Illinois, Chicago; and Jack Wertheimer, Jewish Theological Seminary.
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