Rosemead School of Psychology professor David Wang was awarded a $217,000 planning grant by The John Templeton Foundation to research the relationship between spiritual development and character development.
“We’re asking if there is a relationship between virtue and different markers of spiritual maturity--such as biblical knowledge,” said Wang. “Are such people in fact more humble, have more gratitude, have more courage? And what got missed for the seminarians who are A students, and yet suffer from shortcomings in their character.”
Currently, the impact of a seminary education on the spiritual, character, and virtue of seminary graduates, from an empirical standpoint, is largely unknown. According to Wang, in recent decades, there has been a call for theological education to focus more deliberately on aspects of character development that transcends academic preparation. In addition, The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) began incorporating formation requirements into its degree program standards. However, despite the recent proliferation of spiritual and character formation training within seminary programs, there are no widely agreed upon exemplary models or best practices to help shape the design, implementation, and assessment of such training.
“If you think about the reach and significance of our project, there is a potential real world impact because if we can establish some sort of best practice guidelines on how to incorporate spiritual development at our seminaries, it could really make a difference in churches, missions organizations, non-profits, etc...,” said Wang.
The 18-month planning grant, titled “The spiritual, character, and virtue formation of seminarians,” allows Wang to design and set into place a larger 3-year grant-funded research project that will aim to substantially expand the current understanding of the formation of character and the spiritual life of seminary students over the course of their seminary years.
Throughout the planning grant, which began in February 2016 and will conclude in August 2017, Wang and co-investigators have convened to discuss various seminaries’ approach to spiritual and character formation and their theory of change behind how and why people are formed. These efforts will help the team work towards the future development of best practices for spiritual and character formation programs as well as help construct the basic research design of the full study. Co-investigators include Rosemead professors of psychology Peter Hill and Steve Porter, George Fox professor of psychology Mark McMinn, Boston University professor of psychology Steven Sandage, and leadership from seminaries that will participate in the proposed study such as Ambrose Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, George W. Truett Theological Seminary (Baylor University), Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Talbot School of Theology. This project team has also received consultation from the Association of Theological Schools senior director of accreditation and institutional evaluation, Lester Ruiz.
One of the priorities of the larger 3-year research project is to develop a robust assessment tool that can assist ATS-Accredited seminaries throughout North America to better assess student outcomes relevant to character and spiritual formation.
“What we’re developing is super novel, there’s nothing like it that exists,” said Wang.
The assessment tool could help answer questions like, “To what degree do seminary students embody virtues such as humility and gratitude and how do these virtues evolve over the course of their seminary years?” The heart of the project is to further the current understanding of the spiritual and character or virtue development of seminary students and to better understand the relationship between different indicators of spiritual development and character/virtue development.
“To put it a different way, we’re aiming to find answers to the question, ‘Does becoming spiritually mature actually make you a better person?,” said Wang. “For example, does it make you a more generous person, a more humble person, a person who exhibits more gratitude, etc…?”
The tentative start date of the larger 3-year project — if selected for funding by the John Templeton Foundation — will be Fall 2018.
Written by Jenna Loumagne, manager of media relations. For more information, contact Jenna Loumagne at (562) 777-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.