“The tasks before us are large and interesting,” Metropolitan Hilarion said about the work of the Scientific and Educational Theological Association
The Scientific and Educational Theological Association came into being almost four years ago, and today it embraces over seventy higher educational institutions. What are the criteria for joining it? Is there competition among the members of the association? What kind of academic forums does the association organize and what are its plans? Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Association, answered the questions of the web-portal “Bogoslov.Ru”.
– Your Eminence, you are the President of the Scientific and Educational Theological Association set up in 2018. Please, tell me how this idea has started up.
– The idea was floating around, as the saying goes. It was put forward by the rectors of some leading universities at the “Theology and Progress” Conference in January 2018. Moscow and St. Petersburg universities, which are the two oldest Russian higher educational institutions with special status; Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Pubic Administration; Ss Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute of Post-Graduate Studies, St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University of Humanities, Moscow Pedagogical State University, Moscow Institute of Architecture, and North-Caucasus Federal University are the founding members of the Theological Association. You can see that interested in the development of theology are educational institutions of different types and areas of activity, such as traditional universities, those training professional managers, theological schools, and universities of culture and arts.
– How have you managed to put this idea into practice? Who has taken initiative?
Having shown initiative and persistence were the rectors of the universities which I have named – a small group of people as usual. We sent a letter to His Holiness the Patriarch, and he gave his approval to our plan. In November 2018, he presented a keynote report at the All-Russian Conference on Theology. Most certainly, it would have been difficult to conduct our work without support given by the Russian Presidential Executive Office and relevant ministries.
– Over seventy educational organizations are members of the Theological Association, including leading universities of the country. What criteria must an educational institution meet to become a member of the Association?
– Today, there are seventy-seven secular educational institutions and theological schools among the Association’s members. The basic requirement for entering is an accreditation of theological and educational programs or a specific university experience in spiritual and ethical upbringing and education of young students.
– Is there internal competition between theological education provided in secular universities and traditional theological education offered in theological schools?
– There is no competition as such. But the theological curriculum in secular universities and in seminaries differs in their goals. In regions, the programs take a parallel course of development in cooperation with each other. They have various training profiles – fr om the history of Christianity to relations between the state and religions. It is not uncommon for university graduates to enter a seminary to study theology. It also happens the other way round. The faculty of the key universities in a region is also involved in the teaching activity at the seminary there; different educational institutions often cooperate in the framework of extracurricular activities. Take for example the rectors, professors and lecturers speaking at our conferences, or the active cooperation in regional clusters (e.g. in the Metropolis of Mordovia, the Metropolis of Smolensk, and others).
– The Theological Association conducts an annual major conference on “Theology in Modern Scientific and Educational Space.” Are there any other events taking place under the aegis of the Association?
– Over forty different events are conducted under the aegis of the association every year at venue of the Association’s member universities. Kazan, St. Petersburg, and of course, Moscow have become widely known as the Association’s centers of international conferences and as its federal venues. As for the regional part of the annual conference on “Theology in Scientific and Educational Space,” the meetings are hosted by dozens of the cities.
In 2021, several high-profile events took place. Among them, we can mention the All-Russian educational project “Theology in the Information Space of a University” that was jointly undertaken with the “Rossiya Segodnya”, or “Russia Today” international news agency and will be continued in 2022 at the request of the participants. No less important in the life of the Association’s expert community have become all-Russian research and practice seminars on topical issues of legal and regulatory norms for the theological (religious) education. The seminars are organized together with Rosobrnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science) and the Education Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church.
There were also new formats of activity. For instance, the 1st All- Russian Forum of Young Theologians was highly successful, the All-Russian Music and Literature Student Festival was commenced, and the 1st Congress of Theological Journals in Russia took place. The latter was organized by our Association, the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration wh ere the congress was held, and the “Theological Questions” journal published by St. Petersburg State University and Theological Institute of Post-Graduate Studies.
– One can read on the website of the Theological Association that it unites some publications and theological journals. Please, say a few worlds about this line of activity.
– We are trying to join efforts of universities in publishing scholarly articles, monographs, and textbooks. The congress I mentioned dealt with this issue. At present, about ten theological journals are on the list of the Higher Attestation Commission, some can be found in the international database. The top ones are “The Bulletin of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University of Humanities”, “Christian Reading”, “Theological Bulletin”, and others. Also, there are Islamic publications, such as “Minbar. Islamic Studies” issued by the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Islamic University and Kazan Federal University, and “Islamic Studies” issued by Dagestan State University.
– The Theological Association is forming an expert community of theologians. On the Association’s website, one can find a list of accredited experts and apply for such accreditation. Who are these experts, what is their role?
– The Аssociation in cooperation with Rosobrnadzor offers training to the deans and heads of theological departments, and to supervisors of educational programs. We see to it that the universities provide for the due level of state accreditation requirements. We have already held five all-Russian seminars with no less than one hundred and fifty participants attending each. We have brought together a pool of the Association’s experts to render assistance to higher educational institutions. The National Accreditation Agency turns to them when accrediting educational programs. The pool includes about fifty specialists, who can also conduct socially required professional accreditation at the request of universities. The formation of a public discipline-specific expert community is our constant concern. The experts give a substantial methodological assistance at the local level.
– Your Eminence, what are the immediate goals of the Association and prospects for its development?
– These goals and prospects were outlined by the Russian President Vladimir Putin and by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill in their greetings to the 5th Conference on Theology held in Moscow in early December 2021. These goals include support of the development of theology in the regions based on the experience of the Republic of Mordovia, the Smolensk region, Kuban, the Saratov region, and other leading clusters in which secular authorities, the diocese, the university and the seminary are working together.
At the general meeting of the Theological Association held on December 2, 2021, we decided to enhance the interaction between universities in digital education and evolve our experience of introducing modular courses of theology as a part of socio-humanitarian training of students. We are preparing proposals for including theology as a subject (module) in universities so that the students might have a value-based worldview regardless of their specialty. The tasks before us are large and interesting.
Interviewed by Rev. Dimitry Artemkin