Book by Charles Foster, Lisa Dahill, Lawrence Golemon, and Barbara Tolentino
Review written by Daniel Quinlin
Associate Professor and Director of Advising
Bethel College, North Newton, KS

Assisting undergraduates through the process of choosing a major and exploring career options is a common, perhaps even daily challenge for many advisors.  But what help can an advisor give to the student for whom a career is not only a choice, but also a calling?  Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imagination is an excellent, in-depth look into the pedagogies and strategies of seminaries in the United States, and it offers practical understandings of the world of postgraduate religious education—an area with which many faculty and advisors may be unfamiliar.

Educating Clergy is the result of a study begun in 2001 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as part of the “Program for the Preparation of the Professions.”  This study is timely in an era in which aspects of religion are a daily topic in the media as well as in coffee-break conversations; yet, as Stephen Prothero suggests in his book Religious Literacy, Americans’ knowledge of religion and religious institutions is often stereotyped, misinformed, or simply not understood by the public.  The authors of this study give a scholarly, yet accessible (for those not familiar with religious higher education) glimpse into the pedagogical practices and philosophies of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish seminaries in the United States.  As one might suspect, the authors discovered significant diversity among seminaries based on denominational affiliation and history—a note-worthy caveat for advisors whose students are searching for a seminary that “fits.”  In spite of the diversity of religious traditions represented in the study, however, Educating Clergy highlights the common emphasis of the formation of a pastoral/priestly/rabbinic imagination in seminarians through the integration of cognitive, practical, normative pedagogies that reflect a changing profession and public perception.  While much of the book reports case studies of the creative pedagogies discovered during the course of the study, it also emphasizes the interrelationship of seminary professors with their teaching and the communal pedagogy of the institution.

While Educating Clergy is not necessarily written with the academic advisor at the forefront of its purpose, it offers practical understandings of postgraduate religious education that are vital to anyone who works with students who are considering seminary.  As is evident from this study, not only do seminaries reflect diversity of doctrine, but also diversity of student interests, goals, and needs.  Certainly, the modern seminary population reflects students who are preparing to be pastors, priests, and rabbis, but it also includes future teachers, academics, philosophers, and others who will enter a variety of other secular fields.  Advisors who work with future seminarians would do well to explore the pages of this study and incorporate its findings into their assessments and discussions with advisees.

Clearly, this book will be of great interest to seminary faculty and advisors, and it is an important contribution for faculty and advisors at undergraduate institutions that are denominationally affiliated or that offer majors that might lead to postgraduate study in religion or philosophy.  Because of the transcendent nature of religious studies, however, Educating Clergy offers any faculty or advisor practical insights into the expectations, realities, and pedagogies of seminary education and its implications for potential seminarians.


Prothero, Stephen. (2007).  Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t (pp. 304).  San Francisco: Harper.

Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imagination (2005). Book by Charles Foster, Lisa Dahill, Lawrence Golemon, and Barbara Tolentino. Review written by Daniel Quinlin. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass $40.00. pp. 304. ISBN: # 0-7879-7744-6
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