Calif. Methodist seminary to train rabbis, imams

The Claremont School of Theology, a Christian divinity school in Los Angeles, will use a $40 million gift to begin training Jewish and Muslim clergy.

The gift from David and Joan Lincoln of Arizona, which was announced Monday, will help Claremont transform itself into a multifaith institution offering interfaith degree programs as well as training for rabbis, imams and ministers, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The Claremont Lincoln University, as the new school will be called, will be the first U.S. school to offer clerical degrees in all three religions, according to Tamar Frankiel, dean of academic affairs for the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. The academy, which is not affiliated with a particular Jewish stream, will provide the Jewish clerical training.

The academy has 60 students enrolled in its rabbinic, cantorial and chaplaincy programs. It plans to institute distance learning as early as this fall to help students not located in Los Angeles, Frankiel told JTA.

The Islamic Center of Southern California will train 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.