Earlham School of Religion is a Christian graduate theological school in the Quaker tradition. ESR prepares women and men for leadership that empowers and for ministry that serves. This mission grows out of our Christian belief that God calls everyone to ministry. Using a transformative model of education (residential and on-line), ESR encourages students to explore the intellectual, spiritual, and practical dimensions of their calls to ministry.
When Earlham School of Religion was founded in 1960, it represented a radical shift in thinking among some members of the Religious Society of Friends. Though the Quaker movement was more than 300 years old, until that point Friends had provided no seminary education for persons called to ministry. That was forever changed when the school launched its curriculum in its inaugural year.
As a Christian seminary in the Quaker tradition, ESR exists to educate and equip women and men for leadership in public ministry, providing a learning environment in which students can continue to discern and develop their calls to ministry. In the manner of Friends, the School of Religion is committed to the concept of universal ministry, and thus defines ministry broadly. Within its educational program, this means that many activities are recognized and supported as ministry. Pastoral ministry, pastoral counseling, peace and justice activities, spiritual direction, teaching, and writing represent a few of the areas of ministry commonly acknowledged at the school.
At ESR one finds a Christian seminary with a distinctive Quaker influence serving a broad range of Friends and numerous other faith traditions. Intellectual excellence is expected as students acquire foundational knowledge and wrestle with pressing theological and ministry issues. Experiential learning is woven into the nature of classroom activities, further facilitating the integration of new knowledge. Ministry gifts and leadership abilities are identified and cultivated. Ministry questions, personal issues, and global concerns are considered in the Light of Christ. Students will find a commitment to a Quaker understanding of the Christian faith as they work with faculty and staff to understand faith and ministry issues.
The school has become an intersection of Friends from various locations and traditions. Programmed and unprogrammed Quakers alike choose to study at ESR. Several other faith traditions are represented as well, with nearly one third of the student body claiming affiliation with religious heritages other than Quaker.
As Earlham School of Religion fulfills its founding purpose, the school is a significant source of leadership and a resource for renewal among the larger body of Friends. ESR places high emphasis on excellent teaching because quality instruction is crucial to quality learning. As a consequence of this emphasis, the school is a resource for Quaker scholarship, as ESR's faculty and visiting scholars are representative of Quakerism's finest teachers, thinkers, and ministers.
Given the diversity of Friends, ESR intends to be a point of intersection for persons of differing beliefs. The school welcomes any who wish to learn in the context of a Christian seminary in the Quaker tradition, but also recognizes that it best serves those students who fall within a range of "progressive evangelical" and "confessing liberal" in the Christian tradition. The term "progressive evangelical" refers to persons who maintain traditional Christian doctrines but who are open to learning with and from persons who have different points of view. "Confessing liberal" is meant to describe individuals who do not hold traditional Christian viewpoints, but who continue to identify themselves as members of the Body of Christ, broadly defined.
The ESR faculty understands that the practice of one's faith is an extension of one's beliefs. Thus as a Quaker seminary, ESR educates and prepares students for ministry in the manner of Friends. The school has a special interest in serving persons who are called to minister among the Religious Society of Friends. Given Friends' understanding of universal ministry, ESR prepares individuals for ministries that serve in a multitude of vocations and contexts. This is one of the more important ways that ESR serves as a source of vitality and renewal among Friends in North America and beyond.
The ESR community is not exclusively Quaker. Faculty and students from other faith traditions and other countries are welcome, and in fact wanted. ESR values a strong ecumenical presence because Christianity is not a heterogenous group. Neither is today's society a uniform one. The School of Religion values diversity precisely because it contributes to the learning process by broadening our horizons and preparing us for the settings in which we are likely to minister. Learning alongside others who are different from us contributes to spiritual formation and assists the transformation that occurs in ESR's community of learning.
A variety of educational pedagogies are employed in seminary education today. The School of Religion chooses an approach that is both formative and transformative. Our curriculum begins with issues of basic spiritual formation as students focus upon their personal spiritual journeys and begin attending to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The school intends to be a community of dialogue, where important theological and ministry matters are considered in the Light of Christ. Ultimately, an ESR education is transformative as Christ works within this holistic approach to theological education.