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Building Interreligious Bonds: United Partners with The Islamic Seminary of America

On August 6, 2020 United announced a partnership with The Islamic Seminary of America (TISA) to develop a degree in Interreligious Chaplaincy with a focus on Islam. This fully accredited MDiv degree combines United’s Interreligious Chaplaincy courses with other general courses offered at United with core courses in Islamic theology and religious texts taken through TISA with a faculty led by Dean Yasir Qadhi Ph.D.. The degree will be available to students beginning in January 2021.

This partnership stems from years of collaboration between United professors, particularly Hebrew Bible Professor Dr. Carolyn Pressler, and TISA professor Dr. Tamara Gray. Dean Kyle Roberts recalls, "Last fall, Dr. Carolyn Pressler suggested that Dr. Tamara Gray and I meet to discuss the possibility of a collaboration. Dr. Gray, a renowned Muslim scholar has been a guest lecturer in Carolyn's classes and has spoken in other contexts at United. Dr. Gray is on faculty at TISA. Our initial meeting was obviously generative, and led to  further meetings with Dr. James Jones, the Executive VP of TISA. Less than a year later, we've been able to iron out the framework of the partnership and the curriculum of a shared degree."

This partnership brings to bear the unique strengths of each seminary. "With this partnership," says Roberts, "we have an immediate connection to a wealth of resources in the Islamic faith--beginning with people who will bring knowledge and passion to the United community - whether as Muslim students or as Muslim scholars contributing to United's educational experience." TISA, established in 2018, prepares Muslim leaders to serve Islam and the American Muslim community. It aspires to raise the general level of Islamic understanding within the American Muslim community and throughout American society. TISA has created content and models for teaching multi-course graduate level programs in Islamic Studies and Non-profit Management along with an MDiv. 

United is an ecumenical graduate school with roots in the United Church of Christ that embraces all denominations and faith traditions and has been on the cutting edge of progressive theological thought leadership since it was established in 1962. United is an ATS and HLC-accredited graduate school that offers several (MA, MAL, MDiv, and DMin) degree options, all with distance learning options.

For a school rooted in Christianity, Dr. Roberts notes, there are particular opportunities for openness about an often fraught Christian and Muslim history and opportunities for meanignful reconciliation: "We all are aware of the challenging history, the deep divides and violent conflicts between Christians and Muslims, from the Crusades even to the present day. As a progressive Christian seminary, we feel it is important to demonstrate our rejection of Christian supremacy and our repentance of historic Christian participation in religious violence and exclusion. We can do this in part by developing friendships, partnerships, and collaboration. But more than a demonstration, or a witness to the broader world which is still rife with religiously motivated hatred and discord, we want to actually challenge ourselves to learn and grow in our capacity to be authentically interreligious as a seminary. We can do this best by being in relation with others who share different beliefs, practices, and theological frameworks."

Reflecting the growing need for interreligious chaplains, this degree offers Muslim chaplaincy candidates an MDiv grounded in Islamic theology and religious texts while also bringing them into dialogue with students from other religious traditions including Christianity, Baháʼi, and Buddhism. United’s President, Lewis P. Zeidner, Ph.D., says of this partnership, “In today’s world, chaplains and other faith leaders have taken an increased role in providing leadership and an ethical compass for the broader community.  Ensuring that training programs adequately prepare chaplains to more deeply understand  those in their community who come from different faith traditions is an innovative and essential component of the role of seminary education. United is honored to do this work in partnership with TISA.” 

To learn more about this exciting partnership visit

Max Brumberg-Kraus

Max Brumberg-Kraus is a 2020 alum of United, with an MA in Theology and the Arts. Max also works in marketing at United as a Digital Content Specialist. Max is a performing artist and writer in Saint Paul, MN, and a proud member of the queer artist scene.

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