Adjudicating orthopraxy: a history of accreditation practices in theological education in the United States, 1918 - 1968
Hessler, Soren Michael
MetadataShow full item record
Grounded in practical theology, this project examines the practices of accreditation exhibited by the American Association of Theological Schools, its predecessor body, and its constituent member institutions in order to explicate the evolution of values in accreditation and to map a history of accreditation in theological education in the United States from 1918 to 1968. Examining accreditation history through the lens of practical theology elucidates the ways in which practices inform and are informed by the theologies of stakeholders in theological education. An analysis of practices of accreditation in the early and mid-twentieth century also helps contextualize contemporary practices of adjudicating orthopraxy, both through Association of Theological Schools accreditation and through the work of organizations that support and coordinate professional religious leadership formation for non-Christian communities. Chapter 1 provides background on the intersections of the study of theological education with research in practical theology and organizational behavior; outlines the recorded history of accreditation in theological education; and establishes the method of the study. Chapters 2 through 4 engage different periods of accreditation history by analyzing the information about accrediting published by the Association and quantifying data provided in its publication, the Bulletin. This data is amplified with analysis of cases that reveal particular aspects of accreditation practice as they developed in member schools of the Association, utilizing primary source materials from leaders of the member schools. Chapter 2 examines the Association’s identification and early regulation of “right” institutional practices and situates the Association as both designer and arbiter of institutional orthopraxy. Chapter 3 follows the evolution of the Association’s adjudication of institutional practices and how those efforts are influenced by individuals and member schools. Chapter 4 traces a shift in the Association from expecting conformity to a singular orthopraxy toward embracing a multiplicity of best practices, happening alongside expansions in the diversity of the Association. The final chapter suggests that contemporary administrative practices should be informed by institutional history, and it proposes other implications for the practices of the Association of Theological Schools, its member institutions, and emerging graduate programs for the training of religious professionals in non-Christian religious traditions.