With PSR’s 2022-2023 academic year at a close, we’d like to take a moment to share what a remarkable year it’s been. We have seen enrollment growth in numbers, diversity, and reach across the country and around the globe. We’ve continued our transformation of theological education through our innovative stackable curriculum which allows students to earn a certificate and a master’s degree as they progress towards a Master of Divinity degree. We’ve made great strides in the development of a new distributed learning platform that will make our offerings more accessible and affordable, and our centers offered ground-breaking scholarship and critical tools needed by church and lay leaders alike.
This Fall we welcomed four new faculty members who have enriched our community and our curriculum with the diversity and rigor of their scholarship. In the spring, long-time faculty member Rev. Dr. Dorsey Odell Blake was named the 2023 GTU Distinguished Faculty Lecturer. This November, Prof. Blake will give the 48th annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture titled, “Howard Thurman: Seeking, Queering, and Transcending” on Tuesday, November 7th at 5 pm PT.
In September PSR received a grant of $5 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund an innovative educational ecosystem, in pilot as The Ignite Collective, and run by the Ignite Institute at PSR. All PSR students now have full access to the Ignite Collective including their five-course bundle: Discover Your Leadership Voice, Discover Your Inner Drive, Discover Your Spiritual Pathway, Discover Your Purposeful Change, and Wisdom Based Leadership. The Ignite Institute also completed the fifth season of its podcast Change Happens Now and launched the sixth season with new host Mo King.
PSR’s Center for LGBTQ+ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) hosted two marquee events highlighting Black queer theology in the spring: the 16th John E. Boswell Lecture featuring Dr. Pamela Lightsey and Souls A’Fire 8: 20 Years of National Gathering on Black Queer Theology. Showing the breadth of their work, CLGS also launched Queer and Catholic: A CLGS Oral History Project to record and share the stories of Catholic LGBTQ+ individuals and published Liberating Gender for Jews and Allies: The Wisdom of Transkeit, a collection of essays by transgender Jews and allies. CLGS also hosted almost 60 events through their Jewish Queeries, Lavender Lunch, and Queer and Latinx Faith Conversations series along with other regular programming.
The Badè Museum for Biblical Archeology hosted a monthly lecture series titled “Women and Gender Performance in the Ancient Middle East” in partnership with UC Berkeley’s Archeological Research Facility (ARF). Curators Melissa Cradic and Sam Pfister were awarded ASOR’s inaugural Community Engagement and Public Outreach Award for their 2022 web exhibition, Unsilencing the Archives: The Laborers of the Tell en-Nasbeh Excavations (1926-1935).
PSR’s Theological Education for Leadership (TEL) program offered 11 courses and seminars in addition to their year-long Certificate in Theological Education for Leadership (CTEL). TEL also partnered with Professor Leonard McMahon’s Pastoral Care for/with Marginalized Bodies class to host this spring’s Professors of Practice lecture series featuring Nikole Lim, founder of Freely in Hope.
Enrollment in our degree and certificate programs continued its upward trend despite a 15+ year downward trend in seminary enrollment in the United States. Enrollment for Spring 2023 was up 28% over Spring 2022, and up 44% from 2018. In addition to growing enrollment, PSR strengthened our commitment to making theological education accessible and relevant to leaders from diverse backgrounds. This was reflected in a Spring ‘23 new student cohort that is 58% people of color and majority female-identifying.
The development of online and hybrid learning opportunities has also allowed PSR to expand its reach and impact beyond our home in Berkeley, California. Students from 29 states and four countries are currently working towards degrees and certificates with the option to attend classes in person, through distance learning, or in a hybrid arrangement.
At this year’s Virtual Celebration of Academic Excellence, students presented on a wide range of topics from the danger of TERFs to the transgender community to the treatment of neurodiverse students in public schools, to programs for municipal reparations. At the Graduates’ Chapel in May, 10 students were recognized for excellence in building community, preaching, and ethics.
At our first Alumnx Gathering since the pandemic, alumnx, staff, and faculty joined together on campus and in fellowship around the theme, Dreaming Unafraid / Waking to Action. At the Alumnx Awards banquet that evening Rev. Adriene Thorne (MDiv ‘08), Rev. Deborah Streeter (MA ‘78, MDiv ‘82), Bridget Cooke (MDiv ‘90), Dr. Kit Evans-Ford (MDiv ‘12), and Rev. James Ishmael Ford (MDiv ‘91, MA ‘92) were recognized as our 2023 Distinguished Alumnx.
The theme of PSR’s 156th Commencement, Journeying the Path of Greatest Resilience: Embracing Faith and Practicing Hope, recognized both the challenges students faced while completing their degrees during the pandemic and the ways their faith and community helped them to build resilience. The theme of resilience was reinforced by Rev. Dr. Mahsea Evans, who gave the commencement address.
Dean Susan Abraham exhorted students to defy the easy allure of Christian capitalism and nationalism in her Valedictory Charge. She ended her speech by saying, “Today you become forever part of the PSR family. We are bound to you as you are bound to us. We are unspeakably proud of each one of you. We will follow where you will dare to lead. Go and do great things, wonderful things, loving things, in the manner of the One that called each of us into being.”
Inspired by the remarkable achievements of our students and the unwavering commitment of our entire community, we embark on the next academic year with deep gratitude. Together, we will continue to nurture spiritually rooted leaders who work fearlessly to create a world where all can thrive.