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The Interfaith Studies Certificate Program is designed to inspire, nurture and educate a new kind of clergy: those who are called to lead and serve in an interfaith capacity. Many individuals enroll in this program to satisfy the longing and curiosity they have to live meaningful, engaged lives. Others arrive feeling called to a specific area of spiritual leadership or service. Whether in traditional or emerging contexts, this program equips its graduates to meet the individuals and issues happening now, in our increasingly intricate and diverse world.
Our innovative program focuses on a combination of the study of the world’s religions, an exploration of mystical paths and teachings, as well as on developing skills for ministry and providing spiritual care. Program participants immerse themselves in a deeply creative and nurturing environment to inquire, explore and grow who they are. Integral to spiritual formation and vocational preparation, seminarians are encouraged to retain and deepen their personal theological perspectives, while also expanding their capacity to serve the spiritually and culturally animated world in which we live.
Those completing the Interfaith Studies Certificate Program may choose to follow the path to ordination as an Interfaith Minister with The Chaplaincy Institute’s (ChI’s) Interfaith Community. Our goal is to offer a complete and well-rounded experience that prepares our graduates to lead and serve in whatever capacities they are called. More about Interfaith Ordination.
Once ordained, the community offers our ordained ministers an ecclesiastical home and provides them with Clergy in Good status, which is a professional requirement in many chaplaincy and ministerial settings.
The ChI curriculum provides students with a comprehensive, integrated, interfaith, and applied-theology education. Self-care practices are incorporated throughout, as fundamental learning for all individuals called to caring professions.
Our curriculum has its roots in, and speaks to, the universal language of the psyche and soul of all human beings. Designed to address the evolving spiritual needs reflected in our communities and larger society, each course syllabus undergoes annual review, adapting and changing for relevance and usefulness.
Five Threads comprise the curriculum and establish the Core Competencies for Ministerial Formation, which inform the classroom learning objectives, homework assignments and independent study requirements, which prepare and measure each seminarian’s readiness for graduation.
1. Interfaith Wisdom – Engage with the world’s knowledge, beliefs, traditions and practices
2. Spiritual Psychology – Deepen understanding of self and psyche
3. Spiritual Leadership & Development – Define, express and embody one’s personal connection to Spirit
4. Interfaith Ministry & Service – Explore spiritual care practices for individuals and communities
5. Vocational Formation – Design and practice your unique path to service or ministry
Our modular program features hybrid distance learning in order to serve students from near and far. Our goal is to join the best features of classroom teaching with independent learning to serve the needs of people who cannot spend a great deal of time on a campus and regularly attend classes. Courses are not available solely on-line.
Students travel to Berkeley, California, to attend Thematic Learning Modules that focus on world religions as well as practical theological and ministry competencies. Modules are taught throughout the year in the same month of each year, which enables students to attend in any order they wish. Each module starts on a Wednesday and ends on a Sunday and has a distinct theme—either a world religion or a particular aspect of interfaith ministry.
During each module, a team of core and guest faculty guides students in an integral learning experience, incorporating theological, academic, creative and experiential elements. Class content includes didactic and experiential, theological and psychological, artistic and reflective modalities. Although each module is different, each offers opportunities to explore prayer, meditation and ritual through the lens of a particular faith tradition and all contain elements of ministry, chaplaincy and spiritual care skill-building, including:
Module Timing & Frequency
In order to graduate, all students must complete each of the twelve (12) required modules. With the exception of Spiritual Psychology (parts I and II), students do not need to take the modules sequentially; they can be taken in any order. Still, each of the twelve modules must be completed to fulfill program requirements, or to be considered for ordination. Required reading, a reflection paper, and an expressive arts project are due prior to each module.
Students have up to three years to complete the coursework. While it may seem technically possible to complete the program in one year, a more realistic time frame is 18 months to 2 years. A two-year process allows for greater continuity and a deeper engagement with both the material and with The ChI Community.
In addition to Thematic Learning Modules, students work independently on requirements that include:
Work with a Spiritual Director or Counselor/Therapist with a spiritual focus
Each student is required to complete once-monthly Spiritual Direction/Spiritual Counseling sessions with an approved director, to commence after the student’s first module, and completing a minimum of 1 session per month for every month prior to graduation (or ordination), unless otherwise agreed upon between the student and ChI. [Note: Minimally this means 15 sessions, typically closer to 22.]
Commit to a personal spiritual practice and participate in a spiritual community (different traditions very acceptable)
The options for a personal spiritual practice are multiple and flexible. Examples include attendance at a weekly worship service, daily meditation, prayer based on a primary faith tradition, yoga, art or journaling, and so on. Practice should be discussed and tended in spiritual direction as well as in the Core Competencies Self-Assessment review.
As part of the Community Ministry and Social Transformation (CMST) coursework, students are also expected to attend and participate in the life and activities of an organized spiritual community. The community may be your long-standing religious home, but may as readily be a church temple, zendo, mosque, ashram or other community you feel called to meet more intimately for the period of time you are enrolled at ChI.
Visit spiritual centers
Each Interfaith Studies Program student is expected to visit and experience worship at a variety of houses of worship or spiritual centers in several faiths in his or her local community. The intent of this contextual learning requirement is to have the student engage with different faith traditions/expressions of spirituality beyond just observation (and, especially, to avoid "spiritual tourism.") Site visit reports should contain evidence of both personal and contextual/cultural examination.
Find a mentor in a secondary faith tradition
The student should pick a second tradition beyond their personal spiritual practice to delve into more deeply, and find a mentor to give guidance in that tradition. This second tradition should be explored formally for at least 6 months through regular study.
Complete the Core Competencies Assessment *
Each student is required to complete a written self-reflection assessment and assessment interview, which are to be completed about two-thirds of the way through the program.
Complete a practicum *
Contextual learning gives each student the opportunity to integrate theological concepts and intellectual constructs into the flow of lived experience. Students are required to complete a 200-hour-supervised practicum (400 hours for those wishing to be ordained) in an area of interest relating to their desired focus of ministry or spiritual care. This is where each student can test their wings and begin to grow their ministry within the supportive structure of our learning community.
*Students pursuing ordination will have additional requirements for these elements, further detailed in Ordination Requirements.
All graduates of the Interfaith Studies Certificate Program receive a Certificate of Completion from The Chaplaincy Institute. All students who successfully complete the Interfaith Studies Program also receive an official transcript from The Chaplaincy Institute, which lists the student’s program start date and graduation date, and assigns a passing grade for all academic requirements. The ChI Seminary bestows Certificates of Completion and issues transcripts.
The ChI Interfaith Community bestows Interfaith Ordination and Clergy In Good Standing status.
Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M.A., was ordained with the very first cohort of ChI ordinands in 1999, and completed the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program in 2006. Before joining the ChI staff in 2010, Lauren served for 8 years as a staff chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. From there she moved to a corporate environment, where she custom-designed employee programs for multi-national companies committed to sustainability and culture change. As part of her evolving call and commitment to "eco-chaplaincy”, Lauren served as Executive Director for Green Sangha (a non-profit dedicated to spiritually-engaged environmental activism) from 2004-2006 and has chaired Fair Trade Berkeley, a group whose dedication helped make Berkeley the 19th Fair Trade Town in the U.S. Lauren holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and Naropa University.
Other Core Faculty
The Chaplaincy Institute (“ChI”) offered me, and so many others like me, the opportunity to engage in the Interfaith dialogue in ways that most of us never imagined. ChI’s curriculum is unique, in that students who are interested in Interfaith Ordination not only read, reflect, and engage with literature and liturgy from a wide scope of faith traditions, it also insists upon first-hand experience. This Nice Jewish Girl found herself genuflecting in embodied Muslim prayer, meditating with a Buddhist nun, kneeling in a Catholic mass, and sweating in a lodge with a Lakota guide. The insistence upon empathy and the invitation to compassionate sharing offered a clerical formation unlike anything I could have imagined.
ChI envisions as many different types of ministers, chaplains, and spiritual directors as individuals striving towards those ends. It is often repeated that people of all faiths, no faith, and everything in between are welcome both at the seminary and at the Interfaith services and workshops. There is an emphasis on the arts, inviting people to bring their authentic voice to their service. We sing, we dance, we eat, we pray, and we sit in silence while holding sacred space for each other.
ChI’s Ministers, Spiritual Directors, and Chaplains are spiritually, emotionally, and academically ready to support the journeys of those whom they serve. With creativity and the remarkable talents of their dedicated staff and faculty, they offer so much more than a seminary; they have created their own community as well, one where inclusion and integrity are paramount. I feel blessed by my calling to service, but I feel that call answered by my experience at ChI.
Rev. Jennifer Bernstein, Interfaith Minister, Veterinary Chaplain, Community Chaplain
Catholic & Orthodox Christianity
Earth Based Traditions
Mystical Islam - Sufism
Spiritual Psychology 1
Hinduism & Sikhism
Spiritual Psychology 2