The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, founded in 2018, explores and supports chaplaincy with three guiding principles: universal welcome, research, and respect for differences. In an interview with In Trust’s Matt Hufman, Wendy Cadge, Ph.D., founder and lab director, and Michael Skaggs, Ph.D., co-founder and director of programs, discussed the growing need for chaplains, how theological schools can modify their curricula for chaplaincy roles, and how chaplaincy is changing views and habits for religious practices broadly.
There’s been talk in theological education about the need for chaplaincy in non-religious affiliated sectors. How do you envision the chaplaincy in terms of these ministries?
Cadge: Chaplains are fundamentally different from the clergy; they serve people from various backgrounds, including those not religiously affiliated. We see a model for the future of religious leadership, where fewer people are involved with congregations.
Skaggs: Anyone can see religious affiliation is on the decline. But where traditions and denominations meet is through chaplaincy. A generation ago, chaplains mostly served their own people, while today chaplaincy is about reducing suffering. If traditions want to have a strong impact, then chaplaincy is going to be where it happens.
There’s a tension for theological schools to train ministers in their discrete religious affiliations. How will the Lab help them train future clergy or ministers?
Skaggs: One misconception is that chaplains are seriously grounded in their own traditions. There is still a crucial role for those historical training institutions to do that work. The challenge is to take this really deep grounding and translate it for people who are not going to share the same assumptions, worldview, or values. In the past, those institutions could innovate to train these leaders. They’re well-positioned to do the same today for helping clergy make that transition.
Cadge: Theological schools have tried to offer degree programs more suited for chaplains; many of these degree programs require skills that we believe chaplains don’t need. The key gaps are responding to trauma and working in pluralistic workforces.
Instead of concentrating solely on internal church matters, should we be directing our attention toward external roles like chaplaincy?
Skaggs: I’ll give a very academic answer: yes and no. American religion has always tried to find people in need and then address that need. We’re not necessarily trying to get people inside the four walls of a congregation. But at the same time most of the people doing the work of chaplaincy come from large traditions. And chaplaincy is how we are going to address that in the 21st century.
To hear the complete conversation, click here.