Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Black Day for Theology in Sweden

21 Comment(s) +
I am almost too depressed to blog this, but today came an evaluation from the national board of higher education in Sweden (Högskoleverket) who practically announced a frontal assault on theological education in our country. Many institutions (including the three free standing seminaries, and even some of the large faculties like Lund university) were severely criticized for being too focused on Christianity, etc, etc. The board threatens to recommend the government to withdraw the rights to grant degrees, if the institutions do not change a lot of things (our seminary will loose even the right to grant a basic degree in theology, although most of our teachers are PhD's).

Many have found the whole evaluation process to be very biassed and characterized by prejudism. I don't think I can go into details, but some of the questions that were put to us were remarkable, and the very tone and atmosphere when one committee visited our institution was very unpleasant.


  1. Dr. Wasserman, what is it that they want changed exactly?

  2. The academic environment and the contents of the education. We educate pastors, and to some degree teachers.

    To generalize: pastors need to study theology, but the state suggests they should study much more history of religion and less "Christian" theology. They have in my view disregarded the so-called bologna process that stresses employability. There is little or no understanding that a future pastor/priest in a church will need a focus on Christianity in their education, and in combination with more practically oriented courses. The state doubts that the education can be academically competent and critical with such a focus.

    In Sweden, there is now an increasing intolerant tendency against theology.

  3. Jim, I am not sure. At least I wanted to make this known in the biblioblogsphere in the first place.

    From the international standpoint, or even just looking at theological education in Europe, this evaluation has a very narrow perspective, and we had this bad expectation since most of the experts chosen for the evaluation committees and main comitte were known for this perspective.

    In fact, I think the world leading institutions in theology, if they were in Sweden, would run the risk of loosing their right to grant degrees, unless they did not radically transform to department of religions.

  4. It's really an outrage. Having read through some of the statements made by HSV one cannot but agree with Dr. Wasserman assessment that many good international theological institutions would probably get in trouble as well.

  5. So sorry to hear this, Tommy. Please keep us posted. Has the values and dogma of the Enlightenment not ended?

  6. Wow! That is so sad. I am sorry for this, Dr. Wasserman. I will be praying for this situation.

  7. This could eventually have the same impact on manuscript studies that a seventh-century change in religious orientation at Alexandria had on the study of manuscripts housed there . . .

  8. Every week I make a list from news articles about Christian Persecution based on Matthew 24:9. And sadly enough this one falls in the 3rd category "ye shall be hated of all the nations", so I will mention this news item.

  9. I do not think that Högskoleverket has gone too far. How come, Umea University and Uppsala and made it through the eye of the needle? Probably because they made the corrections that was implied earlier by Högskoleverket...


  10. Magnus, we have very different viewpoints.

    As to our seminary, this was not a critical point in the last evaluation. The criticism then (just two years ago or so) was that we were not allowed to give an advanced degree in "theology" as main area (all the state universities with advanced level in the old system were granted this automatically, but not the seminaries, we had to go through a long application process). Rather we had to follow the Uppsalamodel and have e.g., biblical studies as main area in a degree. This was more of a technical discussion, and our exegesis was deemed as very advanced (which I am sure you will agree with), and that is why we applied this time for an advanced degree with biblical studies as main area. The criticism in this evaluation is something different, and I am afraid that this is a serious blow against theology in Sweden. In the larger perspective it is a battle over reality and the definition of theology. Högskoleverket must leave it to the scientific community to define what theology is. In fact I think we should change this evaluation system altogether, because it has serious deficiencies (it has been severely criticized during recent years, not relating to this particular evaluation, but many evaluations).

    The courses we offer at our seminary have to be relevant to future pastors and priests. Our main focus has always been to educate future pastors and we have to focus on Christianity to be relevant. We do not have the financial muscles to offer many courses in religious studies to e.g., police and social workers (which they mention in the evaluation). Our policy is in line with the emphasis on "employability" in the so-called Bologna process which is a European policy for higher education that Sweden subscribes to.

  11. Thanks Tommy, for the clarifications!

    Well, since Högskoleverket is connected to the government it has the right to serve the interest of the broader secularized swedish nation.. It has the right to question the objectivity of the seminaries...

    I do not personally question the quality of Örebro Missionsskola especially the field of exegetics. But that's because Im a Christian...

    However I do think it is problematic that it is too connected to a religious institution or/institutions for the simple reason of objectivity in teaching.

    This should not be/ and has not been the case in the field of theology at the larger universities such as Umea where I have read exegetics for instance...

    So, Tommy let me ask you this.. Why is the credibility of this world (the swedish government) so important for you when your task is to prepare people for the ministry of pastoring and preaching??? Good and solid education is still good and solid without the states approval.

    So, it has to do with the possiblity of economic contribution from the state?? .. Why bother anyway??

    Look to Livets Ords University as an istitution of good example who have find alternative solutions concerning this issue.

    They seems to have a good standard of education and has sought a way of making their education accredited through Oral Roberts University...

    Why not do something like that???
    Why not for instance develop a relationship with Trinity Evangelical School, Deerfield, Illinois??? That school is connected to the Evangelcial Free Chruch and houses good scholars and thinkers as D. A. Carson and Harold Netland...

    I hope that Högskoleverkets report would work as a wake up message to the faith-schools not to flirt with the state but rather to go on on their own....


  12. Hello Tommy!
    I have linked to this blogpost from my blog. I just have to say that i'm sad over HSV:s prejudices and their lack of ability to change perspective in their way of thinking.

    /Mikael Nilsson

  13. Magnus: "It has the right to question the objectivity of the seminaries..."

    I thought we were past this debate about objectivity. Every person has an epistemology as a starting point. Is it impossible for a scholar at a seminary to be "objective" whereas scholars at the state university are "objective"?

    "So, it has to do with the possiblity of economic contribution from the state??"

    I believe that our current and prospective students, both those preparing for ministry and others, are interested in and deserve officially recognized degrees. Moreover, it will be very difficult to pursue further studies and research in Sweden, and even in many international institutions who demand national accreditation.

    Further, I assume even the possibility for the student to get a monthly grant from the state (CSN) is threatened. This, I fear, will mean that far less students would choose our seminary. (How does this work at Livets Ord university?)

    Financially, yes this would also mean a serious drawback. Many colleagues would loose their jobs.

    I am very happy that it is still possible to look for international cooperation and so gain some sort of accreditation.

  14. *Tommy said:
    I thought we were past this debate about objectivity. Every person has an epistemology as a starting point. Is it impossible for a scholar at a seminary to be "objective" whereas scholars at the state university are "objective"?

    **Apparently, the debate goes on.. Sure, no one stands free from epistemology however there is a miles wide difference between a University governed by the state and a private seminary goverened by a denomination...

    The difference lies of course in the recruitment of its staff..

    A state university has a natrual openness for a plurality of views (let alone epistemologies) which is not often the case with seminaries which are too connected to a specific denomination. Wouldnt you agree of that??


  15. Tommy: Students at LOU receive no government funding and are not eligible for government funded student loans either. And yes, Swedish universities have shown reluctant to accept degrees from LOU as a basis for further studies, even though they are (rightly) recognized everywhere else in the world. This is why some of us went to the UK instead for our postgrad studies and, to be frank, don’t regret it one bit :-).

    Nevertheless, ÖTH and other Swedish seminaries should fight for their right to accreditation. The Swedish educational mindset is controlled by an absurd positivism which the rest of the world abandoned decades ago. The perceived contradiction between confessional conviction and academic excellence seems to be a particular Scandinavian die-hard mental monster.

  16. David, couldn't have said it better myself.

  17. "The so-called Bologna process which is a European policy for higher education that Sweden subscribes to."

    In America Bologna is not the name of an Italian city, but a kind of lunchmeat. It is pronounced "baloney," and that spelling signifies something that is stuff and nonsense. A "so-called baloney process" does not bring to an American's mind a rigourous educational evaluation, but a mock trial.

    So thanks for clarifying that, Tommy.

  18. Daniel, I guess you also know the Spaghetti Bolognese?

  19. Now see also article in Christianity Today: