Two years ago I wrote a sad blogpost on a black day for theology in Sweden and a follow-up post including a link to an article in Christianity Today. In a national evaluation of education in Theology and Religious Studies conducted by the National Board of Higher Education in Sweden (Högskoleverket), Örebro School of Theology, along several other institutions, was severely criticized for being too focused on Christian theology, etc, etc.
The whole evaluation process, nation wide, was, according to many, biassed and characterized by prejudism and a lack of clear evaluation criteria, which opened up for arbitrariness at different levels. It was severaly criticized by many representatives from different institutions and backgrounds. Subsequently, however, one of the responsible civil servants retired, and the other was transferred, so none of them took any part in the subsequent process to follow up the decisions. Moreover, the National Board of Higher Education got a new director (who is a theologian himself). The evaluations in all areas (including Theology) will look very different in the future, and one of the first things will be the working out of clear criteria in co-operation with those institutions to be evaluated.
From my personal viewpoint, the visit by the evaluation team two years ago was a very unpleasant experience indeed. It felt something like a police interrogation, but I am trying to put that behind me now and look forward.
In any case, the authorities then gave us, and several other Swedish institutions, one year to make necessary changes, which we did. For example, we had to transfer all practical courses to the non-academic sphere; we had to offer more courses in History of Religion, outside the classical theological subjects, and also integrate more critique of Religion.
To take an example, Homiletics, is now outside the system for higher education and does not grant any credit points. (It will still be necessary for those students who are preparing for ministry to have theory and training, but it will be outside the academia.) Our ambition has been to combine these necessary changes with an improvement of the quality of the education (especially that part which is outside the system for higher education). In the future, against the background of the so-called Bologna Process with its emphasis on "employability", it could happen in the future that even these more practical courses can return to the academia, but for now it is impossible – there can be no "confessional elements" in education.
Today came the decision from the National Board of Higher Education that Örebro School of Theology, among five other institutions, may keep the right to grant the degree of Bachelor of Theology 180 Credit points, whereas one institution looses its right. We can now draw a sigh of relief. There was still some minor critique which we will have to pay attention to in the future, but for now we will have some piece and quiet – well, at least soon – I was just interviewed by the local bransch of Swedish television (SVT) about the positive outcome.
This is a somewhat brighter day for theology in Sweden, in particular in Örebro.
Update: TV interview (in Swedish)