Association of Theological Schools Awards GTU a $25K Grant for Innovative Educational Program

Association of Theological Schools Awards GTU a $25K Grant for Innovative Educational Program

BERKELEY, CA, June 29, 2023 -- The Graduate Theological Union is pleased to have been named a recipient of the Moving Forward in Mission grant as part of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) Organizational and Educational Models Project. The $25,000 grant, entitled “Designing Your Spiritual Life — A New Program to Engage Today's Spiritual Seekers,” will support the development of a first-of-its-kind, multi-modal educational experience. The project will be hosted on GTUx, the GTU’s innovative online learning platform, to provide spiritual learning for a wide range of audiences across the GTU community and beyond. 

“Even as the public’s attitude shifts toward religion, the hunger for spiritual nourishment and community engagement is only growing,” said Dr. Jennifer W. Davidson, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the GTU and co-director of the grant. “We know that people are seeking a spiritual connection with others who share their vision for a better world, and the GTU is uniquely poised to offer a pathway for these seekers. We are grateful for this incredible vote of confidence from ATS in the GTU’s bold and innovative vision for its future.”  

“Designing Your Spiritual Life” emerged through a collaboration between Dr. Davidson; Dr. Diandra Erickson, the GTU’s Associate Dean of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment; and Sephora Markson, the GTU’s Chief Strategy Officer and Vice President for Institutional Advancement, who also serves as executive lead for GTUx. It is envisioned to be a learning journey based around a series of multi-modal educational modules. Each module will feature a mix of experiential, didactic, reflective, and community-based exercises for scholars to engage. It will include virtually hosted synchronous meetings on a religiously or spiritually relevant topic, independent learning as assigned, independent reflection exercises and practices, and technology-enabled communications and interaction, creating a wrap-around platform that connects with learners from many different angles. 

“Designing Your Spiritual Life will use engaging approaches to pedagogy and curriculum design to address the need for spiritual direction,” Dr. Erickson said. “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to expand the digital reach of the GTU’s thought leaders in a new way.” 

The program will be hosted on GTUx, the GTU’s online learning platform, which extends the GTU’s campus and furthers its mission by serving as a dynamic, digital learning environment for individuals and communities around the globe to engage deeply with questions of spirituality and religion that are situated at the nexus of some of the most critical issues of our time.   

Launched in March 2022, GTUx has since grown to a community of more than 11,000 registered users; established partnership programs with organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme’s Faith for Earth Coalition, GOOD DOCS, and The Nearness; and published more than 70 content offerings, with new additions released on an ongoing basis.  

“The rapid growth of GTUx in its first year has clearly demonstrated that there is a deep desire for the type of exploration of spirituality that the GTU is singularly positioned to offer,” said Sephora Markson, executive lead for GTUx, and co-director of the grant. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to grow and expand our offerings in this way, thanks to this generous grant from ATS, and we are looking forward to reaching an even wider audience with the development and launch of ‘Designing Your Spiritual Life’ over the course of the coming year.” 

In the immediate future, the desired outcome is that “Designing Your Spiritual Life” will nourish and nurture the spiritual resilience, interreligious understanding, cultural humility, and self-awareness of emerging theological scholar-practitioners and religious leaders. In the longer term, the program will also provide an educational model that can be replicated in other contexts to foster deepened engagement with community members, students, and laypersons alike. 

“It has been a challenging season for theological schools, but also a time of intense innovation and adaptation,” said the Rev. Dr. Jo Ann Deasy, Director of Institutional Initiatives at The Association of Theological Schools. “The Moving Forward in Mission grants were designed to help schools move through this season of change with intentionality, supporting them as they develop and implement strategic plans that allow them to continue living out their missions. These grants are part of the larger vision of the ATS to promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools in the US and Canada to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public. We are grateful to Lilly Endowment Inc. for funding the Organizational and Educational Models Project through which these grants were made possible.” 

To learn more about GTUx, and to stay updated on Designing Your Spiritual Life, visit:

# # # 

About the Association of Theological Schools
More than 270 graduate schools of theology in the United States and Canada form The Association of Theological Schools. Member schools conduct post-baccalaureate professional and academic degree programs to educate persons for the practice of ministry and for teaching and research in the theological disciplines. These schools differ from one another in deep and significant ways but, through their membership in ATS, they demonstrate a commitment to shared values about what constitutes good theological education. 

About the Graduate Theological Union

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) is one of the world’s leading hubs for the study of religion and theology, as well as a vibrant home for spiritual exploration offering resources with global reach.

Spanning a robust array of interreligious and interdisciplinary perspectives, the GTU’s centers of study and wider consortium offer programs devoted to empowering those with a passion for serving others, as inspired by the world’s many spiritual paths, faiths, and cultural traditions.

At its heart, the GTU’s educational work is brought to life by a unique instructional approach that encourages dynamic encounters and exchange between the world’s wisdom traditions and is inspired by the transformative power of spiritual study and reflection to generate profound personal, social, environmental, and spiritual healing for the betterment of all.