Being a Religious Leader in Norwegian Society
In 2007, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo introduced a new program for continuing education for religious leaders with a foreign background, under the title of ”Being a Religious Leader in Norwegian Society”. The background of the project was a parliamentarian decision to offer a more thorough “knowledge of society” to religious leaders who have immigrated to Norway. With reference to the Faculty of Theology’s competence in the field of interreligious studies, the Faculty was given the task (by the Ministry of Labor and Inclusion) to implement the project.
Since the underlying political decision could easily be taken as a politically disciplining measure, the Faculty took pains to involve the faith communities directly in the planning process. Thus representatives of the Islamic Council, the Buddhist Association, the Baptist Association, the Roman Catholic Church, and The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities were invited to join the Faculty staff in laying out the details in the program. The same religious communities were also granted quotas and asked to nominate candidates for the first round of the program. These procedures clearly helped in giving the faith communities a strong sense of ownership to the program.
In concrete terms, the program consists of three modules. (For those who would like to include the program in their academic career, the modules are 10 ECTS credits each.) The heading of the three modules are as follows: (1) “Religion, Norwegian legislation and international human rights”, (2) “Moral and religious counseling” and (3) “Values, religious plurality and interreligious dialogue”.
The most numerous groups among the participants are Muslim leaders (most of them imams) and Christian clergy of different denominations. But some Buddhist monks, a Hindu leader, a Sikh leader, and a Jewish rabbi have also taken part. The participants’ evaluations have been good, and for a large part enthusiastic.
The program is currently (december 2011) in its third round, with (as in the two firsts rounds) 20 participants. Hopefully, it will be possible to establish the program on a permanent basis.
Professor of Interreligious Studies
Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo