Baylor Establishes Baptist Studies Program

Nov. 20, 2000

With the goal of enabling graduate students and academics to study various dimensions on what it means to be Baptist, Baylor University has established a program in Baptist studies, administered through the department of religion. Dr. William Brackney, chairman of the religion department, will direct the program.

"This field of study will be for people who want to critically evaluate issues in a denomination that is four centuries old and needs self-criticism," Brackney said. "This is in no way supposed to be an indoctrination course. We will look at the warts as well as the beauty marks."

The Baptist studies program will work cooperatively with faculty in other departments, specifically the George W. Truett Theological Seminary and the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Graduate students will work toward an M.A. or Ph.D. in religion with a focus in Baptist studies. Brackney believes that although some universities offer courses on Baptist-related topics through their history and theology departments, Baylor will be able to provide students with a variety of Baptist-related course work from a number of departments.

"We will repackage already existing courses to provide a broad set of methodologies and curricula that will help students investigate Baptist life and thought in its broadest sense -- history, theology, polity, mission, a whole variety of studies in a Baptist denominational context," Brackney said.

In addition to the academic element, program activities will include hosting symposia, developing publication programs, providing a visiting scholars program and managing the web site baptistheritage.com .

"This web site has come to Baylor through cooperation with the D.C. Baptist Convention in Washington, D.C. It is intended to be a resource for anybody who at any level wondered about things Baptist," Brackney explained. "An elementary school student could use the web site to obtain a brief history of the Baptists, while graduate students would be provided with a set of suggestions on where they could go to get resources on certain topics. For the scholar, there will be a massive bibliography and a scholarship-in-progress section as well as a chat room."

The program in Baptist studies will administer the web site under the auspices of a national committee sponsored by the D.C. Baptist Convention, which first conceived the idea and invited Baylor to play a role.

For its first symposium, the Baptist studies program will host a meeting of representatives of the World Mennonite Conference and the Baptist World Alliance that focuses on ways the two groups can cooperate and what they have in common. The symposium will take place in September 2001. Additionally, Baylor will become a partner with McMaster University and Conrad Grebel College in Ontario, Canada, in producing "Studies in the Believers Church Tradition," a series of scholarly monographs that makes available recent work in the Free Church tradition.

"There is a great deal happening in the Baptist world, and we need to ask the question 'what does it mean to be Baptist in this era,'" Brackney said. "I don't have a set of easy answers. We need some reflection; we need the best minds and most open and committed people that we can find to sit and have dialogue about that. And maybe after four or five years of reflection and scholarly gathering, Baylor's position as a forum where that can happen will be strengthened and Baylor's own institutional identity will be strengthened as well."

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