Founded in 2008, the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education (CIRCLE) is a joint initiative of Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS) and Hebrew College (HC). CIRCLE’s mission is to prepare leaders for service in a religiously diverse society, and to provide high quality educational opportunities and resources. CIRCLE initiatives include:
- Coordinating collaborative masters degree programs between Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College in Global Interreligious Leadership
- Teaching courses (credit, certificate, and adult education) at Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College and in the broader community
- Sponsoring a yearlong fellowship program for outstanding graduate students and religious and communal leaders in the Greater Boston area
- Providing monthly interfaith peer group opportunities for the Andover Newton-Hebrew College community involving interfaith study, action, and intentional conversation
- Overseeing CIRCLE House, a unique hub of experiential learning and relationship-building on the shared Andover Newton-Hebrew College campus
- Publishing The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies™ the largest peer-reviewed interfaith journal in the United States and a global leader in the field
- Sponsoring State of Formation, a leading online platform for dialogue among emerging religious and ethical leaders from diverse religious and cultural traditions.
In 2001, Hebrew College moved from Brookline, Massachusetts, to a new hilltop campus in Newton it would share with Andover Newton Theological School. Andover Newton is the product of the 1965 merger of Andover Theological School, the nation’s oldest theological school, established 1807, and Newton Theological Institution, established 1825, and is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches USA. Andover Newton is also functionally related to the Unitarian Universalist Association through a significant Unitarian Universalist student population. In 2004, Hebrew College, which was established in 1921 as a secular cultural institution, created a transdenominational rabbinical school. Thus, the staff and students of the newest Jewish seminary and the oldest Protestant seminary in the country—formed a partnership that has changed the way both schools think about their educational goals and the nature of their communities. Newton’s “Institution Hill,” named for the other ancestor of Andover Newton, the Newton Theological Institute, has become “Faith Hill.”
Soon after Hebrew College moved into its new buildings, a new feature appeared on the landscape, one that had not been sketched on the official blueprint: a footpath between the campuses made by students who began meeting to talk about their respective traditions, their common vocations, and their personal lives. Even before the faculties and administrations of the two schools offered interfaith courses and public programs, the students of Andover Newton and Hebrew College began to create a dynamic inter-religious culture. They wanted to learn together and from one another as they prepared for careers as teachers, preachers, pastors, and ritual makers.
Spurred by this enterprising group of students, the faculties and administrations deepened their commitment to this burgeoning interfaith venture, creating joint academic courses co-taught by Jewish and Christian faculty and populated by students from both schools. The schools organized a series of “Community Days” during which students, faculty, and staff from both institutions participated together in service projects around Boston. Students formed Journeys on the Hill, which sponsored seasonal and thematic events organized around our sacred calendars and other key religious, cultural, and political issues. Students created study groups that served as an important context for relationship building, spiritual exploration, and professional development.
Thanks to generous grants from the Righteous Persons Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation, in 2008 the schools expanded upon these ad hoc initiatives to create a comprehensive interfaith initiative called CIRCLE, the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education. CIRCLE has helped institutionalize inter-religious programs at both schools and continues to develop a range of new initiatives and resources. CIRCLE recently expanded its CIRCLE Fellows Program to include Muslim Community Fellowships and appointed a Muslim Co-Director. CIRCLE sponsors a web forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders called State of Formation and publishes the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies . The center hosts special events and public programming, CIRCLE Fellow led peer study groups, and a range of interreligious course offerings for students and for the general public. CIRCLE has been the recipient of several new grants and named endowment contributions for CIRCLE fellows.
We look forward to new ways to expand the conversation.