Further reading about the School
The Faculty of Theology has existed at the university since 1632. The faculty was closed by the Soviet authorities in 1940 and was reopened in 1991. Rapid development has taken place in recent years. In 2016, the Faculty was renamed the School of Theology and Religious Studies and became part of a newly formed Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
Facts and figures
The activities of the School include theology and religious studies, where theology has traditionally been part of the protestant tradition. The School is divided into chairs for better organizational purposes: Old Testament and Semitic Studies, New Testament, Church History, Systematic Theology, Practical Theology, and Comparative Religion.
As of 7 January 2017, the academic staff comprise 19 members, some of whom are part-time, but most work at the School full-time. In addition, there are two members of staff working in the office. There are always some adjunct lecturers and visiting professors teaching in our School as well.
The School has a total of 101 full-time students (January 7, 2017), including 30 in the Bachelor's programme, 14 in the Master’s programme of Theology, 31 in the Master’s programme of Religious Studies and 26 in the Doctoral programme. In the years 1991–2014, 33 Doctoral dissertations and 148 Master's theses have been successfully defended in the School; 372 Bachelor's degrees have been awarded. In 2016, one Doctoral dissertation, two Master’s theses, and 10 Bachelor’s theses were defended at the School.
The admission of new students has varied from year to year. In 1991, 30 students began their studies in state-funded (i.e. free of charge for students) places, whereas four students were admitted to the Bachelor's degree studies in 2014. In subsequent years, admission to the Bachelor’s programme has been around 10 students per year and admissions to the Master’s programmes have been about 15 new students per year. There are two or three new Doctoral positions available every year.
What subjects can be studied?
There are two fields of study in the School: theology and religious studies. Students can study and specialize in the subjects from the Bachelor’s up to the Doctoral programme. In the Master’s level studies the two fields are separated into two different programmes. The study of theology follows the Christian (Protestant) paradigm; however, the primary interest of religious studies is the religiousness of the human being. Both fields may prove interesting irrespective of the students’ confession or lack of it. In the Master’s programme of theology students can specialize in the field of religious education. The graduates may teach religious education courses in general education schools. For foreign students we offer some courses in English every semester.
In our School it is possible to begin research as a student and researchers and teaching staff are involved in several projects. Our strengths include Semitic studies, ancient civilizations, and the relationship of religion and science, as well as church history and religious education and sociology of religion.
A research group in religious studies from our School has participated in the Centre of Excellence in Cultural Theory (CECT) (www.ut.ee/CECT/). Between 2001 and 2004, the 5th Framework Programme of the European Union project, “Churches and European Integration”, was implemented in cooperation with the Universities of Helsinki, Lund, Münster, and Glasgow. Between 2006 and 2009, the 6th Framework Programme of the European Union project, “Religion in Education”, was carried out with the cooperation of scientists from nine European universities.
Postgraduate students have had the opportunity to participate in the Socrates intensive programmes “Gottdenken” and “Translating God(s)”. We are also participating in various international Socrates networks (e.g. TRES and EuReSIS NeT).
Several religion-related target-financed research projects, financed by the Ministry of Education and Science, have been completed in the School. From 2011 to 2016, much of the research at the School was focused on a major research project: “Secularization (de-institutionalization and de-Christianization): Religion in Estonia from the Modern Period to the Present”.
Today, the heritage of the Estonian scholars A. Võõbus and U. Masing is being researched. Twenty-three individual research projects financed by grants from the Estonian Science Foundation have been carried out in the School since 1994. “The History of Estonian Ecumenism”, a research project for the Estonian Council of Churches 2007–2009, resulted in a collective monograph both in Estonian and English. The Estonian state supports the project on the mapping and research of the exile church archives (since 2010) under the Estonian diaspora programme.
Religious studies has developed rapidly in the past decade, both as a field of research and as a separate field of study for students. A significantly expanded religious studies study path was added to the Bachelor’s programme in 2014, clearly distinguishing the study of religion from theology and making it possible for students to specialize in the study of religion at the Bachelor level as well. In addition, the Master’s programme in Religious Studies was significantly reformed in 2013 to better meet the contemporary standards of research and teaching.
Most of the research at the School is nowadays also done in the study of religion, with Ancient Near East religious traditions (Sumer and Babylonia especially) being thoroughly investigated. However, the history of Christianity in Estonia in the past few centuries has also received much attention and more recently contemporary religious trends (New Age, etc.) have become hot topics.
A lot of research activity also takes place in close cooperation with the scholars working at the Institute of Cultural Research and Arts at the University of Tartu. The Estonian Society for the Study of Religions also actively organizes conferences, seminars and other events related to the study of religion. The annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions will take place in Tartu in 2019.
Relations with churches in Estonia
The School has several agreements with the local churches. The purpose of the agreements is to maintain the quality of theological education. As of 1999, we have been connected to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) by means of a cooperation agreement (a third party being the Theological Institute of the EELC). The ties with the EELC are also expressed by the fact that three of our faculty members have been or are still working in the EELC as ministers.
In addition to graduates, many of our present students, especially those in Master’s and Doctoral studies, are working in the EELC. Among the students there are parish ministries, provosts and chaplains who work in the defence forces and prisons. Our graduates are welcome to continue their studies in the pastoral seminary of the Theological Institute of the EELC to become ministers.
In 2002, we signed a protocol of joint intention with the Estonian Orthodox Church. Between 2005 and 2009, Grigorios Papathomas from Paris gave lectures on Orthodox theology as a visiting professor. His work was financed by the Greek Ministry of Education. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church has been introduced by some visiting professors as well. Thus, members of the Dominican Order attended our conference about the church’s history in 2001. Hans Maier and Bernhard Grom from Germany introduced Roman Catholic theology in cooperation with the Johannes Esto Society. Several faculty members also teach at the Theological Seminary of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia. In addition, in 2004, the Faculty signed a contract of cooperation with this seminary.
The protocol of common interest was signed in October 2005 between the Estonian Council of Churches and the University of Tartu, creating a framework for cooperation, which has so far provided an opportunity to order scientific projects from the faculty. Two of our recent graduates have become bishops in the member churches of the Estonian Council of Churches – Ago Lilleorg in the Estonian Pentecostal Church and Ott Ojaperv in the Estonian Orthodox Church.
Where do graduates find work?
The theology programme at the School does provide theoretical preparation for practical work as a minister. However, to become a minister, confessional studies in corresponding educational institutions (pastoral seminary in the case of the Lutheran Church) are necessary after graduation from the School. Many graduates of the School are employed in the Estonian defence forces as chaplains.
In recent years fewer of our graduates have pursued jobs in churches. Many of the religious education teachers at public schools have graduated from the School of Theology and Religious Studies. In addition, graduates with academic degrees in theology or religious studies have found work in various other fields, becoming diplomats, government officials, business and personnel managers, banking, and IT-specialists, TV reporters, and top level journalists in Estonia.
Riho Altnurme, 2014
Updated and edited in 2017 by Indrek Peedu