A decades-old consortium of Californian religious study centers and seminaries launched a variety of scholarship programs to tap the curiosity and attention of those who say they have no religious affiliations.
The Graduate Theological Union launched GTUx last March 1. Graduate Theological Union President Uriah Kim disclosed in an interview with Religion News Service that GTUx intended to make scholarships available to the public. GTUx is a website that ushers interreligious activism, which the Union is known for.
GTUx, according to the website's homepage, is "where religion meets the world." A tagline that embodies its course offerings, which range from "The War In Ukraine And Its Religious Roots" to "Psychedelics and Religion" and "Ecospirituality." Categories on course offerings involve "Wisdom Traditions In Storytelling and Sacred Narrative," "Spiritual Care, Contemplative Practice, and Ritual," "Ethics, Justice, and Sustainable," and "Spiritual Care and Ethical Leadership for Our Times."
The school's roster of instructors includes bioethics and Islamic spiritual care specialist Dr. Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, Richard Dinner Center for Jewish Studies Faculty Director Deena Aranoff, and GTU Interim Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Pena, among others.
Kim said they were thinking of a conduit that meets the desire of the religiously unaffiliated for spirituality. He said they thought of a platform that provides the Union's wisdom and knowledge yet aimed at the Millenials and Gen Zs. So they eventually came out with the idea of GTUx.
"Millennials and Generation Z have really no need for church to create a social network, but they still desire spirituality and engaging with others on a metaphysical level and with the divine spiritually. That's where GTUx comes in. We want to reach out to these individuals who don't need to go to church, but desire spirituality," Kim said.
Since its launch, GTUx has already accumulated 2,200 users. This is double the number of users who signed up last year for a two-month period, which is 1,000. The website is averaging 200 new members weekly as of date.
Accordingly, GTUx took half a decade to make. The platform is envisioned to be an education model where knowledge can easily be trickled down by graduates to laypeople. Kim believes that a direct impact on individuals who have dealt with inequity and justice at the grassroots would make a difference in the world. He said designing a means for wisdom and knowledge to be cascaded directly to the ground level where beloved communities in neighborhoods are being worked on by people.
The Union president pointed out that the website is only supplemental to an in-person, in-depth degree program, which has no substitutes. Last year, several schools have launched several online programs on spirituality, justice, and religious diversity out of the country's changing religious landscape.
A 2016 report revealed that the population of the religiously unaffiliated has increased in the United States over the last four decades by 25%. Four years later in November 2020, the percentage of the nones has shown a dramatic increase alongside the fertility rate in the country. Secularization has grown upward each year according to a Pew Research poll released last December. The poll highlighted the declining number of Americans who identify as Christians and an increasing number of those who identify as agnostic, atheist, or of no particular faith.