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Ecumenical appreciation of Heythrop College

by
17 July 2015

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From Mr Bob Thomas

Sir, — I have seen no reports in the Church Times of the recent decision to close Heythrop College, University of London. Although Heythrop is a Jesuit foundation, it will be missed by many well beyond the Roman Catholic Church, especially for its promotion of ecumenical and interfaith understanding through international conferences and symposia, as well as through academic teaching and research.

Heythrop’s Master’s programme has offered opportunities for full- and especially part-time students from many denominations to deepen their understanding of their own faith traditions in a broad historical and cultural context. Many current and former students have ministerial or educational responsibilities and so the benefit of their studies has been multiplied many times in their home communities.

The range of specialist courses, which includes spirituality, psychology, philosophy and ethics as well as theology, is second to none. Heythrop’s undergraduate and postgraduate courses on the Abrahamic faiths offer unique opportunities for students from all three traditions and none to learn from each other as well as from the teaching. Supervision for research in faith-related disciplines is excellent, as is the teaching and tutorial support for all students. All of this goes far beyond the RC Church. Indeed, ordained and lay Anglicans make up a sizeable proportion of the postgraduate body.

Apparently, some effort was made for Heythrop to merge with St Mary’s University, Twickenham, but this was not successful. It does not appear that other avenues were explored before the decision to close was made.

Heythrop’s closure will be a disastrous loss to education and to ecumenical and interfaith relations. I retain some hope that this short-sighted decision may yet be reversed, and that a case can be made for the continuation of teaching, research, and interfaith dialogue in a dedicated ecumenical institution.

I am convinced that, with imagination and broadly based good will, a sustainable structure could be found. Surely now is not the moment to forgo Heythrop’s precious contribution to dialogue and shared learning in a fragmented and dangerous world?

 

BOB THOMAS
31 Lodge Road, Locks Heath
Southampton SO31 6QY

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