The Protestant Theology Faculties today

The protestant theology faculties in France are independent institutions of higher education awarding their own diplomas. Strasbourg is a case apart and is still bound by the Concordat agreement between Church and state. Their main role is to prepare students for the different ministries within the Church : pastors and deacons are prepared for their calling, instruction is given in catechism and musicology. Many also have well-equipped research centres, continuous education and seminars dealing with the main political, social and spiritual issues of today.

There are Protestant theology universities all over France

  • Theology Professors wearing their gowns 20th century © E.T.R.

There are several different Protestant theology universities in France.

Some follow the “historical” tradition (both Lutheran and Reformed) of the Protestant Church, such as the Faculties of Strasbourg, Paris and Montpellier.

Others belong to different trends of French Protestantism, such as the Independent Reformed Theology Faculty of Aix-en-Provence, the Independent Evangelical Theology Faculty of Vaux-sur-Seine (baptist), the Bible Institute of Nogent (evangelical), and the Adventist Campus of Salève in Haute Savoie. In addition, there are other places of training for different ministries of Churches which do not belong to the Fédération Protestante de France. These have a somewhat ephemeral existence due to their lack of reliable financial support.

Several hundred French or foreign students (nearly 250 in Strasbourg, between 300 and 400 in Paris and Montpellier, 70 in Aix-en(Provence), follow courses in either higher or continuous education.

And with the arrival of Internet, several continuous education sites have been set up, following the example of the Eglise Réformée de France, which started up the theology course on the Net called Theovie.

Independent higher education

Nearly all theology faculties are independent institutions of higher education. Strasbourg is a case apart and is bound by the Concordat agreement ; it forms part of the Marc Bloch/Strasbourg University II and awards national diplomas. This situation is particular to France and goes back to the 1877 law on higher education (establishing the difference between diplomas awarded by independent or state institutions). Another reason is the separation of the Churches and the State in 1905.

There is, however, a practical difference between the two diplomas. Even though, in an independent university, the length and quality of the course may be the same as its equivalent in a state university (usually lasting a minimum of 3 to 5 years and organized according to the European standard cursus of LMD : Licence, Maîtrise, Doctorat – that is to say, BA, MA and Doctorate) the actual diplomas awarded (a degree or doctorate in theology) will not lead to the advantages which normally come automatically with a state diploma, for example a good career and a respectable salary.

But on the other hand, in an independent university it may be easier to find employment as a teacher or to be accepted as a student on a course than in a state university. For example, they will take on a teacher who has obtained different diplomas to those officially required by the Ministère d’Education Nationale.

And even concerning the “baccalauréat”, although most universities consider this to be essential, some will accept students without it. They may have an equivalent foreign diploma or else they may prepare a course within the university which brings them up to the required level.

To conclude, it is the Churches who finance the running of these universities, in addition of course, to the inscription fees paid by the students. They award their own diplomas which, (in spite of the length and quality of the studies) are not regarded as national diplomas.

The turning point of 1968

The official statute of the independent theology faculties became somewhat problematic after 1968. Indeed, at this time, a certain number of students no longer wanted to go on to become pastors ; some pastors abandoned their vocation. Both had difficulty in getting their diplomas recognized in secular professions. And there was a real risk of having no more students. However, since then, several adjustments have been made. For example, students are encouraged to take double diplomas, attending a state university at the same time as the independent theology faculty. This has led to a different type of theology student enrolling for the courses and a broader curriculum being offered, notably concerning philosophy and social science.

Many of these universities have well-equipped research centres and possibilities of further education, where contemporary issues can be studied. In 1972, the two faculties of Paris and Montpellier merged, forming a new structure, The Protestant Institute of Theology, where the professors work in both faculties and share their students.

However, some theology faculties were averse to what was happening in other, more liberal protestant universities. This is one of the reasons why the Faculty of Aix-en-Provence was “refounded”. This establishment had previously been set up in 1938 by the Independent Evangelical Reformed Churches (who had decided not to join the recently constituted Eglise Réformée de France), but there were not many students. So in 1973, it became a place of learning which was inspired by a total commitment to the statement of faith expressed in the Confession of Faith of la Rochelle, (taken up by the reformed churches in 1570).

Study programmes and professional possibilities

The theology faculties’ role was to prepare candidates for the various Church ministries, so they all offered the same basic study programmes :

  • The study of the Old and New Testament.
  • Hebrew and Greek at beginner’s or advanced level.
  • Church history : ancient history, patristics, the history of the Reform Movement and modern history.
  • Systematic theology : dogmatics, ethics, philosophy.
  • Practical theology : how to preach, teach catechism, carry out the various pastoral acts and give spiritual support in time of need.

Nevertheless, these basic teaching programmes differ, of course, according to the various universities, the teaching staff, the research centre and the religious tendency of the administration (Eglise Reformée de France, Eglise Evangelique Libre de France and other kinds of evangelical Churches). The academic level of theology studies also varies.

Nowadays, more and more frequently, it is possible to study other subjects in addition to theology, such as social science, aesthetics, communication etc. It all depends on the administrative body of the university.

To conclude, obtaining a diploma does not automatically lead on to becoming a pastor ; this depends on the official organisations for this purpose within the Church, such as the ministers’ commission.

The ministers’ commission of the Eglise Reformée de France begins the process of selection of future pastors at degree level and continues until the first year of the doctorate. (This is for students at Strasbourg, Montpellier or Paris). But that does not mean to say that everyone is successful in becoming a pastor.

And they do not recognize the diploma of the Faculty of Aix-en-Provence ; indeed, students from this establishment have to do another year’s study in Paris or Montpellier.

A rich variety of study programmes

One of the positive aspects of theology teaching in protestant universities in France is the great variety of study courses available to the student. A certain number of university reviews (Revue d’histoire et de philosophie religieuse (Strasbourg), Etudes théologiques et religieuses (Montpellier) and Revue réformée (Aix-en-Provence) are useful vehicles of information for philosophical debate.

Associated notes

  • The Protestant Institute of Theology

    The Protestant Institute of Theology, which was founded in 1972, is made up of two protestant theology faculties, Paris and Montpellier. Its main role is to prepare for the ministry...
  • The Independent Evangelical Theological Faculty of Vaux-sur-Seine

    The Vaux-sur-Seine Faculty has trained pastors since the late XIXth century. It became an independent institution of further education in 1965. It is a training centre of future pastors in the...
  • The Bible Institute of Nogent

    The Bible Institut of Nogent was founded in 1921 to train evangelists, missionaries and more recently, social workers. There are students of all nationalities who later go on to serve...