Leading theologians have criticised the closure of a university's post-graduate theology and ministry programme as “deeply regrettable”.
The decision to shut down the influential theology and ministry courses at King's College London was taken, according to the university, for financial reasons in order to make the department “viable” for the long term.
The move came after the appointment of Alister McGrath, former chair of theology, ministry and education, to be Andreos Idreos professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford.
Another key departure was Dr Anna Rowlands, appointed as a lecturer in contemporary Catholic theology and deputy director of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, who formerly lectured in political and moral theology on the programme.
Around 120 postgraduate students studied for taught doctorates or an MA on the theology and ministry programme at King's. The existing students will continue their courses in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.
Alumni of King's include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton.
Dr Rowlands, who is currently working on three projects related to Catholic social teaching, including forced migration and the financial crisis, said: "Something irreplaceable has been lost. This course attracted a very significant constituency of younger Christians who were actively involved in politics and social justice work. It gave them an encounter with the breadth of Christian and political social thought, including Catholic social teaching. Many of these students are London-based and work in major organisations such as the civil service, media and Christian charities. These were students who genuinely wanted to do theology and make a difference to their organisations. No course can fill the gap."
Professor McGrath said: "I learned with great sadness of the closure of the theology and ministry course. I believe it was one of the best in the land. It contributed very significantly to the intellectual and pastoral well-being of the churches. I do not think the decision is reversible, but it is deeply regrettable."
There is concern in academic circles that theology courses may be squeezed due to the financial pressures universities are coming under. The move to end the course at King’s comes after it was revealed that Heythrop College, a specialist philosophy and theology institute, is talks about a “strategic partnership” with St Mary’s University, Twickenham (see below).
A King’s College London spokesperson said: "Following a strategic review of the department of education and professional studies in autumn 2013, options for refocusing the activities of the Department were considered in order to develop a more cohesive and specialised identity around core areas of strength. The aim of this was to secure a more sustainable financial base to support the longer-term viability of the department. We had to make some difficult decisions in formulating the proposals, including the potential closure of a small number of programmes, including our theology and ministry programmes.
"A formal consultation process was undertaken and the decision made in June 2014 to close the theology and ministry programmes. We are fully committed to ensuring that current students continue to receive appropriate levels of supervisory support and are taking all possible steps to ensure minimal disruption to their studies." She said the department of theology and religious studies will now oversee and support the development of the continuing students.
Above: Dr Anna Rowlands. Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk