Source: World Network of Religious Futurists

Religious Futurists: Professionals-in-Training
By Jay Gary, Aug. 21, 1998

This proposal describes a two-year project to research and develop a curriculum model for the professional development of religious leaders in the area of future thinking and religious innovation in society.



Some eighty years ago, religion was at the height of millennial optimism. Now as the 20th century closes, an apocalyptic spirit is raging across various religious sects. Cultural wars, inspired by religious rhetoric, seem to fill the public square.

Rather than militants, how can religion become mediators in a post-industrial age? How can religion redemptively join the worlds of science and technology in the 21st century to prevent society from destroying itself or creating a permanent underclass?

The "Religious Futures" project represents a consortium of theologians, religious educators, artists and scientists from higher education committed to empowering a new cadre of religious change pioneers.

Since 1980, the field of inquiry, "Religious Futures," has emerged through the encounter of theology and ministry with future studies. Supported today by the "World Network of Religious Futurists," we are committed to professional excellence in "the progress of religion."

We request your help in framing out a curriculum project for use in graduate or theological institutions that will help religionists become effective and practical futurists, with their horizon extended 10 to 25 years. This project will last 24-months and be funded through foundation grants.


Prepared or not, we are entering the most technological century ever. Will homo sapiens eventually become no better than "Great Brains," as depicted by Olaf Stapledon in Last and First Men, a genetically engineered progeny who "lack of the bowels of mercy"?

We need a high-tech, future civilization whose technology and science is neither going to destroy the world, nor create a world underclass.

In The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski felt that an exclusive aristocracy of the intellect could lead us nowhere but to destruction.

Unfortunately, the religious priesthood today, which ideally could democratize the intellect, has largely lost its concern with the future, and its engagement with a technological society.

Religion, so it's popularly thought, preserves the past with its conventions. It doesn't create the human future--in all of its possibilities. In popular parlance, "religionists" are considered backwards, closed, dogmatic, fatalistic, foreboding, pessimistic, reactionary or regressive.

By contrast, humanists or "futurists" are thought to be anticipatory, creative, forward-looking, open, optimistic, progressive and scientific. Even though these are stereotypes, they carry a certain "ring of truth."

To a great degree, this unnecessary rift between religionists and futurists pre-dates the Common Era. This contrast emerged in ancient Greece, between Plato and Aristotle. A dualism emerged between spirit and matter, between other-worldly religion and this worldly religion. This dualism continued in the Christian tradition with Augustine. It would be eight centuries before Aquinas would seek to balance nature and grace, and eventually set the stage for the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

The advent of the Modern Age was welcomed with a great reservoir of millennial optimism by mainstream religionists. By the arrival of the 20th century, a whole culture of the future emerged, with its own array of prophets. Futurists like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, or Arthur C. Clarke began envisioning the near and distant future on earth and in space. Rather than providence, progress through science and technology ruled the day.

But after two World Wars, the idea of the "decline of the West" sobered the "grand march of progress." Historical and cultural pessimism tempered the human spirit. The eschatology shop of religion kept only part-time hours. If religionists dealt with the future at all, they did so largely from an apocalyptic mindset, rather in the spirit of the western empirical tradition.

The "Religious Futures" project aims to help heal this divide in culture. To create a new century worth leaving to our children, religion needs to engage the 21st century worlds of science and technology with foresight and leadership.


Our purpose simply stated is to help religionists become futurists, with both critical thinking skills and creative imagination. We see our audience as three-fold:

1) Practitioners:
The primary audience are clergy, non-profit leaders, or lay people who are trying to create religious value and enhanced futures in their congregational or community settings. The lack of futures orientation among this group is particularly lacking at present as few if any denominations in the U.S. have made preparations to mark the arrival of the third millennium. Through extension courses or intensives led by trained coordinators, we would like to help those who consider themselves religious change pioneers apply the discipline of "futures thinking" to their own congregational, community or global settings.

2) Educators:
The secondary audience are theologians, scholars, artists and scientists who are focused on the future of religion and spirituality in society. We would like to work alongside these educators to insure that the integration and explicit teaching of "futuristics" happens in their degree programs. Presently, we estimate less than 2% of all course material in religious or theological programs deals with the response of religion, ethics or the arts to a world of science or technology, a generation out. Through the venue of the American Academy of Religions and the Association of Theological Schools, we would like to offer evaluation tools which help institutions increase the "future fluency" of their theology, ministerial, sacred arts, or religious studies graduates.

3) Professionals:
Our third audience are professional futurists who are concerned with religion's role in society. Despite many futurists' personal faith, as a whole they often overlook the role of religion when making future forecasts. For example, in the late '70s, although signs of change were evident, forecasters missed the rise of the Iranian revolution and the re-Islamization movements it sparked. In the late '80s, futurists missed the role of Catholicism in undermining totalitarianism in Poland. Through the venue of the World Future Society, we would like to sensitize professional futurists to the field of "religious futures" research.


In a collaborative manner over a period of 18 months, the Religious Futures project aims to map out in practical terms how leaders conceive, choose and create preferable religious futures. The overall aims of the project are to:

1. document the values and practices of religious leaders who use future-oriented "developmental assets": e.g. learning disciplines such as, personal mastery, systems thinking, mental models, futures thinking, theological reflection, community building, etc.

2. construct a religious futures self-assessment inventory or "I.Q. profile" which allows adults to identify the future-oriented knowledge, values and experiences which they have already incorporated and what development assets they would like to acquire.

3. survey the various ways in which theological educators and religion professors teach "religious futures" and produce a curriculum guide, containing courses of instruction, instructional objectives and bibliographies.

4. develop models of assessment which institutions can use to integrate futures thinking into their theology, ministerial or religious studies degree programs.

5. develop with one or more "partner" institutions an "Intro. to Religious Futures" course available through virtual and extension education classes (using CD-Rom, videotape, and WWW on-line). This multi-media course would target:
--in-service development of educators.
--pre-service education for students in formal theological programs,
--continuing education for adult practitioners.

Here is an initial framework which suggests how a religious futurist practices this vocation. This model was built upon Peter Senge's concept of learning organizations in The Fifth Discipline. During this project, these six assets will be modified or developed further through need assessment and concept mapping into clusters of instructional objectives.

1. PERSONAL MASTERY--building a better person
--personal vision, inner conflict, refocusing on growth
--spirituality, mysticism, psychotherapy, intuition
--creativity, intelligence, artistry, imagination, prophetic insight
--self-assessment, life stories, motivated abilities
--career anchors, professional development planning

2. SYSTEMS THINKING--building a better world
--circles of causality
--international system, globalism, regionalism
--realized eschatology
--waves of technology
--models of change, wild cards --planetary stewardship, substainable futures
--revaluating meaning, faith, vocation after globalization

3. MENTAL MODELS--building better religions
--epistemological paradigm, four quadrants
--paradigm theory/shifts in religion
--world civilizations: convergence, divergence
--historical analysis, macrohistory
--evolutionary systems theory, unified social theory, etc.
--religion in relation to social order, binding up, or breaking with
--secularization, revivalism, cult formation in 21st century
--refining models through ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue
--internal religious reform without syncretism

4. FUTURES THINKING: rethinking our approach to the future
--the ideal philosophy
--ten periods of the future
--scenarios of U.S. and global society for 2025
--futures methodology: delphi polls, scanning, scenarios, etc.
--issues management and analysis

5. THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION: rethinking theology for the new century
--government, wealth, technology, ecology, children, seniors
--the arts, science fiction, the space age
--ethical choices in genetics, weapons research, sexuality, AI
--origins of contemporary theology in philosophy of science
--the unity of mankind

6. COMMUNITY BUILDING: rethinking religious service in society
--conflict resolution: denominations, communities, corporations
--building shared vision: fast forum(r)
--team learning, organizational change
--social innovation
--strategic alliances

1. Planning Phase: 3 months
During this phase the director and coordinator will refine the parameters of the project with key educators and leaders in the World Network of Religious Futurist. This phase would end once the institutional partners are identified and funding is secured.

2. Research Phase: 3 months
During this time, needs assessment of learners and institutions will be conducted in the field of religious futures. Likewise, various theologians, educators, scientists, artists and religious leaders throughout North America will be polled on, "What are the developmental assets of religious futurists?" On the basis of this research, final decisions will be made with partner institutions about appropriate instructional systems to empower leaders, whether religious educators or practitioners.

3. Development Phase: 6 months
The project's core team of educators will meet at least two times in 2-day sessions to map out the curriculum/content maps along with the "developmental assets"--each asset with corresponding competencies. The coordinator will also produce drafts of a Religious Futures curriculum guide, with the text and self-study materials for group review during this phase.

4. Testing Phase: 4 months
Adult learners and selected educators will be exposed to the proto-type curriculum at three diverse field testing sites with its assessment tools and evaluations. Based on feedback, revisions to the curriculum model and guides will be made. A 7-day "Religious Futures" institute will follow within a month for a group of 25 practitioners, followed by a 3-day "train the trainer" workshop, equipping coordinators on how to offer the course in their own community.

5. Production Phase: 5 months
The assessment tools, curriculum guide and supporting media, whether video/audio tapes, manuals, CD-ROMs or on-line web courses will be produced, marketed and made available to students and institutions for use. The model of training religious futurists will then be shared in professional journals and across the country at various workshops for religious educators and professional futurists. Final evaluation and program results will be personally reported to partner institutions and sponsoring foundations.


The "Religious Futures" project is being organized by the World Network of Religious Futurists (WNRF). The WNRF traces its origin back to 1980. At that time, the encounter of theology with future studies brought into being a field of inquiry called "religious futures," in which scholars, or "religious futurists" began forecasting alternative futures of religion's role in society.

The World Network of Religious Futurist today is led by the Rev. Dr. Richard Kirby, Seattle, WA. The WNRF is a professional society of religious leaders, with its newsletter, merit awards and annual meetings--the later usually held concurrent with the World Future Society, a society founded on scientific and secular assumptions of humanism.

In 1993, the discipline of Religious Futures received its first major text book, entitled The Temples of Tomorrow: world religions and the future, by Richard Kirby and the late Earl Brewer, Professor Emeritus of Religion and Society at Emory University. Working from the field of future studies, this classic asked what place religions might have in the 21st century, among the arts, in science and technology, global governments, communication, corporate wealth and outer space.

The Temples of Tomorrow established the discipline of religious futures in the future studies movement by drawing on the insights of comparative religion, theology, philosophy of religion and spirituality.

Through this project, the "Religious Futures" project aims to do for the practitioner, what The Temples of Tomorrow did for the discipline.


Your support of this project is needed. We need your ideas and critique to help reframe this project so as to be of greater use to the educational and religious institutions you lead. Please write or call today.

At this stage, the operational project is being funded. Contracts from educational institutions are welcomed for project-specific research and grants from foundations are welcomed.

The WNRF is a tax-exempt 501-C-3 non-profit group, in existence for almost ten years, and is available to receive grants in relation to this project.

CONTACT: Jay Gary via our online form.

© 1998-2008 by World Network of Religious Futurists.

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