Master of Arts (M.A.) in Indigenous and Inter-religious Studies (MA IIS)

Vancouver School of Theology continues its long standing partnership with First Nations communities and its partnerships with inter-religious communities through Iona Pacific Inter-religious Centre to make possible a M.A. in Indigenous and Inter-religious Studies.

The purpose of this degree is to provide students with the opportunity to engage in research and writing in a context where three major monotheistic faith traditions meet North American indigenous traditions and vice versa. It will make available the unique resources of VST’s partner institutions, Iona Pacific (inter-religious) and Yuuhaadax (indigenous), in addition to VST’s core faculty to offer a distinctive academic experience, both intellectual and spiritual. The degree will prepare students to participate in an increasingly pluralistic world and equip them to meet the challenges of religious diversity.

Primary goals of the program:

  • 1. To enhance theological expertise that is interdisciplinary in nature and cross-cultural in expression.
  • 2. To foster innovative theological research, transcending comparative study, to develop integrative faith-based knowledge and skills which address critical local and global needs in such areas as ecology, conflict, colonialism and globalization.
  • 3. To acknowledge the historical and contemporary role of the indigenous North American spiritual and intellectual tradition(s) as a world religion.
  • 4. To equip people for engagement in indigenous and inter-religious community life.

Program content, duration and location

The program will enable students to study the heretofore largely unexplored interface among indigenous religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity and their application in the world. A student in the MA IIS program will be able to accomplish appropriate competencies in depth for two of the four traditions of the IIS program and with some degree of familiarity for the other two traditions. Through course work, Supervised Field Experience, and an integrating seminar, students will treat pedagogically matters which cross a number of spiritual and intellectual boundaries areas. Most courses will engage two or more of the religious traditions. 45 credit hours will be allocated among:

Foundational core courses
Research methods 3 credits
Religious Traditions
(courses in one or more traditions)
6 credits
Sacred texts
(including oral traditions)
6 credits
Inter-cultural conflict resolution 3 credits
Spiritual formation in communities 3 credits
Ritual and ceremony in communities 3 credits
Electives 6 credits
Integrating seminars 3 credits
Supervised field experience in Indigenous,
Christian, Jewish or Muslim communities
6 credits
Culminating assignment 6 credits
Students will have two options for their culminating evaluative exercise:
A Directed Studies project and oral examination
A 75 – 90 page thesis

Competencies for MA IIS
A student in the MA IIS program will be able to accomplish the following competencies in depth for two of the four traditions of the IIS program and with some degree of familiarity for the other two traditions:

  • • Demonstrate knowledge about the following aspects of a religious tradition:
    • 1. What is knowledge
    • 2. Definitions of authority
    • 3. Cultural identities
    • 4. Sacred texts and canon
    • 5. Performative practices
    • 6. Spiritual formation
  • • Articulate commonalities and differences among religious traditions in respect to the six named aspects
  • • Demonstrate awareness of complexities and varieties of approach among religious traditions in respect to the six named aspects
  • • Demonstrate respectful communication, capacities for inter-religious dialogue, and leadership skills in interactions with communities and organizations related to religious traditions
  • • Articulate and demonstrate practices and strategies for conflict resolution and peace-making toward intercultural understanding and communication
  • • Demonstrate awareness of critical concerns of contemporary communities within each tradition on issues such as: identity, authenticity, prejudice, survival, etc
  • • Articulate how each tradition articulates/avoids/has tensions around interactions among religious traditions, on issues such as: collision, appropriation, and assimilation
  • • Articulate and assess possibilities for respectful communication among religious traditions about these critical concerns and interactions

Supervised Field Experience for MA IIS
Normally, a Supervised Field Experience for a student in the MA IIS program is set up by the School in conjunction with the Iona Pacific Centre or the Indigenous Studies Centre. The SFE included the following elements:

  • • Agreement between the School, the student, and an approved Supervised Field Experience site with appropriate mentorship in an Indigenous, Christian, Jewish or Muslim community or organization, or in an inter-religious organization
  • • The equivalent of 13-15 hours per week at the Field site over one or two semesters or in intensive format, totally 260 – 300 hours
  • • Naming of a mentor who can appropriately guide and evaluate the experiential and academic aspects of the Experience, or of two mentors for those components respectively who agree to coordinate their supervision of the student
  • • Establishment and reading of a relevant bibliography, averaging 50 pages/week
  • • Establishment and accomplishment of evaluative exercises—written, oral, or per-formative, with a guideline of 12-15 pages per semester or the equivalent
  • • Specification of a Learning Covenant at the beginning of the Field Experience, setting out the learning goals and agreements between the student and the mentor(s)
  • • A mid-term evaluation by the student and mentor(s)
  • • A final evaluation by the student and mentor(s)

This degree is a 45-credit hour program and can be completed in the equivalent of two years of full-time study. However, if a student wishes to study part time, all courses required for this degree must be completed in seven years from the date of first registration. Students admitted may be credited for courses of up to fifty per cent of credits already completed elsewhere in satisfaction of the core requirements.

In most cases, at least one-half of the degree courses will be provided on VST’s main campus or at approved extension sites or in conjunction with web-based course delivery. It is anticipated that students will also be engaged in learning and research projects at off site locations which have the appropriate instructional, research and peer community resources consistent with and supportive of the student’s course of study. Completion of course requirements will include at least some course work through the Native Ministries Summer School.

Admission requires a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution or the educational equivalent. For indigenous students, Yuuhaadax will be part of the assessment consultation. For others seeking recognition of equivalent experience or work, an assessment tool will be used.

Distinctive Resources
In addition to its own core and adjunct faculty, VST has available a range of resources for the program. The Iona Pacific Inter-religious Center offers expertise in the Abrahamic traditions and will bring Visiting Scholars, post-doctoral Fellows and other specialists to the degree courses. VST’s partnership with the Center for Indian Scholars, the Native Ministries Consortium and Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a makes available a number of traditional and academic educators in the field of indigenous knowledge. Proximity to Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and other Vancouver-area post-secondary institutions affords other research interactions, and appropriate course credits may be accepted from some of these institutions for transfer into the MA IIS, as determined by VST.

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