OMSC Introduces Online Certificate in Lived Theology and World Christianity - Princeton Theological Seminary

The Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), a research and training institute at Princeton Theological Seminary, is rolling out a series of online programs aimed at making its expertise on world Christianity available to students, scholars, and theologians across the Global South.

OMSC introduced a graduate-level remote course in lived theology during the 2022-2023 academic year and is now adding mini courses, a YouTube channel, and a podcast that are expected to go live in 2024. The center has also introduced a blog, “The Occasional,” that offers a lively mix of news and perspective pieces from OMSC staff, and the center’s global network of scholars, clergy, and lay leaders.

OMSC’s goal is to reach audiences in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania where Christianity has been growing rapidly for decades and where new scholars and theological approaches are emerging.

“We want to support emerging scholars and connect them to the larger conversation that’s taking place around world Christianity,” says Easten Law, the center’s assistant director for academic programs. “This is a multiple phase process, and the goal is to develop a diversity of online resources for learning about the world church, and to get resources into the hands of the world church.”

OMSC Director Soojin Chung agreed. “These digital programs open a new chapter in our historic mission to amplify the voices of the world Christian movement,” she said.

OMSC, which became part of Princeton Seminary in 2019 after nearly a century as an independent non-profit research center, is known for its pioneering research on world Christianity. The center publishes a noted research journal, International Bulletin of Mission Research, translates the work of global scholars into English, and holds a yearlong residential study program that brings scholars from around the world to the Seminary campus.

Chung noted that OMSC is respected in academic circles for disseminating research from non-Western scholars. The new online programs, she says, will help bring the work of those indigenous scholars to new audiences worldwide.

“This type of creative and dynamic online programming provides new avenues for Christians from around the globe to narrate their own stories,” she said.

Law began expanding the center’s online outreach during the pandemic with an eye toward reaching audiences interested in studying theology in the context of world Christianity but unable to travel to Princeton. His first project —a two-semester course and certificate called “Lived Theology and World Christianity”—drew students from Nigeria, Uganda, India, South Korea, and Japan.

A screenshot from OMSC’s online course and certificate in lived theology and world Christianity

The topic of lived theology—an emerging field that focuses on the study of everyday life through a theological lens—proved a strong draw for students, many of whom were already working in ministry or doing graduate work, Law said.

The course provided a novel mix of reflection and hands-on research, with students able to make their own ministries or local cultures the focus of a capstone project.

One student, an Anglican priest from Uganda, explored the experience of Ugandan migrant laborers in the Persian Gulf. Another student, a pastor who teaches at a Christian high school in Japan, examined the varying levels of faith commitment among the school’s alumni. 

“This is simply a great way to understand Christianity as a world religion,” he said. “It benefits people to understand how Christianity is practiced in different contexts, and it enriches us denominationally to have discourse with other Christian traditions.”

“We wanted to offer something that other schools weren’t doing,” Law said. “Lived theology provides members of the world church a means for looking at their own lives and contexts as an important source for theological reflection.”

“What makes this course particularly distinctive is that many of the students are in fact clergy or practitioners, and their own cultural contexts become the subject of their research.”

The course is now in its second year, and Law has added two facilitators located in Europe and Asia who, along with himself, can meet with and advise students in real time despite their disparate locations.

“We are trying to make this course a really high touch experience,” he said, “Online learning half a world away can feel lonely and we want every student to feel supported.”

Dr. Jehu Hanciles leads a seminar with OMSC’s residential scholars via video conference. OMSC is also livestreaming all of its seminars for participants around the world.

OMSC is expressing its commitment to online learning in other ways. For example, they now offer free livestreaming to audit their Residential Study Program seminars on various topics in mission and world Christianity. This fall, meanwhile, the OMSC is planning to launch two additional digital initiatives: a series of minicourses and a YouTube channel/podcast called the OMSC Roundtable. 

The minicourses, or asynchronous learning modules, seek to draw a similar audience as the lived theology course: Those wanting to build their knowledge and credentials on topics such as mission studies, intercultural theology, and world Christianity. For a modest fee, anyone can get instant access to the courses, which include pre-recorded lectures from top scholars, a curated set of readings that expand on the lectures, and a set of follow up questions.

“For those curious about what people might be talking about in world Christianity, these modules make for a great entry point or steppingstone, especially for masters level students, and also PhD candidates,” said Byung Ho Choi, a Princeton Seminary doctoral candidate who works with the OMSC and designed the courses.

Choi said the minicourses will also resonate with people from all walks of life, including clergy, seminary students, and lay people worldwide.

“This is simply a great way to understand Christianity as a world religion,” he said. “It benefits people to understand how Christianity is practiced in different contexts, and it enriches us denominationally to have discourse with other Christian traditions.”

Choi is also preparing content for the OMSC’s YouTube channel, which will be called “The Roundtable,” and will feature interviews with both established and up-and-coming scholars in a relaxed and conversational setting.

“We want to show who the rising stars of world Christianity and mission studies are, and to highlight the pioneering scholars who paved the way,” he said, adding that the interviews will also be repackaged as a podcast.

For now, those wanting to get acquainted with world Christianity can check out the OMSC blog, “The Occasional,” which takes readers across the world with articles ranging from “Prayer Camps and Faith-Healing in Ghana,” to “Anti-Christian Policies in the History of Japan” to “Latin American Pentecostal Communities in a Pandemic Stricken Madrid.”

Law said the mix of online offerings gives everyone from casual observers to serious scholars the chance to participate and to decide their level of involvement. “We’re really thinking about online learning from multiple standpoints—from a quick read of a blog post to a full, two-semester course, and everything in between,” he said.