Religious Educational Institutions

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Religious Educational Institutions


organizations that prepare the ministers of various religions and provide a theological education. Religious educational institutions appeared in ancient states with the emergence of social groups—the priesthood and clergy—and the increased complexity of worship ceremonies and rituals, a knowledge of which could be mastered only after years of study.

The first religious educational institutions were established in connection with the temples of ancient Egypt and ancient Babylonia in the second millennium B.C. to train priests. In the middle of the first millennium B.C. in India and in the slave-owning states of Central and Middle Asia, Buddhist monasteries were founded, many of which became educational institutions. In addition to the monastery schools of Buddhism and its variant, Lamaism, India had Brahman caste schools, whose graduates frequently became professional priests.

With the rise of Christianity in the middle of the first century A.D., a new type of religious educational institution began to appear. The first catechetical school was founded in Alexandria (Egypt) at the end of the second century, and episcopal schools and schools for exegetes (interpreters of the Holy Scriptures) were established in Jerusalem, Rome, and other cities of the Roman Empire. A system of religious educational institutions gradually developed, including bishops’ (episcopal), catechetical, and pastoral monks’ schools, as well as boarding schools at monasteries. During the Byzantine period religious seminaries were founded by the Armenian-Gregorian and Georgian churches. Catholic religious educational institutions differed little from Orthodox religious schools and had a strictly expressed religious and professional tendency.

With the organization of universities (11th and 12th centuries), theological faculties began to be established. At the beginning of the 15th century, 18 of the 46 universities in Western Europe had theological faculties. The Catholic Church created a network of theological universities in Bologna, Oxford, Cologne, Louvain, and other cities. The University of Paris (the Sorbonne, founded in 1253) was considered the highest theological center. Later, a number of other types of religious educational institutions were formed, including theological universities and academies, theological faculties at secular universities, seminaries, colleges, and collegiums. In Catholic Rome the Gregorian (16th century) and Urbanian (17th century) universities were founded, as well as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (1603) and an ecclesiastical academy (1701). Protestant religious educational institutions were founded during the 16th century, including theological universities, theological faculties at secular educational institutions, religious academies and seminaries, colleges, and pastoral schools.

Muslim religious educational institutions—madrasahs—were first mentioned in the ninth century. For many centuries the educational system of the madrasah included theological, linguistic, and religious-legal subjects, as well as philosophy and the applied sciences. Later, however, with the exception of a few Muslim universities, the Muslim system of education provided strictly professional religious training.

Russia. Religious educational institutions arose in Russia in 1030, when by a decree of laroslav the Wise a school for Orthodox priests was founded at the episcopal cathedral at Novgorod. However, religious educational institutions were not developed in subsequent centuries. Orthodox clergymen were trained at a few fraternal schools attached to monasteries as well as at private schools at the homes of bishops. The only theological school was the Kiev Theological Academy, which was founded in 1632. At the end of the 17th century a monastery school was founded in Moscow, on the basis of which the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy was later established.

The development of religious education was promoted by Peter I’s publication of the Statute of the Religious Collegium (1721), which obliged the bishops “to have in their houses schools for training priests.” These schools, which were originally known as bishops’ schools, expanded to offer an eight-year program of instruction and began to be called seminaries in the second quarter of the 18th century. (There were 17 seminaries in 1740.) One of the first seminaries was founded by Feofan Prokopovich in St. Petersburg (1725); later, seminaries were opened in Moscow, Novgorod, Rostov, Chernigov, and Tobol’sk.

By the beginning of the 19th century there were 37 seminaries and 76 lower, bishops’ schools in Russia. From the end of the 18th century priests were trained at the St. Petersburg and Kazan theological academies (both founded in 1797); which in 1809 attained the designation of higher theological educational institutions. In 1814 the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy was reorganized and opened as the Moscow Theological Academy. By 1913, Russia’s religious educational institutions included four academies (with approximately 1,000 students), 57 seminaries (22,000 students), 186 religious schools (24,000pupils), and 85 women’s religious educational institutions. In addition, Russia had a Roman Catholic academy, Catholic collegiums and seminaries, a Protestant theological faculty at the University of Iur’ev, and Muslim educational institutions in Kazan, Ufa, Orenburg, Tashkent, and Bukhara. In contrast to other countries, in Russia religious education was offered only at religious educational institutions. There were no theological departments at Russian universities, but theology and church history were studied in all university departments, in addition to the compulsory academic disciplines.

Present-day foreign countries. Present-day religious educational institutions in foreign countries may be subdivided into four groups. The first two groups include theological universities, institutes, academies, and theological faculties at secular institutions of higher learning, which provide higher education and often award bachelor’s, master’s, candidate’s, and doctoral degrees. Secondary education is offered by theological seminaries, colleges, madrasas, and higher theological and Koran schools. Bible, catechetical, Koran, and monastery schools are among the foreign religious educational institutions that train lower-ranking clergymen. The greatest number of religious educational institutions are administered by the world religions—Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.

Higher clergy and specialists in Buddhist philosophy, history, and literature are trained at Buddhist institutions, including the institutes in Nalanda (India), Mandalay (Burma), and Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and the universities of Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara (Sri Lanka) and Kyoto (Japan).

The principal type of Muslim religious educational institution is the madrasah, which trains Islamic leaders. The Islamic universities of al-Azhar (Egypt) and el-Zitouna (Tunisia) train leaders for many Arab countries and Muslim Africa. There are also universities in Aligarh (India), the Punjab (Pakistan), and Ankara (Turkey). Several national universities have Islamic theological faculties and special faculties for the study of Islamic dogmas, shari’a, philosophy, and religious thought.

The largest network of religious educational institutions of all types belongs to the Catholic Church and includes seminaries and lycées and theological universities, and faculties of national universities, which provide a higher theological education but do not require the student to join a religious order. Pontifical academies and specialized higher educational institutions train, high-ranking prelates, church diplomats, and church administrative and scholarly staffs. The most important center for training clergymen is Rome, where there were 11 theological pontifical universities and institutes in 1970. The most famous of the pontifical universities are the Gregorian, the Urbanian, and the Lateran. Rome also has nine pontifical academies, 29 seminaries, and 94 colleges. Many educational institutions train missionaries. In Italy outside of Rome there are more than 60 religious educational institutions of various monastic orders, dozens of monastery schools, and local seminaries.

The Catholic Church maintains religious educational institutions in many countries of Western Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The so-called Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which is affiliated with the Vatican, finances 445 seminaries, in which more than 34,000 persons were studying in 1969. In various cities of the USA the so-called Society of Jesus (the Jesuit Order) has 28 universities and colleges. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) has as many as 30 schools of theology and philosophy run by religious orders. In the FRG, 25 specialized educational institutions, eight theological faculties, nine philosophical-theological schools, and 34 theological-philosophical educational institutions train priests. The Pontifical Missionary Institute of the FRG maintains about 70 seminaries in the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. During the 1960’s the Catholic Church established an extensive network of religious educational institutions in the developing countries of Asia. In 1970 there were more than 30 theological institutes, semninaries, and lycées in Africa.

The Protestant churches have religious educational institutions of various types. In 1970 in Western Europe there were more than 100 Protestant seminaries, theological colleges, and theological schools, and up to 70 religious academies, universities, and theological faculties. The American church reference work The 1969 Yearbook of American Churches lists 888 religious educational institutions of various religions, of which more than half train Protestant clergymen. Thus, the Baptist Church has 35 educational institutions, the Lutheran Church, 17, and the Presbyterian Church, 17. In Africa the Protestant churches have more than 100 theological seminaries, colleges, and bible schools, which train clergymen from the native population.

In Greece clergymen are trained at the Higher Theological School on the island of Khalkis, at the theological faculties of the universities of Athens and Thessaloniki, and at three seminaries. Finland has a seminary at Kuopio, Lebanon, the Balamand Seminary in the Tripoli diocese, and Cyprus, a seminary in Nicosia. In the USA there is a Greek theological school in Brookline, Mass., the St. Vladimir Orthodox Institute in New York state, and seminaries in Johnstown, Pa., and Jordanville, N. Y.

In India the Old Seminary at Kottayam is still open as well as the All-Christian College at Bangalore and the Serampore All-Christian University. Ethopia has a theological college in Addis Ababa, which provides higher education, and several secondary theological schools. The Coptic Church in Egypt trains its clergy at the theological faculty of the University of Alexandria. Lebanon has an Armenian theological seminary in Beirut.

In the USA, certain countries of Western Europe, and the Near East, there are yeshivas, which train Judaic clergymen and Talmudic scholars.

Theological education in Catholicism, Protestantism, and other religions is undergoing a crisis: the number of religious schools is decreasing. This trend is particularly noticeable in the religions and churches that operate in the socialist countries. In the People’s Republic of Bulgaria there is a religious academy and a seminary, and in the People’s Republic of Hungary, Reformist, Lutheran, and Catholic academies in Budapest, a Reformist academy in Debrecen, and seminaries. The GDR has theological faculties at a number of universities, theological and catechetical seminaries, colleges, and religious schools, and the People’s Republic of Poland has Christian and Catholic academies in Warsaw, as well as theological faculties and seminaries. In the Rumanian Socialist Republic there are theological institutes in Bucharest and Sibiu, as well as a Protestant academy in Sibiu and seminaries. The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic has theological faculties in Prague, Bratislava, and Presov, in addition to theological schools and colleges, and the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslovia has a theological faculty in Belgrade, Orthodox and Protestant seminaries, and a monastic school.

USSR. As of 1970, clergymen for the Russian Orthodox Church were being trained at the Moscow Theological Academy (located in Zagorsk) and the Leningrad Theological Academy, as well as at seminaries in Zagorsk, Leningrad, and Odessa. The Moscow academy has a section for correspondence work in the courses of the seminary and the academy and graduate courses. The academy’s graduates and parish clergy who have a higher theological education are granted the degrees of either master or doctor of theology after defending their dissertations. Priests from foreign countries also enroll at these religious educational institutions.

Secondary religious educational institutions include the pastoral-theological courses of the Georgian Orthodox Church (Mtskheta in the Georgian SSR), Protestant theological courses at Tallinn and Riga, which train pastors and preachers, Catholic seminaries and theological courses at Kaunas and Riga, bible courses of the evangelical Christian Baptists (Moscow), and a yeshiva attached to the Moscow Great Synagogue. Muslim clergy are trained at the Higher Theological School in Tashkent and at the Mir-Arab madrasah in Bukhara, which has a seven-year course of instruction. The Armenian Church has a religious academy at Echmiadzin near Yerevan, with two divisions—the academic division and the seminary. The Echmiadzin Academy also trains clergy for the foreign dioceses and communities of the Armenian Church.

Inasmuch as the church is separate from the state in the USSR and the school from the church (Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR of Jan. 21, 1918), religious educational institutions are not part of the state system of public education, and theological subjects are not studied in secular schools.


Tokarev, S. A. Religiia v istorii narodov mira, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965.
Ranovich, A. B. O rannem khristiantsve. Moscow, 1959.
Solov’ev, S. M. Istoriia Rossii s drevneishikh vremen, book 8. Moscow, 1962.
Nikol’skii, N. M. Istoriia russkoi tserkvi, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Koval’skii, N. A. Vatikan i mirovaia politika. Moscow, 1964.
Shpazhnikov, G. A. Religiia stran Afriki. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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