Seminary education today is in crisis. Student enrollment and funding have collapsed while heavy reliance on adjunct faculty and student debt have become a matter of course. Traditional seminaries rooted in the university model and neoliberal economics are not going anywhere anytime soon, but we recognize a need for new types of seminaries to emerge on a completely different foundation.
Underground Seminary is inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the early 20th century German pastor, theologian, and resistor. Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde seminary experiment during World War II challenged the strictly academic approach to pastoral formation. The Western Christian tradition as a whole, and especially the institutions of higher education, were pervaded by spiritual inwardness, abstraction, and social apathy. Bonhoeffer consciously opposed these tendencies. For him, seminary education was a time of intensive preparation for service to others, with a focus on external reality, community life, and non-anxious embodiment.
As we have worked to nurture an organic community of leaders-in-training, we have been especially grateful for the witness and teaching of indigenous elders in Minnesota. The way out of empire-sickness and death is not forward into the technocratic future, but back to living in reciprocity and kinship with the living earth and all its inhabitants. Just as Jesus led a Jewish re-indigenizing movement in first-century Galilee against the overwhelming colonizing reach of the Roman Empire, we embrace the traditions of resistance to domination and the renewal of village life.