An Historic Milestone in the Journey of the School and International Academic Partnership The Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) in partnership with Vrije Universität Amsterdam (VUA) launched a joint PhD programme on October 7, 2017 in Addis Ababa, at the EGST Auditorium.
A total of seven (four male and three female) applicants were announced as potential candidates for the first batch of researchers’ subject to further VUA assessment focusing in biblical studies, theology, church history and leadership, Islamic studies, and related fields.Representing EGST Council of Owners, EGST Board Chairperson, Dr Tesfay Yacob, expressed his gratitude to the leadership commitment of EGST and VUA in this partnership and remarked that this PhD programme with one of the leading universities in Europe is a privilege to EGST.The chairperson added that the contemporary generation is granted a privilege of studying the rich church history of Ethiopia, and EGST is well aware of this honour. “Our theology is more than an intellectual pursue and academic exercise; but it is about commitment to holistic vision of Christian life. So, our theology should strengthen, inform and sustain spirituality and not lose the relational aspect of Christianity,” he stated.After referring to church history and its legacy, Dr Tesfaye further emphasised that Ethiopian evangelicals did not properly fulfil the role of scholarship and has much to do to prepare Ethiopians and Africans for the 21st century to accomplish their responsibilities. “Our aspirations in this programme is to produce scholars to be a significant force in shaping the future of Ethiopian church to our calling, and EGST through this scholarship will help us to fulfil this role,” he concluded.Prof.Dr J.W. van Saane, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Theology at VUA, expressed her excitement and enthusiasm in this partnership. “We are very proud and excited about the launch of this joint PhD programme, unique in its worth and in our domain of theology and religious studies,” she stated. Outlining the background and preparatory work of the partnership, the Vice-Dean confirmed that the validation of EGST Masters Programmes as a condition for the admission into the PhD programme indicated a very high academic qualification. “It meets all academic standards used in Europe and America, and this is quite a success you should be proud of,” Professor Saane confirmed to the audience.She also underscored: “we are fully confident that this joint programme will give us a mutual benefit where not only you will benefit from our scholars, our knowledge and our resources but we as an institution in Amsterdam will also benefit from your knowledge, your focus and your personal commitment,” which combines two different worlds of European and African experiences.She further indicated that they interviewed seven promising PhD candidates with academic excellence and eagerness to develop, who will be based in Addis Ababa and provided with digital connection to VU’s online resources, learning projects, feedback sessions, and supervision. “They can stay with their families and we can support them from Amsterdam in a digital way, but they are subject to all regulations of VUA that includes the defence of their dissertation in Amsterdam,” Prof. Saane anticipated.In his welcome address to the ceremony, Dr Misgana Mathewos, Director of EGST recalled that “this is one of the exceptional days in EGST’s history not only because it marks the beginning of a long-awaited PhD programme but also because it opens up an additional and elevated opportunity for EGST to serve the Ethiopian churches and society by producing highly qualified theologians and leaders who could play important roles in reforming and transforming our Churches and society.”He further noted that “a PhD programme, which has been far away from our context and that has been accessible only for a few individuals in the past is now being realized in Ethiopia through EGST with all its qualities and challenges… While celebrating its beginning, we pledge to administer it according to international standards and expectations. Partnering with VUA leads us to do this and even to prepare ourselves well ahead for a day when we start EGST’s own PhD.”In his PhD prospectus speech, Dr Theodros Assefa, Head of EGST Academic Affairs, highlighted the appalling need of a PhD programme to meet the requirements of Ethiopian churches and society. “If we take a typical seminary, it needs to be staffed with two PhD-trained members in each theological sub-discipline: two in Old Testament; two in New Testament; two in Systematic Theology; two in Church History, two in Missions and two in Practical Theology. If the institution offers theology-related disciplines such as Development Studies and Management and Leadership, it needs at least two for each field of study,” he emphasized.Dr Theodros further projected that “each theological seminary needs sixteen to twenty doctoral degree holders. In the next ten years (from 2017 to 2027), we can envisage that each seminary needs between 30 and 50 PhD holders.” The Dean also emphasised the commitment of EGST to maintaining its programmes and the quality of the PhD through international partnership.In his inaugural sermon to the event, Dr Sigurd Grindheim, EGST faculty, witnessed the growth and advancement of EGST as an institution of higher education. “When I started teaching at EGST, only a few years ago, we were using a converted residence to conduct our classes. The living room had become a makeshift lecture hall, and the library was stuffed into a room that was so small you would knock over the bookshelves if you tried to move around in it,” he recalled. He compared the humble beginning of EGST and said: “by God’s grace, we now have facilities that are the envy of prestigious Western institutions, and we are launching a PhD program in cooperation with one of the leading universities in the world. God has been good to us.”Challenging the audience and teaching from 1 Corinthians 3:18, Dr Sigurd continued, “As we are inaugurating our PhD program, I pray that God will make us fools, so that we may become wise. I pray that the scholars that come to EGST will doubt everything they think they know, so that they can be given new insight and understanding. I pray that we will see scholars that question everything they have ever learned, everything they have learned from their family, everything they have learned from their community and from their culture, everything they have learned in church, everything they have learned from other Christians, everything they have learned during their education, everything they have learned in seminary, everything they have learned at EGST, everything they have learned from reading Western scholars, and everything they have learned from reading African scholars. I pray that we will see scholars that question all the wisdom they know, I pray that we will see scholars that become fools, so that they may become wise.”Former EGST Director (2008-2015), Dr Desta Heliso, who is appointed as Coordinator of the PhD Centre as of 15 September 2017, remarked that EGST has travelled a long journey to grow into an academic institution of international standards with the launch of this joint PhD programme and still has a very long journey to go.
“EGST does not believe that there is a shortcut towards societal betterment and academic excellence but is committed to a vibrant research environment which is characterized by academic freedom and intellectual independence to which the new joint PhD programme will make a significant contribution.” As the PhD Centre Coordinator, he announced the preliminary selection of seven candidates who will go through the application and admission procedures of VUA. Full-time students are expected to finish their study in 3-4 years, and part-time students in 5-7 years.The inauguration and ribbon cutting ceremony was made jointly by Pastor Zerihun Degu, EIFDA General Secretary, ECFE Board Chairperson and member of EGST Council of Owners and Prof. Dr J.W. van Saane, Vice-Dean of Faculty of Theology at VUA. Pastor Degue remarked that the launch of this programme has special meaning and significance for the Ethiopian churches,and can contribute to East African and African contextual scholarship at large.
According to recent news sources, the faculty of Theology at VUA has been ranked the 7th best in the world in 2017 world university QS ranking.(EGST PR, October 12, 2017 Addis Ababa)