Sexuality education of clergy in seminaries and theological schools: Perceptions of faculty advocates regarding curriculum implications

Sarah Catherine (Sally) Conklin, University of Pennsylvania


Sexuality education is a documented part of career training for many helping professions, but sexuality education of clergy in seminaries and theological schools has not been comprehensively described. The purpose of this study is to explore the present status and definition of sexuality education components in the professional training of clergy for particular ministry roles and to develop implications for curriculum (process and content) emerging from norms for ideal sexuality education, based upon faculty perceptions. The method is constructivistic inquiry which seeks explanation and perspective. Triangulation (using three data sources: interviews, focus groups, and printed archives) advances trustworthiness and authenticity based on evidence from narrative and literary methods of analysis. Data result from 39 semi-structured, hour-long narrative interviews with faculty members and others providing exemplary education. Participants represent 9 different faiths and denominations in 25 accredited institutions across the U.S. Focus groups, held in four diverse seminaries, involve 19 of the interviewees in groups of 3-6, discussing condensed interview data. Contributed archives support and extend the data. Questions addressed include the extent of sexuality education for clergy students, changes that have occurred, visions of what would be ideal, and restrictions which are limiting. Emergent themes to guide curricular descisions include: (1) balance between emphasizing sexual health/vitality and sexual harm/abuse in sexuality teaching; (2) integrating concepts and methods such as (a) spirituality and sexuality, (b) sexual health and justice, particularly regarding sexual orientation, (c) thinking and feeling in educating for wholeness with compassion, and (d) multidisciplines, recognizing the pertinence of sexuality for all theological study; (3) acknowledging variation and benefits of diversity in (a) those who teach, (b) educational methods, and (c) resources used; and (4) legitimating the content, need, and value of sexuality components within seminary education by (a) openly naming to overcome secrecy and denial, (b) encouraging institutional support through communication, and (c) commending a community of scholars possessing specialized knowledge and skill relative to human sexuality. Conclusions include recommendations for curriculum, strategies for implementation, and projected models for future research and professional education of clergy regarding sexuality issues in varied settings.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Higher education|Clergy|Health education

Recommended Citation

Conklin, Sarah Catherine (Sally), "Sexuality education of clergy in seminaries and theological schools: Perceptions of faculty advocates regarding curriculum implications" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9627904.