for ISKCON News on Dec. 2, 2011
A new course offered by Bhaktivedanta College at the ISKCON community in Radhadesh, Belgium, promises to open up a host of career opportunities for ISKCON devotees.
Bhaktivedanta College already offers a substantial list of scriptural study course such as Bhakti Sastri and Bhakti Vaibhava, as well as seminars and workshops on japa, kirtan, and other facets of devotional life. But so far, it has only offered one full degree course—a B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies validated by the University of Chester in the U.K.
Thus the new course, a three-year B.A. Honors in Educational Studies, Theology and Religion that will run from mid September 2012 to late June 2015 is a major step for the College as it branches out into new territory.
“About a year ago Bhaktivedanta College began revamping itself, and taking a fresh look at its identity, strengths, and challenges,” says course director Rasamandala Dasa, who started ISKCON Educational Services in his native UK, and has worked on many Vaishnava Training and Education (VTE) courses. “And staff found that one of their major challenges was that many devotees, particularly those who have grown up in ISKCON, don’t want to ‘join up’ and live in the ashram as brahmacharis, as we used to. They want to be active and make a contribution in the world, while at the same time progressing spiritually and maintaining a degree of contact with ISKCON.”
So Bhaktivedanta College came up with a new course that amalgamates the two—offering students an education with real career prospects, into which they can integrate their spiritual aspirations.
The course will be validated by an as-yet-to-be-confirmed leading UK University, and degrees from it will be recognized in the UK and in most other countries. Graduating students will be invited to award ceremonies both at Bhaktivedanta College and at the validating university in the UK.
The course will open up a variety of career prospects, in areas such as primary and secondary teaching both inside and outside of ISKCON, leading ISKCON educational institutions, lecturing in adult higher education, and corporate training and human resources. Graduates will also be eligible to apply for positions as prison chaplains or education officers, museum guides, and education officers for school programs run by charity organizations.
“We’re also working with the I-Foundation, which runs the first two state-funded Hindu schools in the U.K., called Krishna Avanti, to create teaching career opportunities,” says Rasamandala. “As well as the two primary schools that are already open, they are looking to open two more schools—one primary and one primary and secondary—in September 2012. As a result, they will have a strong need for as many as 150 teachers over the next six or seven years, as they gradually expand to capacity. What’s more, because they’re faith schools, they will really need teachers with a good grounding in Vaishnavism. And that, of course, is where Bhaktivedanta College comes in.”
Bhaktivedanta College’s new three-year course won’t bring students all the way to Qualified Teacher Status—they would typically be required to spend a fourth year at another school to get their Post Graduate Certificate of Education in order to teach. But the College and Krishna Avanti School have taken advantage of a new government initiative, the Graduate Teacher Program, which will allow students to go straight to work at one of the Krishna Avanti Schools and get their practical teacher training on the job.
“We are currently working on getting one of the schools—most probably the original Krishna Avanti in Harrow—accredited as a training school,” Rasamandala says.
Of course, the Bhaktivedanta College course will have some training in teaching skills, but it will also look at a much broader picture, including the theory, psychology, theology, and philosophy of education. It will also look at the history of education, both in the greater world, and in ISKCON.
“All these academic topics will be viewed with devotional insight from the perspective of the Vaishnava tradition,” Rasamandala explains. “We’ll give a lot more attention to the role of values and character—both as the aim of education, and as the means. For instance, what roles do our moral behavior and our sadhana, or spiritual practices, play in the assimilation of knowledge? We’ll also look at education as being transformational, not just informational.”
Students in the course can do up to fifty per cent of their work in theology and religious studies as well as educational studies. This element of the course will cover world religions, an overview of the Hindu tradition, and the epistemology of Vaishnavism.
Students will also get the opportunity to get educational placement for one semester, at an educational project either inside or outside of ISKCON, where they will be able to do research and get some work experience.
Student life during the course is also rich—full facilities are provided for personal, spiritual, and recreational needs. Because they will live on campus in the active Radhadesh community, students will have many opportunities for personal spiritual development through the temple morning program. They will also have quality Krishna conscious association, with the many scholarly devotees who regularly visit Bhaktivedanta College.
Material facilities are not forgotten either—all students are provided with accommodation and meals, and have access to a gym, a sauna, a student lounge, and one of the best Indic and Hindu Studies libraries in Europe with over 10,000 books.
Once students have graduated from the course, Bhaktivedanta College will continue to look after their ongoing professional development with further training programs.
And the College is not stopping with creating career opportunities in education. In the future, it’s hoping to offer degree courses in business administration, and in the performing arts.
“We’re realizing now in ISKCON that being a full-time devotee doesn’t have to mean being in the institution, or the brahmahcari ashram—one can be a fully dedicated devotee, serious about Krishna consciousness, while being a responsible married person with a career,” says Rasamandala. “So we’re putting a lot of emphasis on giving positive career and life opportunities to our students. Being well situated economically tends to be actually conducive to our spiritual life. So it’s important to us that they can not only study in an uplifting spiritual environment, but also come away with something that’s going to be useful in the real world.”
Bhaktivedanta College’s BA (Hons) in Educational Studies, Theology & Religion will begin on Monday September 17th, 2012. The application deadline is April 30th, 2012. The College is looking to select ambitious, spiritually-minded students. If you have such aspirations, please send for a prospectus by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +32 86 323277.