Internationalization at Fuller

In 1987, as a French native working in France with an organization led by North African Christians, I was attending a Muslim Awareness Conference in Belgium and J. Dudley Woodberry, professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller, was the plenary speaker. His knowledge sparked my interest. By the next summer, thanks to a scholarship for international students, I was in Pasadena at Fuller, taking four classes in Islamic Studies.

My personal story is just an illustration of how the School of Intercultural Studies (SIS) at Fuller has long been internationally minded. Charles Kraft elaborated on this when he wrote the history of the School of Intercultural Studies (SIS).1 This should not come as a surprise since the proclamation of the gospel always involved international elements, as illustrated by the multinational crowd gathered at the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, by Paul crossing linguistic and geographical boundaries, and by churches establishing networks around the Roman Empire to share knowledge, resources, and workers.

As an educator in SIS, I appreciate my school’s vision to equip students for international ministry, but I regularly ask myself what the word international means when applied to mission scholarship and academic achievements. A brief look at the biblical narrative shows that Joseph’s leadership skills and Daniel’s competency in another language and literature developed away from home in Egypt and Babylonia respectively (Gen 39:2–4; Dan 1:4–5, 17). The international aspect of learning is evident in other religious contexts as well. During the Muslim Abbasid Period,2 for example, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Christian, and Muslim scholars exchanged knowledge via the bayt al-hikma (house of wisdom) model. In the twelfth century, Toledo became “a center of study as scholars from all over Europe came to work with native speakers of Arabic.”3 But eventually, the educational model with strong centers where knowledge was primarily conveyed in physical classrooms may have contributed to the impression that knowledge was not mobile and did not necessitate ongoing international exchange. Globalization has been a wake up call to many educators. It helps us think more intentionally about what we mean by international. Today, “internationalization”4 is a buzzword in many higher-education institutions as they address the interconnectedness and competitiveness arising from globalization.

As I was looking at a way to showcase how I am presently involved internationally through the School of Intercultural Studies and, more precisely, the Islamic Studies Emphasis, I came upon the findings of a recent survey by the International Association of Universities (IAU) that provides a suitable framework for my reflections.5 This report identifies the top five reasons for internationalization, which I address below, with illustrations from my own experience at Fuller.6

1. Improve Student Preparedness

There are many important changes that must be taken into account in order to equip students to deal with present realities in the Muslim world. One localized Christian response to Islam can have the effect of a tornado in other parts of the world. For example, when American pastor Terry Jones recently had the Qur’an burned in Florida, U.N. workers in Afghanistan were killed in retaliation. Thus, preparing students to make ministry decisions that are concurrently good for the local and global church is a new aspect of learning.

The global church is watching while students are taking classes in Pasadena or on Fuller’s regional campuses. For example, when Fuller engaged in dialogue with Muslims on the Pasadena campus (to proclaim the gospel, reduce conflict, and foster healthy Christ-like relationships with Muslims) a number of church leaders in majority-Muslim contexts complained that Fuller had forsaken them. One common argument was, “How can you sit at the same table with Muslim leaders when we, in some of our countries, cannot get a permit to build a church?”7 One response could have been to stop dialoguing with Muslims. Instead, it was better, from a missiological standpoint, to respond to this valid question by defining the unique way Evangelicals engage in dialogue with Muslims, which is often misunderstood, and by showing that peacemaking does not mean watering down the gospel.8

The global preparedness of Islamic Studies students also requires they understand the international connectivity of the Christian and Muslim communities. There are very few places in the world today where the churches do not have to wrestle with how they understand Islam. This is where the connectedness within the global church can be a true asset. In some parts of the world, like in the Middle East or Africa, Christians have been living with Muslims in the same cities for longer than in some European countries, for example. They have developed models of Christian-Muslim relations that can help Christians in Europe or the United States, who are currently wrestling with how to deal with the greater visibility and zeal of the Muslim communities in their midst. On the other hand, Europe and the U.S. can also contribute to the missiological thinking of Christians in the Middle East and Africa by bringing fresh ideas from their own experience of dealing with Islam. But preparing students for these new global realities means not only gaining this awareness, it also requires they learn international missiological concepts and acquire intercultural skills that will make them participants as they engage with their local contexts with the global realities in mind. This is one more reason to encourage internationalization of higher education so that students can leave Fuller with a feeling of global responsibility in their missiological thinking.

2. Internationalize the Curriculum

In order to prepare students to participate in the global conversation, it is important, according to the IAU report, to internationalize the curriculum. This is also a concern for the Islamic Study Emphasis at Fuller. In its presentation of the emphasis the Fuller website asks prospective students, “How will you participate in the global conversation about Islam?” And then proposes how Fuller will them help.

In the past, physical classrooms were the preferred space for preparing students. This created some problems since students were often disconnected from the international context in which they wanted to work. To overcome this challenge, professors often opened windows to the world by using case studies from missionary enterprises abroad, giving assignments on cross-cultural ministries and churches, and giving voice to mid-carrier Christian workers and international students who were sitting in the classroom. These activities are improved today by the use of new technologies, such as online courses, and the increased mobility of students as I will explain later.

I attended a consultation organized by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) where the very issue of the pedagogy of multinational classrooms in theological education was discussed with local faculty and students and several other domestic and international seminaries. We learned important lessons from a report of a study they had conducted.9 Many questions were addressed during the three-day world-café style conversational process: recruitment and accommodation of international students, learning and teaching with the world in mind, analysis and problem solving from other cultures, being sensitive to learning styles and teaching styles from other cultures, issues of contextualization of knowledge, and so forth. I shared some of our own experiences in SIS, such as not accepting a course description if it does not include readings from international authors, and one of the five learning outcomes of the Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies (MAICS) that states, “Graduates will participate in the mission of God and the ministries of the global Church from an evangelical missiological perspective.”

The practicum in Lebanon is another example of how students are meeting the world while at Fuller. While attending the Lebanon practicum, students experience living in a multifaith environment, learn theories and valuable information from international speakers at the Middle East conference at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, acquire linguistic knowledge through the study of Levantine Arabic, and gain praxis as they participate in local ministries.10

Jehu-Hanciles-640x500-72dpiGlobalization, Migration, and Transformation

by Jehu J. Hanciles

Christianity is the most migratory of religions, and there is a strong argument to be made that the tide of South-North migrations has a greater implication for Christianity than any other world religion. For one thing, South-North migrations are significantly shaped by colonial linkages, and not only did those same colonial powers (Japan excepted) claim to be Christian, but colonial expansion was intimately related to the Western missionary project. In any case, the fact that the southward shift in global Christianity’s center of gravity coincides with this epochal reversal in the direction and flow of global migrations is of historic consequence. It is fairly obvious that every missionary is a migrant in some sense; but I will also argue that every Christian migrant is a potential missionary. . . .

Read more of this excerpt from Hanciles’s Beyond Christendom »

3. Enhance the International Profile of the Institution

Why did I choose Fuller in 1987? Was there no seminary in France to equip me to work in Muslim contexts? At that time, I did not know of any that integrated missiology, Biblical studies, and Islamic studies to the same degree as Fuller. For several decades, Fuller was “the place to be” for those who wanted to study Islam from a missiological perspective. J. Dudley Woodberry trained many doctoral students who today are deans or professors in seminaries around the world. Does the increase in the number of seminaries that offer Islamic Study programs around the world today call for an enhancement of the international profile of Fuller? Interestingly in his review of the IAU report mentioned earlier, Francisco Marmolejo sates that compared with other regions of the world, “results suggest that institutions in North America are not bothered with the notion of increasing their international profile.”11 But what about Fuller?

When I travel around the world, I see that Fuller still attracts many students. Most of them already know about Fuller before my arrival, but the questions they are asking are less about the possibility of coming to Fuller, but why they should choose Fuller over other institutions. The other question that I often get is whether Fuller offers other options than the physical classroom considering that the international crisis is slowing down the mobility of students in certain parts of the world due to visa restrictions, tuition increase, financial crisis, wars, and political unrest.12

I will mention two factors that will allow us to reflect on these questions. First, the purpose of the mobility of professors should be revisited. Over the past five years, I had the opportunity to teach intensive courses in several countries: France, Switzerland, Thailand, the Philippines, Lebanon, India, and China. Some were at Fuller’s initiative and some were mine. I found that spending time at other institutions abroad was useful to hear the questions and concerns of the churches abroad. But it also gave me the opportunity to share what Fuller has to offer to the worldwide church not as “the” place to be but as “a” place to be for doing global missiology. I believe that as students have increased opportunities to choose between institutions and forms of learning it is important for us to define clearly what we have to offer to global missiology.

Second, there must be an ongoing reflection on the new forms of online learning that increase Fuller’s visibility worldwide. The Master of Arts in Global Leadership and the growing number of online classes offered in the MAICS are key aspects of the internationalization of Fuller. In my first online class it has been a delight to have discussions with students scattered around the world, who can apply the principles they learn to their immediate ministry context and share their lessons immediately with their classmates. Last week, one of my student suggested that since the required articles I chose dealt with several countries represented in the class, we should give classmates the possibility to evaluate the reading from their context online so that other students could benefit from their firsthand access to the contexts explored in class. Last week, when I visited the virtual teahouse I have set up for my online course and observed the interactions between students from Nigeria, Indonesia, Korea, Greece, and other countries, I thought this is a wonderful way to experience the global church.

The current trend to gain greater global visibility comes with challenges. For example, when the curriculum is only in English does it miss the richness of particular cultural views and the local organization of knowledge? I recently taught in two environments, Spain and China, in which the students had limited knowledge of English. I was constantly asking myself: do they miss important lessons because I teach in English?13 Another challenge is to know how to create global sensitivity. The beautiful passage of Revelation 7:9 (NIV) that describes “a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” is a reminder of the desire to be united with brothers and sisters from around the world. Snapshots of this heavenly gathering are manifest at international conferences such as the 2010 Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization in Cape Town. However, as we enjoy being together, we are also are reminded of the beauty of diversity, and the challenges that come with it. We have to work hard at being an international gathering. It is sometimes expected that if we share a common language, we understand each other. But words are a small part of what helps us to feel connected. Multinational classrooms can be a great platform to experience what it means to meet as the international body of Christ. But for this to happen every nation must be given the same level of international visibility.

4. Strengthen Research and Knowledge Production

The pressing missiological issues I introduced earlier, such as multifaith dialogue and the levels of church contextualization, are two examples of the conversations that need to take place in the global church and require collaboration between institutions, churches, and mission organizations. Research is needed in a plethora of areas to define what it is to live and interact as a global church. For example, what does it mean to be a local body of Christ that has no choice but to interface with churches worldwide because of the interconnectedness of today’s world? In my home country, France, the growth of ethnic churches brings church members from abroad who worship next to traditional churches. This new religious landscape raises questions about church relations, church identity, and corporate witness. Another crucial question for research in my field of studies is the nature of Muslim evangelism. Many churches are using traditional approaches that are not relevant when Muslim and Christian communities are brought into greater proximity by our interconnected world. Reclaiming the word evangelization, when it has sometimes been used as a subversive method or misrepresented Christ, becomes an important missiological task. Several doctoral students from the Middle East studying at Fuller are offering precious findings from their own context. They strengthen missiological research on Muslim-Christian relations by researching theological texts only available in Arabic.

Another form of producing knowledge that contributes to global missiology is provided by the yearly missiology lectures offered on campus. I had the privilege of organizing the 2007 Lecture where scholars from the United Kingdom, Ghana, Lebanon, and the United States shared their research on Muslim-Christian relations.14 This gathering provided a unique opportunity to share views from around the world. As I am writing this article, I am also thinking that we should provide more opportunities for students to interact with our visiting scholars who are on campus for extended periods of time from various parts of the world. International missiology conferences are another good way for scholars to exchange their views and research projects. This should be a growing trend because of the growing pool of scholars in missiology around the world. As associations of missiology are popping up on every continent, there is a growing hope that some fresh research will address the burning issues of global mission.

I was recently in China, with faculty and students from Fuller, under the leadership of Al Dueck. One of the highlights of this trip for me was meeting seminary professors and students and learning from them firsthand what mission means in China. Another important moment was when we spent an entire afternoon with the faculty and some students from the Department of Philosophy at Fudan University, Shanghai, discussing the status of religion in China. Then, in Beijing, I had an excellent conversation with a Muslim student who studies Muslim-Christian relations. This was followed by email exchanges when I returned to Fuller. When I remember my encounter with Chinese scholars, I can only thank God for the possibilities we have today to interact so easily with scholars from multiple contexts. As I listened to them sharing, I was amazed by the complexity and yet the awesome nature of the global task of mission.

5. Diversify Its Faculty and Staff

The Islamic Studies Emphasis at Fuller reflects the diversity among SIS faculty. One professor is Lebanese, another is French (myself), and two others are North Americans with long experience working abroad. There are many advantages to having a diverse faculty, as we do, throughout the institution of Fuller: we can challenge one another because of our training in diverse cultural contexts, and we can integrate our diverse experiences in mission into the curriculum.

Inviting professors from other parts of the world to teach a class on campus is also an expression of diversity. I already talked about the benefits of teaching internationally for myself and for my students. But the new global landscape necessitates a two-way exchange of professors. However, bringing international professors to campus for a short time or organizing a yearly Missiology Lecture is not enough. This may create a silo effect where global conversations are limited to a specific time of the year. The awareness that we are interconnected with the worldwide church must become the DNA of our institution. As a result, it should become clear to everyone on campus—whether faculty, staff, or student—that we must learn to listen to what the churches globally and locally have to say.


I am aware that this discussion has highlighted many positive initiatives at Fuller. All the five aspects of internationalization that I used to frame my article find some illustrations at this institution. But I have a number of questions. Marmolejo raises a valid issue: “We assume that internationalization is good, but we often lack any data to support our assumptions.”15 Future research is therefore crucial to see what is good and what is not so good in the internationalization of institutions.

Furthermore, we have yet to define what biblical assumptions shape our strategies to internationalize our seminaries. We know what secular institutions see as important. But as we think of our subject matter, we must ask ourselves what we draw from the Bible that shapes the trajectory that leads to the production of knowledge in a global world.

I have to ask myself regularly, as an educator, what are the biblical values that guide my international initiatives? Two of them can be offered in conclusion to stimulate further discussion. First, do we believe that we need each other as we engage in global missiology? And second, how much are local seminaries ready to be transformed by interfacing with the global church? For example, to what extent do the growing churches in the Muslim world transform Fuller? Or how does the growing missiological reflection taking place in Asia influence Fuller? When the Apostle Paul met churches outside Jerusalem and Judea he not only became aware of local realities foreign to him but he was also deeply transformed by these encounters.

1. Charles H. Kraft, SWM/SIS at Forty: A Participant/Observer’s View of Our History (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2005).
2. Amira K. Bennison, The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
3. John L. Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 333.
4. According to Jane Knight, internationalization is the “process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions, or delivery of post secondary education.” J. Knight, “Updated Internationalization Definition,” International Higher Education 33 (2003): 2–3.
5. The International Association of Universities (IAU) is a global association of universities and other higher education institutions. The report I am referring to was published in September 2010. It is IAU’s third global survey on this issue, entitled Internationalization of Higher Education: Global Trends Regional Perspectives; see
6. In his review of the 2010 IAU report, Francesco Marmolejo writes, “Worldwide, the top five reasons for internationalizing an institution are, in order of importance, to improve student preparedness; internationalize the curriculum; enhance the international profile of the institution; strengthen research and knowledge production; and diversify its faculty and staff.” Francisco Marmolejo, “Internationalization of Higher Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected,” October 22, 2010 blog in WorldWise: Commentary from Globetrotting Higher-Education Thinkers, on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education;
7. This position does not reflect the experience of all believers. As I was writing this article, I was delighted to hear the news that in July 2011 the actual churches affiliated to the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) received the official recognition by the Algerian government, which allows them to have places for worship where believers can gather.
8. For further detail see the book published as a result of this dialogue effort at Fuller: Mohammed Abu-Nimer and David Augsburger, Peace-Building By, Between and Beyond Muslims and Evangelical Christians (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2009).
9. This is an unpublished report. But organizers of this Consultation plan to publish an article with their findings.
10. For example, past practicum placements included work with at-risk youth, Bedouin communities, or Palestinian refugee camps.
11. Marmolejo, “Internationalization of Higher Education.”
12. Recently several students from Yale University who had a scholarship to study at the prestigious University of Al-Azhar in Cairo for a semester had to unexpectedly shorten their stay and return home because of the political events in Egypt. Likewise, one recent cohort of the Doctor of Missiology program at Fuller had to move, at the last minute, from Cairo to another Middle Eastern city because of the political unrest in Egypt.
13. To address some of these challenges Fuller has created Korean and Hispanic study programs.
14. Last year’s Missiology Lecture featured a scholar from Sri Lanka.
15. Marmolejo, “Internationalization of Higher Education.”

This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2011, “Where In the World Are We? Reflections on Fuller’s Expanding Global Reach.”