Five Funders Religious Colleges Should Get to Know

One of the earliest functions of American higher education, from its beginning, was to prepare new ministers for service in the church. More than 300 years after the founding of Harvard and other early American universities, a wide range of institutions large and small continue to carry out this mission. Many of these colleges are affiliated with specific religious denominations and offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in religion, theology, and related fields.

These schools are also private and thus lack access to state funding. Fortunately, many foundations make religious higher education and training for the ordained ministry elements of their higher education giving. Any seminary, Bible college, or other religious-affiliated higher education institution should keep these funders in mind.


  • Kern Family Foundation. Kern is a major funder of school choice programs, including charter schools, but it also funds religious higher education as part of its Faith, Work, and Economics program. This conservative funder believes many pastors lack sufficient preparation to speak to issues of work and economics, and how faith impacts both. Headquartered in Wisconsin, the foundation provides scholarships for study at selected seminaries and funds learning communities for pastors and theological educators to integrate their understanding of faith, work, and the economy.
  • Lilly Endowment. This Indiana-based funder supports business schools at large universities, but also operates a religion-oriented grantmaking program. Lilly's Religion Program emphasizes the education and development of future ministers, as well as helping existing pastors renew and maintain their commitments. Past Lilly Endowment grants have helped theological schools improve the economic well-being of future ministers and supported campus ministry programs. Prospective grantseekers should bear in mind that Lilly appears to prefer schools and programs based in Indiana.
  • Henry Luce Foundation. The Luce Foundation is one of the best friends the humanities has. Its funding programs include a theology program that encourages the development of religious leaders and theological thought. The foundation has supported faculty seminars, internships for theological students, professorships, and the development of religious education curriculum. Luce also is interested in the relationship of religion and the arts, Asian religions, and Christianity around the world.
  • Teagle Foundation. This funder believes that even in our technology-driven world a liberal arts education remains as valuable as ever. Teagle's Teaching and Learning program includes religious education at seminaries and church-affiliated colleges. Founder Walter C. Teagle, the former chairman of Standard Oil, was an early advocate of religious work and the foundation's grantmaking activities have supported that vision. The foundation is especially interested in programs that combine students' religious commitments and their academic interests to produce a richer, deeper college experience.
  • Templeton Foundation. If you're interested in theology as a tool, used in conjunction with other disciplines across the humanities and sciences, to explore and understand life's greatest mysteries, Templeton is the funder for you. The foundation is known for its unorthodox approach to grantmaking in the areas of science and education. Its Philosophy and Theology program is equally outside the box, looking for ways these disciplines can help advance scientific understanding. If you're willing to be creative and think big with your project, this is the funder to call.