Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies

Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies

(MA degree)


The Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies program focuses on the concept of a mutual learning exchange between cultures within and beyond North America. The program is multidisciplinary and strives to develop each co-learner’s heart and mind through the disciplines of anthropology, missiology, theology, Bible, church history, ethics, and spiritual formation. The program is holistic in scope, seeking to create opportunities for co-learners to gain both knowledge and experience appropriate for the 21st century.

The Portland Seminary faculty, in conjunction with the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) is dedicated to equipping men and women for meaningful engagement within cultural diversity, including global and local cultural contexts. The majority of instructors for the MAIS are Indigenous North Americans.

This unique program provides teaching from alternative epistemologies and pedagogies (anthrogogies) that assist co-learners in the creation of informed paradigms beyond traditional western models.  Guided field activities are central to the co-learner’s experience. Graduates will serve in a variety of ministry roles such as:

  • Anthropologically informed community leaders
  • Specialized leaders such as organizational cultural liaisons and inter-cultural specialists
  • Pastors and church planters in the multi-ethnic/inter-cultural church
  • Inter-cultural missionaries and ministry personnel
  • Inter-cultural parachurch leaders
  • Overseas ministry personnel
  • Camp or university campus spiritual directors

The Curriculum Philosophy

Portland Seminary and the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies have pursued a relationship with one another as a means of supporting the education of Indigenous peoples in the area of theological education and development. After years of work and planning by Native leaders experienced in theology and mission, NAIITS has produced an adult-focused methodology that allows NAIITS, together with George Fox, to more effectively to serve Indigenous Americans and other Indigenous peoples admitted to the program.

The MAIS program is primarily geared to an Indigenous North American student population. However, students from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply. If you desire an education filled with non-western constructs and learning experiences, this program may be right for you. Admission to the program is determined on a case-by-case basis.

We have identified the following principles as being of particular importance if our effort at education and formation in a First Nations context is to be successful:

  1. Training and formation must be incremental.  As noted, we must not allow our desire for impact to drive the instructional methods, content or expectations beyond student capacity or availability.
  2. It must be modular, allowing for ease of entry and exit into the learning stream and the learning circle.  A linear, building-block model of instruction will not provide an adequate means for the acquisition of “knowledge” for Indigenous people given their current context and the history of their experience within the mainstream educational system. 
  3. It is progressive and does not dwell on the use of past knowledge alone but utilizes historic ways of knowing and relating knowledge to access and promote new knowledge and experience.  To that end, we seek to merge the best of the past and the best of the present as the proper foundation upon which to create a solid future. 
  4. It is focused locally and connected more widely to ensure that the circle is not a new creation at some distance from the community.  It accommodates the local community immediately in both the learning and the teaching while simultaneously introducing the local people to the wider relationships of the church.
  5. It is mission focused.  The intent is to increase the capacity of Indigenous peoples to engage in effective mission – at home and abroad (whatever and wherever that might take them).
  6. Those involved must be challenged to see the spectacular horizon of God’s mission among and through Indigenous peoples.
  7. All ministry/mission study will be undertaken in a contextualized or inculturative fashion in both local and extended global content as well as in methodology of instruction and focus of learning.
  8. People involved in the program must remain active in their local context.  We have already made clear that failure to do so will mean failure to address the theological disadvantage of First Nations people effectively.  It is crucial, therefore, that all approaches seek to maximize presence in the local context.
  9. Participants serve the local Church today as a part of the learning and teaching experience, rather than waiting for certification.  As an approach, this serves two functions.  First, it creates ownership of the process in the community and the church within the community.  As most development models make clear, if someone does not own it, they will not care for it.  The same will be true of a program of biblical and pastoral preparation.  Second, it provides a sort of ‘apprenticeship’ approach to the mentoring and learning process.  The teaching/learning paradigm is not perceived as a one-way approach to acquiring knowledge, but is instead perceived as a mutual pursuit of understanding.
  10. Vocation and spiritual-gift discernment is integral to the process and ongoing.  The beginnings of the process lie in the heart of the process as spiritual formation.  Because we see competence and spiritual formation as primary to our history as a people and to the ongoing transmission of the gospel in story and teachings, it will be imperative that people work from the base of their gifting.
  11. Training and ministry is collegial and team based.  As noted previously, this is community learning in all senses of the word.  The learners will have much to teach as will the teachers have much to learn.  The objective is enhanced mutual understanding, not the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, or for the strictly utilitarian purpose of a degree.
  12. People are equipped with a practical personal and communal prayer discipline.
  13. The focus of the training is broad and holistic, not compartmentalized.  Here again we emphasize that a disconnected learning process and/or content will not serve Aboriginal people well.  There is a critical need to ensure the content has broad applicability in life – is itself life-based, not simply knowledge or skill focused – so as to ensure it integrates thoroughly.
  14. Mentors/elders are to be seen as a key to the effective process of both decolonization and indigenization – even if many (depending on context) have not themselves been decolonized.
  15. The emphasis in the overall environment is to be relational and not programmatic.
  16. There are to be high standards of expectation for performance, in terms of learning and discipleship. 
  17. Leadership will most often be expressed in a council, team or consensus-based approach.

Program Objectives

To enable students to:

  • Mature into God's fullness
  • Develop habits and authentic disciplines for thinking and living in Christ's presence
  • Gain a critical and constructive understanding of the anthropological, missiological, spiritual, biblical and theological foundations of the Faith
  • Understand the mission of God in the world and their place in it
  • Understand themselves and relate more effectively to others created in God's image and called into diverse community and ministry
  • Function as leaders who are themselves being transformed, and are therefore healthy and effective instruments of transformation

Admission Requirements

Applicants seeking admission to the MA in Intercultural Studies program must hold a three- or four-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university, with a minimum GPA of 2.5. In addition, applicants must complete the following to be considered for admission to the program:

  • Portland Seminary/NAIITS joint application and application fee
  • Submit one official transcript from each college/university attended
  • Resumé
  • Personal mission statement and statement of faith
  • Three letters of reference (as specified in admissions materials)
  • A group interview or phone interview (by invitation only)

†Applicants who do not hold a four-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university may apply, but will be required to submit additional documentation to be considered for admission.

Transfer Credit

Transfer of up to 27 hours of credit is allowed toward the MA in Intercultural Studies program from accredited graduate schools. Students must have earned a grade of B- or better for a course to be considered for transfer. In addition, only courses taken elsewhere within 10 years of the date of matriculation to the MA in Intercultural Studies program will be considered for transfer. Transferability of credits earned at this institution and transferred to another is at the discretion of the receiving institution. Consult the registrar's office for information on eligibility of transfer credit.

Residence Requirements

Formal campus residency is not required for this program. However, of the 54 hours required for the MA in Intercultural Studies program, a minimum of 27 hours must be taken while enrolled at George Fox University in the joint MAIS program. Reinstatement to the program after withdrawal requires Admissions Committee action and may subject the student to additional requirements for the degree.

Course Requirements

The MA in Intercultural Studies program is generally three years in length with 54 semester hours of course work required as the minimum for graduation. Courses are offered in a two- to three week intensive at approved sites in the summer with other coursework undertaken in blended teaching/learning styles. This program is a flexible cohort group experience with a hybrid education format of online and face-to-face learning. Of the total hours required for the degree, 26 are in Intercultural Studies core courses, 24 in Biblical/Historical/Theological courses, and 4 in spiritual formation.

Graduation Requirements

In order to graduate with the MA in Intercultural Studies degree, students must:

  • Satisfactorily complete a minimum of 54 semester hours with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above.
  • Be admitted to candidacy for the degree
  • Be recommended by the NAIITS/GFES faculty for graduation from George Fox University.

Curriculum Plan

Intercultural Studies Core (26)

  • MLDR 510 Missional Ecclesiology (3)
  • MLDR 520 Indigenous Leadership Development (3)
  • MLDR 540 Culture and Systems Change (3)
  • MLDR 544 Cultural Anthropology (3)
  • MLDR 548 Ethics in Intercultural Context (3)
  • MLDR 561 Indigenous Symposium Seminar I (1)
  • MLDR 562 Indigenous Symposium Seminar II (1)
  • MLDR 575 Community Field Placement (3)
  • CHTH 554 Colonization and Decolonization (3)
  • PSTD 550 World Religions (3)

Biblical/Historical/Theological Foundations (24)

  • BIST 506 Hebrew Scripture Foundations (3)
  • BIST 508 New Testament Foundations (3)
  • CHTH 511 History of Christianity I (3)
  • CHTH 512 History of Christianity II (3)
  • CHTH 513 North American Church History (3)
  • CHTH 552 Theology I: Introduction (3)
  • CHTH 553 Theology II: Theology and Ethic of the Land (3)
  • CHTH 557 Theology and Praxis of Andragogy (3)

Spiritual Formations Core (4)

  • SFAD 536 Spirituality, Shame, and Grace (1)
  • SFAD 554 Indigenous Spirituality and Spiritual Formation (3)