A seminary is an educational institution which is dedicated to religious training; the word is derived from the Latin semin, which means “seed.” At one time, private schools for women were also referred to as “seminaries,” although this convention has since been dropped. Seminaries around the world train priests, rabbis, and other religious officials; training in a seminary is required for many religious officiants, along with approval from a bishop or high-ranking church official who will ordain the candidate, accepting him or her into the priesthood.
Typically, a seminary offers graduate-level coursework in theology, and students often live on site. In addition to candidates for the priesthood, seminaries may also offer training to people interested in religious studies in general. It is also not unheard of for people to study at seminaries which offer training in a faith different in their own, to learn more about other faiths and religious traditions. This practice tends to be confined to religious scholars; obviously prospective priests want to study at seminaries which will qualify them for priesthood in their own faith.
Theological training has been offered to candidates for the priesthood for thousands of years, but when people hear “seminary,” they usually think specifically of Judeo-Christian tradition. Seminaries of some form or another have been around since the fourth century CE, with training supplemented by monasteries and other educational institutions, although seminary training was not always required for people who wanted to serve the Church.
For Roman Catholics, seminary training for priests has been required since the 1500s, when the Council of Trent mandated that each diocese establish a seminary for the purpose of offering religious training. Different faiths have their own training requirements; if you are interested in becoming a priest, pastor, minister, rabbi, or some variant thereof, you may want to see a religious professional for guidance.
The coursework at seminaries is often challenging, and many seminaries have behavioral and dress codes for their students as well. These codes are enacted in the understanding that students at the seminary want to become religious officiants, and therefore they need to demonstrate their commitment to the faith with appropriate behavior. At any point during training in a seminary, a candidate can decide to stop with no penalties, as he or she has taken no formal vows to commit to the priesthood. Once a candidate applies for ordination, however, it becomes more challenging to leave the religious life, which is why seminaries encourage candidates to think carefully about their decisions.