Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why Academia, Part 2(b) -- Yale and All That

In my previous post in this "Why Academia" series, I talked about my undergraduate experience and the turning points that propelled me toward the academic study of theology.

Logically, the next installment should talk about my Master's program at Yale. I'm a little intimidated by the prospect, though. YDS was a time of intense, sometimes painful change. It's just a lot to try to sum up in a blog post. But it's worth a try.

Maybe I should start by explaining a bit about what divinity school is. A divinity school is a lot like a seminary. Both are primarily places for the theological training of future clergy (and, to a lesser degree, training for various kinds of non-ordained ministry and/or church-oriented academic work). This is a bit simplistic, but the big difference is that a seminary, such as Covenant Theological Seminary here in St. Louis (yay, Covenant!), is specifically geared toward training candidates for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America and closely related denominations. Yale Divinity School, on the other hand, has no formal denominational tie, has students from a range of denominations, and is attached to a major research university -- obviously, Yale. (Schools like Harvard, Vanderbilt, and Duke divinity schools run on a similar model.)

As a college senior, I wanted to go the divinity school route for a couple reasons. For one thing, I didn't feel I had a very strong denominational affinity at the time. For another, the academic resources of a place like Yale were very appealing for an ambitious young geek! Perhaps most importantly, I didn't have a precise outlook for what I ultimately wanted to do. I suspected it would probably be something in academia, but I didn't know, just yet, what area of theology I wanted to focus on the most: I just knew I loved them all! Most small seminaries would rightly frown on such an applicant, but Yale's Masters of Divinity program was broad and flexible enough to accommodate my eager, if ill-defined, passions.

There's another reason that YDS appealed to me: its billing as an "ecumenical" school.
In college, I was exposed to a fairly wide theological spectrum. I knew I came out on the traditional side of things, but, for various reasons, at 22, I wasn't ready to own up to being a straight-up theological conservative. (Indeed, I didn't know it for a few years myself.) I found good in some of the liberal materials I had studied. In other words, I had dabbled in just enough things, and just shallowly enough, to be dangerous.

I thought that Yale's ecumenical environment would be the perfect place for a young evangelical Protestant like myself to interact with Christians from a bunch of different backgrounds, for all of us to discuss openly and learn from one another. Maybe then, some of the painful chasms within and between denominations could start to be bridged.

I know you're probably shaking your head at me right now. Yes, all this was as naive as it was well-intentioned. It took some rather abrupt culture shock and disillusionment for me to begin figuring that out, however.

I'll write more about Yale, the good and the bad, in upcoming posts. But first, please understand that there was much good. Yale was the right place for me to be, and not just because I met my husband there!

Neither the good nor the bad was easy, however. On the cusp of my divinity school years, I clearly had a lot to learn.


  1. i'm loving this series. Please don't delete this.

  2. I think it's great, too :) and I learned something... I think I honestly thought it was officially Episcopal (although I knew it wasn't a seminary.) I guess it's just all those Episcopalians... or something. LOL