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In this post in my series “God and Man at Yale Divinity,” I discuss the fourth week of my second semester at Yale and my growing familiarity with Ivy League buzzwords.

Ivy League Buzzwords

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Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

I just completed the fourth week of my second semester at Yale. It was a busy but enjoyable week. As I grow more plugged-in with the culture at Yale, I am becoming increasingly familiar with the vernacular here, particularly as it relates to the various Ivy League buzzwords that permeate the culture.

Ivy League Buzzwords

As I have progressed during my time at Yale, one of my favorite things to do is play a mental game I have dubbed, “Yale Bingo.” Essentially, I try to count how many times certain Ivy League buzzwords are used in a class or discussion setting.

The Clichés

Often times—though not always—students are the worst offenders. Below is a list of the favorite Ivy League buzzwords that I have included in my bingo game thus far.

  1. “Space,” as in, “We must create a space where people feel safe to learn.”
  2. “Oppression,” as in, “We must dismantle systems of oppression.”
  3. “Power dynamics,” as in, “What power dynamics are at play in this text?”
  4. “Problematic,” as in, “His writings are problematic.”

There are more, but these seem to make the most frequent appearances in standard cliché formulations. I’ve been playing this game for a few months, but I found out yesterday that other students play a similar game as well. It’s become almost farcical.

A One-Track Mind

I grew up in a conservative evangelical environment, and we used to joke in Sunday School—and, in fact, at college at Ouachita Baptist University—that if you didn’t know the right answer, you should always just guess, “Jesus.” Jesus is the answer more often than not.

At Yale, if you don’t know the right answer, you should guess “oppression” or “power dynamics.” One or the other seems to be the answer to everything.

I even remember one student during a section discussion respond to such a comment, “Not everyone is oppressed all the time. Oppression isn’t the answer to everything.” Those concepts, however, define the milieu of this place. It can be laughably absurd.

Of course, sometimes people are oppressed, and sometimes power plays have a significant impact on the course of events. (I wrote a paper arguing that they played a significant role in the Council of Chalcedon.)

But not everything can be seen through that lens. When you do, you end up finding injustices where no injustices exist. Consequently, people often take action against a perceived injustice that only results in an actual injustice.

In addition, by distilling such ideas into Ivy League buzzwords, you dilute the meaning of the terms and desensitize people to justified expressions of outrage where real injustice exists. 

Attending Class

As I have written about before, Yale Divinity School stresses the importance of coming to class. I heard for the first time this week, however, that the reason for this is not professor idiosyncrasies, though some professors do grade on attendance.

Instead, Yale wants professors to take attendance because persistent absences are a common indicator of depression. I’ve never thought of that before, but it is an interesting take.

Yale is a fascinating place. Ivy League buzzwords aside, I do believe most of the people here actually do care about the students.

In the military, it all seemed very put upon and fake. Commanders seemed to care about members committing suicide only because it would be bad for their careers.

Here, however, something is different. It’s hard for me to shake all the cynicism that the military instilled in me, but I think I am finally getting there.

Systematic Theology

As I have written about before, my Systematic Theology class is not what I expected, and I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it. It’s more about what theology is and what its purpose is supposed to be than about the study of individual theological systems. Consequently, it studies more wide-ranging theological strands of thought instead of focusing on any specific theological debates.

I’m still getting my arms around it.

There are multiple papers we have to write, one of which is about what we perceive to be the role of theology. That’s an interesting question for me, but not one that I’ve ever really thought about that much. It’s a very overarching theme to which I’m not all that accustomed, a type of existential question about theology itself.

It’s an interesting way to think about things, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I guess I have the rest of the semester to try to figure it out.

Theologies of Religious Pluralism

I’m happy that I ended up taking Theologies of Religious Pluralism this semester. This class has given me a lot to think about, which are the kinds of courses that I like to take.

It’s helping me better understand how I feel about things and how to articulate and formulate my opinions better. It isn’t bringing me around to a pluralistic perspective, but understanding all the different points of view is turning out to be quite valuable and rewarding.

This week, I had to submit my thoughts about the reading. Below is the response I wrote to the text for this week.

Pluralism and Interreligious Theology

While I appreciate much of what Schmidt-Leukel wrote in this reading, I found some of his points strange and presumptuous.

For example, in chapter 2, he states that “inclusivist positions maintain a claim to Christian superiority and hence cannot advance to a genuine theological appreciation of religious diversity.” (Perry Schmidt-Leukel, Perry, Religious Pluralism and Interreligious Theology: The Gifford Lectures—An Extended Edition, Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.)

His point seems to be that only those holding to his position can possibly appreciate religious diversity, but this does not follow.

Our understanding of the errors in Newtonian physics post-Einstein does not mean that we cannot truly appreciate Newton’s genius. Why then must we deny the centrality of the Christian faith or the truth of God as Trinity to appreciate the grace and good found in other religions?

In an effort to formulate his pluralistic position, he also seems to demand that Christianity fundamentally change its central doctrinal tenants. For example, he describes the view that God “can be best and most adequately described as the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” as a position “some Christian theologians certainly hold.”

This seems equivalent to stating that the view, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,” is a position “some” Muslims hold.

In addition, if his statement that the Church Fathers believed that “God’s reality is necessarily greater than anything that human words or concepts can express,” is a reference to the patristic notion of energies versus essence, then using this to support pluralism seems disingenuous.

The author also seems to suggest that, for dialogue to occur, each party must ascribe to a pluralistic view. The author, therefore, himself appears to be arguing for an exclusivist position, not for any one particular religion, but for his own pluralistic religious philosophy. Everyone must accept the truth of pluralism on the frontend for real dialog to occur.

This seems to be the same practice for which pluralists anathematize exclusivist Christians when engaging with other faiths, except a semi-secularized philosophy displaces a religion.

William F. Buckley Program

Things with the William F. Buckley Program are really starting to pick up. It had a dinner seminar this week with Dr. Jonathan Wharton from the University of Southern Connecticut who spoke with us about local politics, his specialty. So, I learned a lot about the granularities of Connecticut and New Haven politics.

This was the first Buckley Program event that I have been able to attend since becoming a Fellow. I had to apply to participate in the seminar, as seating was limited, but I, fortunately, got in.

I saw another student from the Divinity School at the event, which means that there is at least one other conservative or semi-conservative at Yale Divinity School. I thought that I was the only one, so that was encouraging to see.

There is a conservative presence at Yale, and I’m glad to have finally found some of it.

Planning the Rest of My Time Here

As the second semester gets going, I am beginning to realize how quickly time is passing here, and I’m starting to have to plan out the rest of my degree program and for life after Yale.

As I look out ahead of me at all the things I would like to do over these three years—study abroad, prepare for doctoral work, take the GRE, and apply to Ph.D. programs—the timeline seems to get really short.

Will I, for example, have all the time I need to take all the language courses that I would like to take? Will I be able to prepare for and study abroad? Can I spare a semester for that purpose? If I study in Germany, do I have enough time to take a year of German before going, as is recommended?

What about my internships? Writing a thesis? The timeline seems to be quickly shrinking. It’s both exhilarating and a bit stressful.

These three years will come and go quickly, and planning for it now makes them seem even shorter.

Continuing School Struggles

As I have written about before, getting my children set up in a good school here in New Haven has been difficult. We are currently trying to get them into a local private school. The application process, however, is quite extensive, not to mention our need for significant financial aid.

As part of the application process, each of the schools has interviewed my wife and me, has academically evaluated my children, and has had our children shadow a class.

This week, my son spent a day shadowing a class at St. Thomas Day School, which is just a few blocks away from the Divinity School. On a different day this week, my daughter did the same thing. They also both visited the Foote School—which is right across the street from the Divinity School—for an academic assessment.

We are applying to four different private schools, so it’s been a bit of a hectic time, but we are hoping that things work out.

I would encourage anyone with school-aged children who are thinking of coming to Yale to keep the school situation at the forefront of their minds as they search for housing.

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I appreciate your taking the time to read my latest entry in my “God and Man at Yale Divinity” series.

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There are so many opportunities at Yale. It really is an incredible place. As a new semester gets started, I continue to appreciate just how lucky I am to be here.

I love Yale, and I encourage anyone interested in pursuing further theological education to apply to YDS.

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See Also:

Opportunities at Yale Divinity School

My Dinner With Rich Lowry

Take a food journey around the world


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