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In this post in my series “God and Man at Yale Divinity,” I discuss the tremendous degree flexibility that Yale offers and how it allowed me to take a Roman Law course outside of the Divinity School.

Roman LawPhoto by MischaTuffield is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. This content uses referral links

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

My second semester at Yale has finally started. I had a lovely Christmas break where I was able to relax and decompress from the whirlwind that was my first semester at Yale. Now, I’m starting back up to do it all again.

With one semester under my belt, I’m ready to start venturing out beyond the confines of the Divinity School and exploring all that Yale has to offer. Part of this is finding classes in other departments at Yale. I found one such course in the Classics Department: Roman Law.

Roman Law and the Shopping Period

After last semester, I am starting to get adept at the Yale shopping period. I have signed up for several classes, and this week I am beginning to attend them as I whittle them down into what will become my final class schedule.

On Monday, I attended (1) New Testament Interpretation II, (2) Introduction to American Judaism, (3) Hellenistic Philosophy, and (4) Roman Law. I attended two new classes on Tuesday: (1) Christian Ethics and (2) Systematic Theology. On Thursday, I attended Theologies of Religious Pluralism.

New Testament Interpretation II

New Testament Interpretation II is a continuation of the New Testament Interpretation I class that I took last semester. In the first semester, we worked through the Gospels and Acts. This semester, the class will work through the rest of the New Testament.

I will, however, drop New Testament Interpretation II, as it conflicts with the Roman Law graduate seminar that I want to take downtown. (See below.)

American Judaism

The American Judaism class appears to be very interesting. A Reformed Rabbi, who was previously a chaplain here at Yale, is teaching the course.

One of my degree requirements is to take a class in another religion or a class on comparative religion. I wanted to take a course on Judaism. Of the courses in the catalog, however, this was my second choice.

My first choice was Rabbinic Judaism. I think that class would be both fascinating and particularly relevant for the type of scholarship I want to do.

However, the Divinity School is not offering this class this semester, and I don’t know when the school will offer it again. So, I decided to try out the American Judaism class.

Hellenistic Philosophy

I will almost certainly keep the Hellenistic Philosophy course. It will require a lot of Greek, which I need to continue to improve, and the material provides critical background knowledge for doing scholastic work with the New Testament.

Every week we have to prepare a substantial translation of a Greek text, so it is a Greek-based class. Also, since the influence of Hellenistic Philosophy has become a significant area of study in recent New Testament scholarship, this class should provide me with useful background information that will prove helpful as I seek to develop as a scholar and prepare for Ph.D. work.

Besides, the dean is teaching the class, so I think it’s an excellent opportunity to study under him. I may not have another chance.

Christian Ethics

One of my degree requirements is to take a basic ethics course. Only two courses can fulfill this requirement: Christian Ethics and Theological Ethics.

I was debating between taking Introduction to Christian Ethics this semester or Theological Ethics next semester. I am inclined toward Theological Ethics, but I was considering taking Introduction to Christian Ethics because I would have the choice of counting it as either an Area II (Theology) or Area V (Comparative Studies) class.

Since I’d rather pack my schedule with Area II than Area V classes, I thought this would be a great way to check off a required course while freeing up space in an area of more interest to me.

After sitting through the first class and reading the syllabus, however, I decided that Theological Ethics was probably more my speed. So, I dropped the course from my schedule.

Systematic Theology

On Tuesday, I also attended Systematic Theology with Miroslav Volf, who is one of the most respected theologians in the world today. He was out of town on the first day of class, so another instructor presented the introduction to the course.

I need this course, so I can’t imagine not keeping it. I’m also excited about taking it.

Theologies of Religious Pluralism

On Thursday, I attended Theologies of Religious Pluralism. I added this class to my schedule at the last minute. I wasn’t tracking it, but it meets on Thursday afternoons, and it provides both an Area V credit and fulfills the requirement for a comparative religions course.

So, I wanted to consider it before making a decision, so I had something against which to compare the American Judaism class.

This class seems like an essential matter for theological reflection, particularly as I will likely be working in diverse environments for the rest of my life.

The professor also requires that we identify our own position. The options appear to be exclusivist (Christianity is the only valid religion), inclusivist (non-Christians can be saved), and pluralist (Christianity is one valid religion among many).

One of our assignments is to identify the scholar that best represents our position and the scholar that best argues for the views with which we disagree. I think this is an excellent way of approaching the subject, and I’m impressed by the evenhandedness. Attending the first lecture sold me on the course.

Taking Roman Law, a Class Outside of YDS

One of the things that drew me to Yale was how easy it is to take classes outside of the Divinity School. This semester, there is a class on Roman Law offered downtown, so I signed up. (Downtown is how Divinity School students tend to refer to the main undergraduate campus.)

Roman Law

I attended my first Roman Law lecture on Monday, a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students. Everyone attends the same lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then the undergraduate students have a section, and the graduate students have a graduate seminar, both of which meet at different times.

So, after the lecture on Wednesdays, I’ll stick around for the graduate seminar.

When I signed up, I knew that Roman Law was dual-listed in both the classics and history departments. I didn’t realize until I showed up for the first class, however, that it is also listed as a course in the law school.

So, I should be able to get continuing legal education hours credit to maintain my law license. I am required to get twelve hours per year of C.L.E. to keep my license active, and this will be an excellent way to do it that I did not expect.

Even though I’m not practicing now, I would still like to keep my license active. I never know when I’ll need it, though I don’t have any intention of ever practicing again. Besides, I should keep it because I’m teaching an undergraduate prelaw course at the University of Arkansas.

Roman Law and Degree Flexibility

I wanted to take Roman Law because I thought it would provide me with some valuable background information that could assist me with New Testament studies. I assumed when I signed up that I would be taking it for elective credit. (I’m allotted twelve elective credits in my degree program.)

After seeing the syllabus, however, it occurred to me to petition the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Divinity School to allow me to count the course as an Area III (History) course for purposes of my degree requirements.

Fortunately, she granted my request. So, this will free up additional elective credit space, which I would like to keep free to fill with other New Testament and language classes to prepare for Ph.D. work.

In addition, at the end of the semester, I’ll have six of the nine history hours that I need. So, I’ll only need one more history class, which I plan to fulfill next spring when I take History of Medieval Christianity, a class I’m excited about and would take this semester if it didn’t conflict with Roman Law.

Roman Law Graduate Seminar

A Teaching Fellow teaches the undergraduate sections, but the actual professor teaches the graduate seminar. As far as I can tell, the rest of the graduate students are Ph.D. candidates. (I understand that some law students are taking the class, but, since the seminar conflicts with an essential course at the law school, the professor is making special arrangements for them.)

The seminar conversations this week were quite enjoyable, and it’s apparent that I am surrounded by a lot of brilliant people here at Yale. I love this place and the opportunity that it provides me to interact with people smarter than me.

The give-and-take and exchange of ideas are exciting and valuable in my development, and I think my research in this class will provide insight for me in my New Testament studies. I’m hoping to find something of direct relevance to New Testament studies about which to write my paper for this course.

Roman Law on Old Campus

Roman Law meets downtown on Old Campus. It’s a very picturesque environment on the part of campus that is quintessential Yale. It’s the part of Yale that looks like an Ivy League college. (Much of the rest of Yale has an urban feel to it.)

It is, however, about a mile away from the Divinity School. So, I am going to have to do a lot of walking this semester. It will be nice to get the exercise, but it will probably get old when winter really hits and there’s a lot of snow on the ground.

Finding a Class That Fits 

If there’s something that I learned while shopping for classes the first two semesters that I would pass on to future students, it’s to try to find courses that are good fits for you. There is more to finding a class than picking one that is interesting, required, or fits in your schedule. You need to be a good fit for the course.

I eventually decided not to take the American Judaism class because I didn’t think it was a good fit for me. Finding a good fit includes finding a class where you fit in with the other students taking the course.

By this, I mean that the people who take a course, particularly a smaller course, will contribute to the environment and the direction of the class conversation and discussions.

There are many different M.A.R. concentration programs here, so you can tell in which direction the class will go based on the interests of the people in the course. A class full of students pursuing an M.A.R. in Ethics or Missions may not be a good fit for an M.Div. with an interest in biblical studies, for example.

If your academic interests don’t align with the interests of the other students, it’s often best to avoid the course. That is not saying anything negative about the people in the class. It’s a simple recognition of different interests and finding your fit, not only with the course material and the instructor but with the students as well.

So, after attending one class of Theologies of Religious Pluralism, I decided to take that class instead of American Judaism. I just thought it would be a better fit for me.

Piano Lessons

In addition to my classes, I’ve also decided to take piano lessons this semester. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve decided to go ahead and do it.

The Yale School of Music offers lessons in a variety of instruments. They offer beginner lessons in most instruments, but not in piano or harpsichord. I wanted to take lessons with the School of Music, but I signed up at the local Neighborhood Music School instead. I hope to advance enough to be able to take lessons at the School of Music before I graduate.

For those who are interested, the Institute of Sacred Music will reimburse tuition costs for those Divinity School students who take lessons through the School of Music. Since I’m not taking these lessons at Yale, however, I’m coming out of pocket. I hope, however, that this is just for a semester or two.

The Owl Shop

I am slowly getting to know New Haven and am discovering my favorite places. My favorite place in town so far is The Owl Shop. I love that place.

If you look through my blog at all, you’ll see that I have a serious love of cigars. The Own Shop is a local cigar lounge with a full-service bar. I enjoy stopping by whenever I can.

It’s right off the New Haven Green and less than a block from Old Campus, where I have my Roman Law class. So, after class on Wednesday, I headed over there and had a cigar.

As it gets colder and becomes more difficult to smoke cigars outside at home, I suspect I’ll be frequenting this place more regularly.

My Final Schedule with Roman Law

Unlike last semester, I was able to finalize my schedule by the end of the first week.

This semester, I’m taking:

  1. Roman Law
  2. Hellenistic Philosophy, Second Temple, Judaism, and Early Christianity
  3. Systematic Theology
  4. Theologies of Religious Pluralism

William F. Buckley Program

In other news, I am starting to become more acquainted with the different opportunities available here at Yale. I have written previously about how I sometimes feel isolated as a conservative student at such a liberal institution.

So, over Christmas break, I applied to be a fellow with the William F. Buckley Program on Yale’s campus. I was accepted into the program, and I look forward to seeing how I can contribute and what opportunities the program will provide me.

It’s exciting to be part of such a program and to have the chance to spend time with other like-minded individuals, particularly in an environment predominated by progressive ideology.

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Yale is an incredible place. As I start a new semester, 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:

Grades at Yale and the End of the Semester

Abortion and the Christian Left

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