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In this post in my series “God and Man at Yale Divinity School,” I discuss my sixth week in the M.Div. program and reflect upon viewpoint diversity at Yale Divinity School. 

viewpoint diversity at Yale

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Introduction

I just completed my sixth week in the M.Div. program at Yale Divinity School. As I am growing acclimated to Yale’s culture, I am beginning to feel a part of this community.

As I consider my own place in it, I have started to reflect upon viewpoint diversity at Yale Divinity School and what it may mean for me and my education going forward.

Leading Worship at Berkeley

This week was my worship team’s turn to lead worship at Berkeley. Everyone in Berkeley is assigned to a worship team, and we take turns leading worship.

There are enough of us that each team usually only has to lead worship one week per semester, and this week was our turn. This meant that we were responsible for all of this week’s services.

On Monday, I was the lectern. This meant that I read that day’s Scripture passages. I also read the cycles of prayer and assisted with the Eucharist. (I held the chalice.)

On Thursday morning, I was the officiant. As the officiant, I presided over the service. So, I announced the Psalter, the Canticles, and led the prayers of the people. I effectively led the service up until the Eucharist, when the priest took over.

Preparing for the services was not too time-intensive, but it did add something extra to an already hectic season. So, I’m glad this is over.

Annand Group Kickoff

Monday, my Annand Spiritual Formation group met for the first time. We met for about two hours between the end of my morning classes and the beginning of the Anglican Colloquium. So, I will have significantly less time to study on Mondays than I have had up until this time.

I get the impression that not a lot of people at Yale participate in Annand. Duke requires all first-year M.Div. students to participate in spiritual formation groups, and friends who attended have spoken to me about having a large selection of different groups from which to choose.

I was, however, assigned my group. My group is very eclectic with some students who are members of non-Christian faith traditions. So, I cannot tell whether the number of interested people who signed up was low, or if they put a range of different people in the group on purpose.

I feel like this is good for dialogue and getting to know others. Still, I don’t know how effective it will be as a spiritual formation group, particularly since spiritual formation tends to occur within specific faith traditions. We’ll see how it goes.

Papers

It’s that time in the semester when I have to start worrying about getting papers done. Papers really are the predominant focus of most classes, requiring the most work and constituting the bulk of the grade.

My First Paper

My first paper of the semester is due next Friday. It’s a book review for my World Christianity class. I have fortunately already finished it, which gives me time to polish it up.

I set up two appointments with the Writing Center. I had my first appointment this Friday, and I have another next week. By the middle of next week, therefore, I hope to have a very polished, well-written work to turn in.

Next Papers

Thinking about the amount of work I have to finish can feel overwhelming. I have three more papers due this semester. So, I have started setting aside an hour every day to work on papers.

I am currently working on my paper for my History of Early Christianity class. The professor gave us a list of topics from which to choose. I chose to write on the effects of the Council of Chalcedon.

I’ve pulled the necessary research materials from the library, and I am currently working through them to outline my paper and formulate its central thesis.

By far, the most time-consuming aspect is doing the actual research and taking all the appropriate notes. Outlining and organizing the research doesn’t take nearly as long, and the actual writing goes quite quickly.

Once I have an actual rough draft, progress seems to fly. Of course, the first draft is always crap, but chipping away at it and polishing it up goes very quickly. It’s getting to where I actually have something to polish up that is so time-consuming. 

I have papers for New Testament and World Christianity due as well. Like my History of Early Christianity paper, they are both due at the end of the semester. I have not yet started them, nor have I picked topics, though I have some general ideas.

The Writing Center

As I mentioned above, on Friday, I had my first appointment with the Writing Center. Yale allows students to make appointments with writing consultants to review their written work. These people are generally other students who applied for and were selected to serve in these positions.

On Friday, I met with another Divinity School student who has a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. He and I went over my book review together, and he provided invaluable advice.

I plan to take advantage of the program again for my other papers. It’s always helpful to have a second set of eyes to review my work, especially when those second set of eyes belong to the high-caliber individuals the Yale Writing Center employs.

Comparable Programs

Yale has a great program. I feel, however, that this may be one area where Duke Divinity School is superior. Duke Divinity School itself has a Center for Writing and Academic Support inside the actual Divinity School that is explicitly geared toward Divinity School students.

At Yale, as far as I can tell, the only student of religious studies working in the Writing Center is the Divinity School student with whom I met. While the other consultants are obviously brilliant, they will be unable to give advice explicitly related to religious and theological studies and scholarship.

I do wish Yale Divinity School had a similar program. It’s possible, however, that the broader Yale program accomplishes the same thing. Having not had the opportunity to utilize Duke’s program, I can’t compare the two.

Midterms

Midterms are quickly approaching. I fortunately only have midterms in two of my classes: Intermediate New Testament Greek and New Testament Interpretation I.

I’m a little nervous about my Greek midterm. We must translate a passage from the New Testament without the aid of a concordance. So, I’m a bit concerned about how I’ll do without the ability to look anything up. 

In addition, a significant part of the exam is explaining the grammar along the way. So, for example, I’ll have to annotate my translations with comments like, “This is an objective genitive,” “This is a dative of means,” etc.

So, I anticipate this being a challenging exam, and I am glad that I have the reading week to prepare for it. (Yale has reading weeks scattered throughout the semester during which no classes are held.)

I anticipate the reading week to be a hectic time, even if all I have to do is study. I have three papers on which to work, in addition to studying for the Greek and New Testament midterms.

Settling Into Routine

I’m beginning to settle into a routine here. I still have moments where I can’t believe that I am here, and I am overcome with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Most of the time, however, it feels almost mundane.

There was a sense at the beginning that I really don’t belong at a place like this. All the mystique of an Ivy League institution makes the place a bit intimidating. After a bit of time, however, those feelings have faded.

I am adjusting to this as my new normal, having escaped the unique environment that is the military and readjusting to civilian life. I am also learning to identify the people with whom I can relate, and I have been pleasantly surprised in this regard.

By this time, it is true, some of your more pompous Ivy-League stereotypes are making themselves known.

(It’s funny how many have started to identify the more obnoxious people in class who continuously talk and think each time they open their mouths, they are gracing the room with the magnitude of their wisdom and insight.)

But such people are few and far between. Most people are kind, supportive, and pretty humble. Condescension seems to be lacking, and I have found this to be a very welcoming place.

Viewpoint Diversity at Yale Divinity School

As I am starting to settle in here at Yale, I am beginning to consider the lack of viewpoint diversity at Yale Divinity School and how I can find my own place in such a community. I have thus far found it to be a challenging but rewarding environment to navigate.

Theological Viewpoint Diversity at Yale Divinity School

I have begun thinking about how I will settle into the spiritual aspect of my time at this place. I have tried to take opportunities to get involved in that aspect of life here at Yale and not merely to focus on the academics. 

I have, however, already withdrawn from some programs. For example, I no longer attend Marquand Chapel, and I have no plans to resume my attendance.

I have remained at Berkeley, and I have enrolled in Annand. I do not know, however, if I will continue with either of these programs beyond this semester. The spiritual formation aspect of this place is challenging because there is little familiar onto which I can grab. I suppose it’s what I expected in a progressive environment.

There is diversity in backgrounds and religious traditions, but very little actual viewpoint diversity. That is, for all the diverse backgrounds, the predominant overall outlook is very progressive, which means that my viewpoint is rarely represented.

I, therefore, don’t know if participating in such programs is something that I care to do for long.

Avoiding the Echo Chamber

As I have written about before, I am a conservative. While I enjoy being challenged, pulled, and exposed to new things and new perspectives, at some point, development has to go beyond that.

I wish there were more viewpoint diversity at Yale so that I could interact with other positions while at the same time engaging with my own.

But, it’s not Yale’s job to meet my every need. I simply mention this to encourage those who are searching for some kind of viewpoint diversity to look beyond their current position if it does not offer it. There are opportunities to engage with like-minded people elsewhere on campus.

I came to Yale on purpose. I knew what I was getting into, and I anticipated a lack of viewpoint diversity. So, I appreciate that I am not living in an echo chamber of my own thoughts.

Regularly interacting with other points of view has been extremely advantageous for me. I cannot help but feel, however, that the lack of viewpoint diversity is denying the progressive students the same privileges that I have enjoyed thus far.

If viewpoint diversity does exist at Yale Divinity School, it is not apparent. Conservatives of all stripes seem to be a rare breed.

Students and faculty speak of political conservatives—which do not necessarily correspond with theological conservatives—as an “other” group, some kind of exotic threat lurking somewhere beyond the walls of the Ivory Tower. Everyone just assumes everyone else is politically liberal.

(Indeed, reactions following the election of Donald Trump seem to suggest that the community nearly universally held the event to be a national tragedy.)

Accepting the Lack of Viewpoint Diversity

Theological conservatives seem to attract skepticism similar to that of political conservatives, though perhaps not to the same extent. (It’s more forgivable to be an evangelical than to be a Republican.)

Still, the lack of theological viewpoint diversity at Yale Divinity School is apparent too. Everyone seems to assume that all of their peers ascribe to a certain level of progressive Christianity.

I suspect that conservatives, both political and theological, do exist here, but it is not a place that makes it feel comfortable to come out as such. (I am both, by the way.) I don’t know if the lack of viewpoint diversity at Yale is intentional. As I have found the people here to be kind and lacking in malice, I really do doubt it.

Though, admittedly, the double standard for disruptive behavior is apparent based on the underlying political cause. A student tearing down anti-Kavanaugh posters faces an intense backlash, while those disrupting a football game to call for fossil-fuel divestment and those protesting Veterans Day do not need to fear any adverse action from the university.

It’s easy to determine the presence or lack of viewpoint diversity based on how much you can get away with if you’re acting like a jerk. Yale is a place where a liberal jerk can get away with a lot more than a conservative jerk.

I, however, have made peace with that double standard. The lesson here seems to be, just don’t be a jerk. I can live with that.

I have not witnessed the type of intolerance where kind-hearted, respectful conservatives are targeted for nothing more than being conservative. I suspect it happens, but I haven’t seen it. So, I don’t think conservative students should be hesitant about coming to Yale.

Promoting Viewpoint Diversity

Whether intentional or not, I don’t think anyone would dispute there is a lack of viewpoint diversity at Yale Divinity School or at Yale in general. That’s just the way that it is.

I would imagine Yale Divinity School would have to make a conscious effort to create an environment where viewpoint diversity flourished and where conservatives could feel welcome as conservatives.

This could mean trying to attract students from more conservative denominations, such as Southern Baptists and nondenominational evangelicals. This place is definitely dominated by more progressive denominations, such as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ.

But I don’t know if there’s much that Yale could do about it without some kind of massive effort. I tend to think that they do not get a lot of applications from very conservative students.

There are likely not a lot of people who apply to Yale that also apply to Southern. Promoting viewpoint diversity means that those who want to attend will be attracted to viewpoint diversity, and that may simply not be desirable for more conservative religious groups, particularly not from those who plan to enter the ministry.

I suspect, therefore, that Yale Divinity School would have a more difficult time promoting viewpoint diversity than the rest of Yale’s programs. (Though, I understand—perhaps mistakenly—that Duke has had some success in this regard.)

Support Yale Divinity School

My sixth week at Yale was a great one. While I am a little disappointed by the lack of viewpoint diversity at Yale Divinity School, I still nonetheless love it here, and I am glad to be at a place where I am constantly challenged to think self-critically.

I’m sure that I will continue to write about being one of the few conservatives at Yale Divinity. I hope that will be helpful for students of similar persuasion who are considering coming here.

At the same time, I hope that my writing is helpful to those of a wide variety of theological and political persuasions considering Yale. I believe viewpoint diversity among the student body is vital to achieving the best possible educational experience.

If you’re interested in applying to Yale Divinity School, I encourage you to begin your application here. You can also request additional information from the YDS website.

If you would like to support the work of Yale Divinity School, please consider making a donation to Yale here.

If you have any questions about Yale Divinity School, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I obviously speak for myself, not for Yale, but I would be happy to assist however I can.


See Also:

Week 5: Conservatives at Yale Divinity


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