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barker

How does the rigor of Duke Divinity compare to other top schools?

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I am currently trying to decide between Yale, Harvard and Duke, and I have the best tuition package by far from Duke. My question is whether the classroom experience is as rigorous as it might be at Harvard or Yale-- assuming Harvard and Yale classroom experiences are all that rigorous. Does anyone have any insight?

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Could you give some context as to why you are asking? What are your plans post this degree?

If your plan is to get your MDiv and go into ministry, I would automatically say go to Duke because of both your tuition package and the cost of living at the other two will put in a much better financial place if you do go to Duke. You aren't going to get rich going into ministry, so might as well not put yourself in (more) student loan debt. 

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I'd be very surprised if there was a stark difference. It would vary by professor more than school in my guess. If the funding is significantly better at Duke as you say then I'd go there, depending on your interests

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You haven't told us what you're studying, so we can't help you. They are very different or the same, depending.

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I have taken classes at HDS (cross-registering) and YDS (an MDiv, with some Religious Studies courses). If you’re in a typically MDiv track, the classes are...rigorous-ish. If you’re going into some kind of Christian pastoral ministry, go for Duke or Yale. Otherwise, depends on your field.

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Posted (edited)

Apologies for the delay and lack of info-- yes, going into pastoral ministry. I think the struggle for me has been that even though I know Duke Div is a top divinity school, its hard to shake this idea that the ivies are automatically more rigorous and that classes there will be more challenging, so thats something I just need to get over 

The other factor I wonder about is the environment created by the students who make up the classes, and therefore the conversation in and out of the classroom-- this is an inherently snobby concern, but having gone to an incredibly rigorous top liberal arts college, I have this lingering worry that I wont find that same intensity that I loved in my classroom experiences there. Again, I know this must come off as arrogant, but I do think its important to go to the school where the student body pushes you to grow as much as the classes themselves.

Edited by barker

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5 hours ago, barker said:

Apologies for the delay and lack of info-- yes, going into pastoral ministry. I think the struggle for me has been that even though I know Duke Div is a top divinity school, its hard to shake this idea that the ivies are automatically more rigorous and that classes there will be more challenging, so thats something I just need to get over 

The other factor I wonder about is the environment created by the students who make up the classes, and therefore the conversation in and out of the classroom-- this is an inherently snobby concern, but having gone to an incredibly rigorous top liberal arts college, I have this lingering worry that I wont find that same intensity that I loved in my classroom experiences there. Again, I know this must come off as arrogant, but I do think its important to go to the school where the student body pushes you to grow as much as the classes themselves.

These are fair worries; but really if you have studied religion/religious studies/history/classics/et sim. at a good (rigorous) undergraduate school, I think you will find that all US divinity schools are a bit lacking in this regard. Because many of the students have no background in this and related fields, the courses may necessarily feel too "introductory." Mileage varies, of course, and depending on what courses you take (dependent largely on requirements that may/may not let you opt out of certain courses) you may have a very different opinion on the "rigor" of your school vs others in your program. Speaking purely from the gut (so others please correct me if you feel differently), I think many students interested in pastoral ministry do not, generally speaking, share your concern (or at least not as much?), which leads me to think you may be somewhat disappointed with the level of challenge no matter where you go. But I may very well be wrong about this. MarX may have some good insight.

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What @sacklunch said. The nature of divinity programs is that they do not presuppose a background in the field. That being said, no mater where you go you will find students who simply want to get through the program to get into ministry and those who want to get every educational opportunity out of the program, including those who from the moment they set foot in the graduate program know they want to go on to doctoral work. 

I will be blunt. At any school you listed you will be able to surround yourself with smart people, seeking a higher level of rigor in their studies than the baseline what needs to pass the curriculum requirements. Your professors will have office hours which you can ask questions and go deeper than what may happen in class. You will be able to choose the topics for your papers and write them to a higher level of standard than what the rubric requires. You will have the choice to choose between which professor you take a class with: the harder or the easier one. You are in charge of the level of rigor of your studies, not your school. 

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Hi Barker,

 

You have three good options, I think, and each of the three offers a unique school culture and set of strengths/weaknesses. I’d make your decision based on those factors, alongside financial aid offers, and not terms as abstract and ultimately meaningless as “rigor” or “reputation.”

 

Divinity school is a kind of choose-your-own-adventure experience. You can go by the path of least resistance or you can intentionally challenge yourself, taking advantage of good professors, doctoral seminars, and directed readings. As others have said above, the experience is what you make of it. You’ll find good conversation partners and faculty mentors at any of these schools.

 

You might be interested to know something of the academic and religious environment at each of the three. Others can weigh in here, but I’d characterize Harvard as a mostly post-Christian, inter-faith school with lots of folks interested in further academic study and/or activism of one kind or another. Yale, I think, is made up of mostly mainline, liberal Christians seeking ordination into the priesthood and people looking to do PhD’s after divinity school. Duke appears to have a broader mix of (mostly) Christian students (reflective, I think, of the diversity within the United Methodist Church). Duke has a more theologically conservative reputation than either Yale or Harvard. Others should feel free to jump in on this point if my quick and dirty summary seems off.

 

If you have interests in particular fields of study within a divinity school (e.g., systematic theology, the Ancient Mediterranean, religion and art, etc) or in other university departments (e.g., Classics, History, Environmental Studies, etc), these things might also be factors in your decision, and I’m sure folks could weigh in on the strength of each school with respect to a given area of interest if you want more detailed information. This is only marginally important unless you’re thinking of further study after the M.Div.

 

My advice: student loans are bad. Go to Duke.

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Theology and ministry is a tricky sphere to navigate within academia. There are a host of considerations that are out of view for other disciplines, and it is perfectly possible for a completely moldy, unserious department of religion to persist and go largely unnoticed in it's mediocrity within an otherwise extraordinary university. That seems to be the story for Harvard--a divinity school that frankly isn't good for much in my assessment (as a PhD student in theology who once faced your same three options and turned down a fully funded master's program at Harvard because everyone advised against it). I went to Duke Div. in the end (a fully-funded MTS) and finished the program with pretty mixed feelings. In many ways Duke is a dumpster fire: a constant ideological controversy that creates an atmosphere of suspicion and drives talented professors and students to less tense and hostile places. Also, because they receive half of their funding from the Meth. Church, they are required to maintain a %50 demographic of Meth. students. This means that you can get into Duke--esp. the MDiv prog. with little more than a pulse if you are a Methodist. A consequence of this and their other demographic targets is an extreme range of ability and preparation among the students. Some are "functionally literate," some are terrific, and many are somewhere in between. But the spread tends to have a distinctly negative impact on class discussions. It is an awkwardly (and oftine volitile) mixed bag of conservative, rural North Carolina pastors, leftist activist students of many a stripe (in perpetual protest against something or other), and a bewildered or bemused bunch of people trying to study theology without entering the pit.

There are a handful of terrific professors around still from whom a dilligent and focused student can still gain a great deal of valuable training. Another pro is that the campus is one of the most beautiful places on Earth (IMO), but know that you are entering a zoo if/when you go. 

I don't think of Harvard as a viable option (even though they offered me a full ride plus an 8k stipend--for the master's program!). Yale may be a bit more orderly, although my sense is that it has simply acheived more of an ideological consensus than Duke has. My sense is that it is a kind of Marxist-progressive consensus. 

In neither school will you be able to do theology without reference to distinctly American cultural polemics and ideology. As much as I loathe to send anyone to Duke, I think it's likely your best option when funding is factored in. 

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Posted (edited)

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet that seems obvious to me; your denominational affiliation should be a serious factor if you are going into ministry.

If you are Wesleyan/Methodist of any stripe, or theologically conservative, Duke is the obvious choice. (Though there are enough at YDS that you would have some community).

If you are Episcopal or Congregationalist, YDS has formation programs specifically for these traditions.

I would not recommend HDS for ministry unless you are UU in which case I'd say God bless but last time I tried to do that in a UU setting I was accused of being insensitive to the humanists (90% joking, 10% salty).

Best of luck!

Edited by ChristoWitch87

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