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As far as I know, no, there isn't. There are informal lists of "top-tier" schools you can find here and elsewhere, but in many cases it's apples and oranges. Would "best" mean "best" in Bible? Or "best" in training of preachers? Or "best" in theology and ethics? Or "best" in pastoral care? It gets really slippery, really fast, and wouldn't end up telling you much.

 

The National Research Council does rank doctoral programs in religion by various different metrics, which you can find here: http://chronicle.com/article/nrc-religion/124664/. Many of those universities also have divinity schools, but there isn't necessarily a correlation between the two.

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I guess I am specifically wondering about Vanderbilt Divinity -- where I was recently accepted. I am not sure of how it stacks up in terms of reputation or if it is "elite."

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There is this:

http://phds.org/rankings/religion

I am not sure how up to date the numbers are, though, and it is for PhD programs. Vanderbilt is 14th on the list.

 

I would say this lines up very well with what I consider to be the top programs in RS. Divinity programs, on the other hand, are a different animal. If the original poster is interested in more 'academic' concerns (assuming based on signature) then I would advise her/him to steer clear of Div programs in favor of RS ones. Many MTS programs, for example, have so much 'fluff' (requirements) that you will be limited in your coursework. In addition, you will more than likely be thrown in classrooms with dozens if not hundreds of other students. Necessities like languages will be more difficult to acquire (because of the bloat of many programs), and so on. There are exceptions (HDS). Though I would say given the choice between Florida State and Vandy's MTS, you might get more individual attention at FSU and be allowed to tailor the program to your needs (esp. for doctoral programs). I guess I'm trying to say beware of 'divinity rankings'. They are often theologically motivated (as the above link demonstrates...therein one criterion for rank is a divinity school's 'orthodoxy').

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There are exceptions (HDS). 

 

As someone who has applied to HDS and (assuming I'm accepted) going to have a tough decision between HDS and a RS Master's at a similarly-ranked university, could you elaborate upon this? Do you mean to say that HDS, while not as bad as other Divinity schools, should still nonetheless be stayed clear of for students interested in academic pursuits? Or rather, do you mean that HDS is comparable and actually holds weight relative to other RS programs?

 

HDS only has one required course and seems very flexible in terms of coursework and languages. I'm not sure how large class sizes are though.

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Asking about divinity school rankings isn't a very helpful question. In deciding on where to go, it depends on what you want to do once you finish divinity school. It also depends where you are at theologically. It's kind of like being asked to rank the restaurants in your city. Sure, some are better than others, but it's not like restaurants can be ranked linearly. What do you want to eat? Who are you eating with? Are you a vegetarian? Is farm-to-table important to you? Do you like bar-food? Are you trying to impress a date, or are your parents visiting?

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Asking about divinity school rankings isn't a very helpful question. In deciding on where to go, it depends on what you want to do once you finish divinity school. It also depends where you are at theologically. It's kind of like being asked to rank the restaurants in your city. Sure, some are better than others, but it's not like restaurants can be ranked linearly. What do you want to eat? Who are you eating with? Are you a vegetarian? Is farm-to-table important to you? Do you like bar-food? Are you trying to impress a date, or are your parents visiting?

 

Of course it matters (for me at least). If I attended a divinity school, it would be for preparation to apply for PhD programs in American Religious History. So, the reputation would be quite important in terms of how attractive (or unattractive) it would make me to good PhD programs. Now I do absolutely agree that, again for me personally, theological stances matter greatly. In fact, I have kind of come to believe my belief system would not vibe well with the modern-liberal divinity school environment. 

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Overall yes, Vanderbilt is in the top tier of divinity schools/seminaries, alongside HDS, YDS, PTS, Candler (Emory), Chicago Div, Union, Duke (I've probably forgotten a biggie).

 

For the particular disciple of American Religious History? Not so sure. Would a MTS from a divinity school serve you better than an MA from a state school RS program? Again not sure, but these are the sort of questions that you should be asking of the particular schools you're considering. 

Best of luck.

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There are some religious studies PhD programs that make a sharp distinction between an MA from a university RS program and the MTS or MDiv from a divinity school or seminary, even those with a strong university connection, as Vanderbilt Divinity School certainly is. So, that is a fact you should consider. But other PhD programs are less particular that way, especially those blend religious studies and theology.  The MTS from Vanderbilt would be no barrier to a great number of top PhD programs in American religious history, assuming you write a thesis and focus your studies carefully.   

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American religious history is still a fairly broad field. This could mean, inter alia, that you are interested in tracing the theological development of 20th century American Catholicism or something more ethnographic such as examining quantitative data and drawing larger sociological (and other) implications. Each of these approaches have schools associated with them, ranging widely across institutions throughout the world. Some departments may think it advantageous that you studied in a theological context (however 'orthodox'), while others will simply LOL, thinking you a biased fool with an immovable agenda or, at the very least, a point of view that will bleed into your 'objective' research. This is, of course, a ridiculous binary I have described; but it exists. Admission committees do not have the time nor the care to wonder about your nuanced theological affiliation and however it may or may not feed into your proposed studies. For what it's worth, I have two close friends doing their PhD in sociology, both doing research relevant to RS (American Religion). They and others I know less have affirmed what I am saying here. To draw a similarity, It would be as if you came out of a graduate school training Marxists. Cry all you want: 'I am not a Marxist!' No matter if you were at one point or remain. Once they read 'graduated from divinity school X' you may be done for. In any case, if you maintain a theological allegiance you might not want to study in such a setting anyways. 

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As someone who has applied to HDS and (assuming I'm accepted) going to have a tough decision between HDS and a RS Master's at a similarly-ranked university, could you elaborate upon this? Do you mean to say that HDS, while not as bad as other Divinity schools, should still nonetheless be stayed clear of for students interested in academic pursuits? Or rather, do you mean that HDS is comparable and actually holds weight relative to other RS programs?

 

HDS only has one required course and seems very flexible in terms of coursework and languages. I'm not sure how large class sizes are though.

 

I am about to finish my MTS at HDS. The degree is very solid for students interested in academic pursuits, and holds its weight very well, if my PhD acceptances are anything to go by.

 

I have never had a class with more than 15-20 people. Most have had 6-8.

Edited by telkanuru
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As someone who has applied to HDS and (assuming I'm accepted) going to have a tough decision between HDS and a RS Master's at a similarly-ranked university, could you elaborate upon this? Do you mean to say that HDS, while not as bad as other Divinity schools, should still nonetheless be stayed clear of for students interested in academic pursuits? Or rather, do you mean that HDS is comparable and actually holds weight relative to other RS programs?

 

HDS only has one required course and seems very flexible in terms of coursework and languages. I'm not sure how large class sizes are though.

 

 

Goodness, people. "As bad as other divinity schools, should still nonetheless be stayed clear of for student interested in academic pursuits"? Really? Go look at faculty listings at the top religious studies programs in the country. By far, the majority of them have their masters degrees from divinity schools (mostly HDS, YDS, and UChicago.) That same thing is reflected in the make-up of students in PhD programs at the so-called "top tier" schools. Terminal masters programs from RS departments are not held in higher regard in admissions committees' minds.

 

Let's get real about what this is about: academic snobbery against people in ministerial formation. Yes, good numbers of future ministers are less concerned about long-scale academic pursuit, but that does not mean that they're any less capable of it than the academic track students are. In fact, MTS/MAR students (not to mention PhD students) regularly have their asses handed to them by MDivs. If you're planning on studying religion and you are looking down on people who practice said religions and are training to be ministers them, you might need to start checking some biases before you get too far along in scholarship. 

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I am about to finish my MTS at HDS. The degree is very solid for students interested in academic pursuits, and holds its weight very well, if my PhD acceptances are anything to go by.

 

I have never had a class with more than 15-20 people. Most have had 6-8.

 

Thank you for this response. I was, in particular, concerned about class size since some of the courses listed state there is no cap, but even 15-20 would be totally fine. 

 

Goodness, people. "As bad as other divinity schools, should still nonetheless be stayed clear of for student interested in academic pursuits"? Really? Go look at faculty listings at the top religious studies programs in the country. By far, the majority of them have their masters degrees from divinity schools (mostly HDS, YDS, and UChicago.) That same thing is reflected in the make-up of students in PhD programs at the so-called "top tier" schools. Terminal masters programs from RS departments are not held in higher regard in admissions committees' minds.

 

Let's get real about what this is about: academic snobbery against people in ministerial formation. Yes, good numbers of future ministers are less concerned about long-scale academic pursuit, but that does not mean that they're any less capable of it than the academic track students are. In fact, MTS/MAR students (not to mention PhD students) regularly have their asses handed to them by MDivs. If you're planning on studying religion and you are looking down on people who practice said religions and are training to be ministers them, you might need to start checking some biases before you get too far along in scholarship. 

 

Not entirely sure if that rather scathing remark was directed specifically toward me, but to be clear, just because I was inquiring about a bias doesn't necessarily mean I hold it myself. HDS, for example, doesn't have a thesis requirement, and I think it's reasonable to be concerned about class sizes (HDS has a yearly class size of 80 students, compared to most RS departments which aim for a class size of 10-20). 

 

And I certainly wasn't intimating that going to a Divinity school some how precludes the possibility of an academic career. No one is denying that one *can* have a very successful career in academia after going to a Divinity school, my question was whether or not there are any specific advantages an RS department would have over a Divinity school. No need for such vitriol. 

 

Edit: I'd also like to add that I wrote in such blunt terms to really pull out the contrast. I do apologize if I unintentionally insulted anyone.

Edited by -vive2ladifference
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Goodness, people. "As bad as other divinity schools, should still nonetheless be stayed clear of for student interested in academic pursuits"? Really? Go look at faculty listings at the top religious studies programs in the country. By far, the majority of them have their masters degrees from divinity schools (mostly HDS, YDS, and UChicago.) That same thing is reflected in the make-up of students in PhD programs at the so-called "top tier" schools. Terminal masters programs from RS departments are not held in higher regard in admissions committees' minds.

 

Let's get real about what this is about: academic snobbery against people in ministerial formation. Yes, good numbers of future ministers are less concerned about long-scale academic pursuit, but that does not mean that they're any less capable of it than the academic track students are. In fact, MTS/MAR students (not to mention PhD students) regularly have their asses handed to them by MDivs. If you're planning on studying religion and you are looking down on people who practice said religions and are training to be ministers them, you might need to start checking some biases before you get too far along in scholarship. 

 

You are mostly right. It's not that 'we' think that div training cannot and does not prepare students academically. Div schools certainly do. 'We' (I in this case) am simply saying that given that 1) most div programs require their MTS/MAR to take courses not at all related to their academic interests (it is meant as a sort of generalist degree at many schools) and that 2) div schools, (many) quite explicitly, are serving two masters, namely, academia and 'orthodoxy', your time may be better spent in a RS M*. To be clear I am not saying that these are opposed or even unrelated (to some). But RS programs may view them this way. And thus in serving two masters, according to RS and related fields, you miss spending time with the more 'masterful' of the two--academia. 

 

Also to your point about the majority of RS scholars having their degrees M* degrees from div schools. Meh. It depends on the subfield. If they are in some subfield dealing with ancient-things, then yeah you may be right. For reference:

http://indiana.edu/~relstud/people/faculty

Out of the full-time faculty I see two that have M* degrees from divinity schools--out of 22 faculty. The rest either do not list it or have never been in one. No time to check beyond this.

Edited by sacklunch
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Of course it matters (for me at least). If I attended a divinity school, it would be for preparation to apply for PhD programs in American Religious History. So, the reputation would be quite important in terms of how attractive (or unattractive) it would make me to good PhD programs. Now I do absolutely agree that, again for me personally, theological stances matter greatly. In fact, I have kind of come to believe my belief system would not vibe well with the modern-liberal divinity school environment. 

 

I think you missed my point (which I thought I had put so cleverly, but I guess I was actually just confusing).

Let me try again. Rankings are linear, but the ways in which div schools can be good or not good to attend are not linear. That's why your particular aims and goals are so important, because they define a ranking of div schools for you (which may be completely wrong for others).

 

Let's talk about you now.

So, you want to go to a div school in order to get into a PhD program in American Religious History. Yet, "theological stances matter greatly" for you, and you think that your "belief system would not vibe well with the modern-liberal divinity school environment."

 

First, why limit yourself to Div schools? Why not history departments, anthropology, or something similar?

 

Second, if your theological commitments are such that the "modern-liberal divinity school environment" won't work for you, that certainly narrows your options down. I don't quite know what you mean by this, since the definitions of "liberal" are so perspectival (e.g., once upon a time I thought Duke Div was very liberal, I now think of it as very conservative). Moreover, I don't know if you oppose this environment because you have "conservative" theological commitments, or because you have commitments to the secular study of American religious history and "modern-liberal divinity school environment" would annoy the hell out of you due to latent or explicit theological commitments at those places.

 

Third, are these theological commitments also going to shape your choice of PhD programs? This is important, because if your self-perceived conservative theological commitments (however you define them) would prevent you from going to many divinity schools, they are also likely to prevent you from choosing (or being chosen by) "top" PhD programs. In other words, even your definition of "top PhD programs" depends a bit on your commitment to your certain theological values. In other words, let's say, UNC Chapel Hill has one of the generally regarded "top" PhD programs in American Religious History. They have good job placement and are well respected in the field. [Again, this is just hypothetical, I don't know this subfield that well]. If your opposition to the "modern-liberal divinity school environment" is based upon an annoyance with theological approaches to the study of american religious history, then UNC would be a great place for you. Take a look at where their grad-students went for their masters degree to get a sense of where you should apply or what types of school they accept people from. If, on the other hand, you don't like "liberal" divinity schools because they are "liberal" and not "conservative," then, even if you got it, you would probably  hate being at UNC and the job offers you might receive from there. They're not going to be a place to pursue your conservative theological commitments to the study of American religious history.

 

Sorry to ramble on, I just think the subtleties of your interests, goals, and ideological commitments matter a great deal when choosing a graduate program. Ranking divinity schools--whether in First Things or by anybody else--is just not helpful. Vanderbilt is a great Divinity School for some people and a horrible one for others, just like any other divinity school. Dallas Theological Seminary is a great seminary for some people, and a horrible one for others. If you want to Yale and then teach at a state school, don't go to DTS, but if you have conservative theological commitments that are a real priority for you, then don't go to Vanderbilt or Yale, or teach at a state school.

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As someone finishing up an MTS right now, and planning on studying American Religious History at the PhD level, I wanted to throw my two cents in about the worth of an MTS versus a focused MA, or say, the MARc at Yale.  

 

As has been stated above, the MTS is a broad degree.  It is the generalist, entry level masters degree for the study of religion. It is a foundational degree for the further academic study of religion.  You can get into an MTS program with a B.S. in Biology, because the MTS is meant for students who don't necessarily have a BA in Religious Studies or Christian Minister or Bible or Theology.  

 

At the same time, I would argue that this type of degree can be very useful for someone who does have a bachelors degree in religion.  The undergraduate religion degree is just that, undergraduate.  Undergrad religion degrees are typically broad, but they don't typically attend to the subject matter with the same type of rigor as the MTS, nor do they often promote the same type of critical thinking skills that a top tier MTS program does.  

Furthermore, there is something to be said about having a good foundation in all areas of the academic study of religion if you plan on attaining the PhD in Religion in some specific field.  For example, the historian of religion will have a much better grasp of what is going on historically if they have a good grasp of theology, and even better, if they have actually done theology themselves in an academic program.  Likewise, a sociologist studying religious groups will have a better grasp of what is going on in a Christian group if they understand the bible, and if they've undertaken their own study of the bible at some point in their training.  The MA, on the other hand, being all history or all theology or all biblical studies, etc., just doesn't prepare you broadly like the MTS can.  That is why, more and more, the standard in many schools is multiple M* degrees before moving on to the PhD.  There is just too damn much to learn about religion to get it all done in one degree, even if it happens to be a three year MDiv, for example. 

As far as class sizes and Vandy, the MDiv required courses (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Formation of Christian Traditions, Reformation, American Religious History) can be quite large.  As soon as you step out of those five classes, however, you walk into seminar courses with 4-12 people in them.  

 

Finally, I think there is something to be said about theologically conservative folks studying at a "liberal" place like Vanderbilt.  Many, if not most of the students at Vanderbilt are more conservative than their professors.  But what you get at Vanderbilt, that you won't get at a Fuller or a Dallas, is FULL academic freedom.  When you take a class on the Hebrew Bible at a "liberal" Div school, you won't have the professor pulling punches about whether or not all of the historical and archeological evidence supports the claim that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt (hint: pretty much no evidence whatsoever, and plenty of evidence to the contrary).  Likewise, you won't have professors pulling punches when dealing with errors of geography, history, science, logic, theology, etc. in the New Testament text.  People are free to actually look at the evidence and make their own decisions and not be branded a heretic for following where it leads.  That, too me, seems much more Christian than the approach of some of the avowedly conservative Christian seminaries, IMHO. 

Edited by Josh J.
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To the OP: Joseph45's explanation is basically right. You need to figure out how to balance your theological commitments with the fact that secular programs are probably not going to care about them and/or find them problematic for doing rigorous academic work depending on what they are and how much you want them to come into your work.

 

Furthermore, there is something to be said about having a good foundation in all areas of the academic study of religion if you plan on attaining the PhD in Religion in some specific field.  For example, the historian of religion will have a much better grasp of what is going on historically if they have a good grasp of theology, and even better, if they have actually done theology themselves in an academic program.  Likewise, a sociologist studying religious groups will have a better grasp of what is going on in a Christian group if they understand the bible, and if they've undertaken their own study of the bible at some point in their training.  The MA, on the other hand, being all history or all theology or all biblical studies, etc., just doesn't prepare you broadly like the MTS can.  That is why, more and more, the standard in many schools is multiple M* degrees before moving on to the PhD.  There is just too damn much to learn about religion to get it all done in one degree, even if it happens to be a three year MDiv, for example. 

 

This is a highly contentious claim in RS. Those who think theology is important to understanding religious history or doing ethnographic or sociological work in contemporary Christian groups a very few in number and mostly theologians. I'm a theologian in a secular RS department and have had many, many conversations with folks about the relationship between theology and the academic study of religion (though mostly good!) But I'd say views in the field more broadly range from extremely negative to mostly indifferent. And theology is not even on the radar at all of people in other humanities/social science fields (e.g. sociology). That's not to say that theology in some sense isn't important at all though in our field. Amy Hollywood, Robert Orsi, Sylvester Johnson, Tyler Roberts, Constance Furey, Amira Mittermaier, to name just a few examples, are all folks who in some sense are interested in "religious ideas" as articulated by religious adherents and/or theological-philosophical ideas (not just Christian ones). But I would not at all assume that a "secular" department is going to care at all about religious ideas which are typically taken to be hegemonic, imperialistic, etc. (and really aren't wrong on that count.) I have a colleague with an MA in American religious history from FSU's program, and he's a fantastic scholar. His lack of theological training there has not made him a worse scholar in that field.

 

Finally, I think there is something to be said about theologically conservative folks studying at a "liberal" place like Vanderbilt.  Many, if not most of the students at Vanderbilt are more conservative than their professors.  But what you get at Vanderbilt, that you won't get at a Fuller or a Dallas, is FULL academic freedom.  When you take a class on the Hebrew Bible at a "liberal" Div school, you won't have the professor pulling punches about whether or not all of the historical and archeological evidence supports the claim that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt (hint: pretty much no evidence whatsoever, and plenty of evidence to the contrary).  Likewise, you won't have professors pulling punches when dealing with errors of geography, history, science, logic, theology, etc. in the New Testament text.  People are free to actually look at the evidence and make their own decisions and not be branded a heretic for following where it leads.  That, too me, seems much more Christian than the approach of some of the avowedly conservative Christian seminaries, IMHO.

 

I know this is splitting hairs from the perspective of the secular academy (and beside the point of this thread), but I have to say: Fuller and Dallas are not the same. That's not to say that Fuller isn't more conservative than a place like Vanderbilt (it definitely is), but that's mostly because of the students who attend rather than the faculty. 

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Some good points by marXian.

 

Josh J's comments are what I have often heard from my brief time in/around divinity students (the big ones in the US). It seems as if theological institutions are telling their students that in order to better (truly?) understand a religious tradition you must be an insider or at least have some intimate knowledge of it. The reasons for this view, I think, are reactionary against the big bad wolf-secular academia-raising its eyebrows at the methodologies used at divinity schools (they do play by a different set of academic 'rules'). In justifying the research done at divinity schools (we might ask, for instance, if they really belong in modern public research universities) outsiders--in most instances non-Christians--are seen with the same suspicion that we find in secular academic views of theological research! In effect the divinity schools (and the 'secular schools' too) reinforce the value of their methods by excoriating the 'non-orthodox'. In short, the fact that we play by a different set of academic rules strips our ability to speak with one another. For better or worse this is why 'secular' academics and departments will view your divinity background as highly suspicious. 

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Some good points by marXian.

 

Josh J's comments are what I have often heard from my brief time in/around divinity students (the big ones in the US). It seems as if theological institutions are telling their students that in order to better (truly?) understand a religious tradition you must be an insider or at least have some intimate knowledge of it. The reasons for this view, I think, are reactionary against the big bad wolf-secular academia-raising its eyebrows at the methodologies used at divinity schools (they do play by a different set of academic 'rules'). In justifying the research done at divinity schools (we might ask, for instance, if they really belong in modern public research universities) outsiders--in most instances non-Christians--are seen with the same suspicion that we find in secular academic views of theological research! In effect the divinity schools (and the 'secular schools' too) reinforce the value of their methods by excoriating the 'non-orthodox'. In short, the fact that we play by a different set of academic rules strips our ability to speak with one another. For better or worse this is why 'secular' academics and departments will view your divinity background as highly suspicious. 

 

The thing is, Divinity Schools aren't telling their students that at all.  I could imagine something like that coming out of a conservative seminary, but the large Divinity Schools are largely approaching the study of religion from a post-Christian point of view.  I am surrounded by atheists, agnostics, and a smattering of Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists, and other religious and non-religious people.  As MarXian hinted at above, theology, when removed from its faith context, is ideas, and a historian of religion dealing with theology is in effect dealing with the history of ideas.  Can you write a history of something without seriously engaging in the history of ideas? Sure.  Can you write a history of religion without doing so?  Probably, but it gets a lot harder. 

But I would completely reject the idea that Divinity Schools are telling students, explicitly, implicitly, or otherwise, that you must approach the topic from an insiders prospective.  Some of the best scholarship on religion comes from outsiders because they can be more objective. What I think I hear going on here is a conflation of Divinity Schools with seminaries and bible colleges.

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The thing is, Divinity Schools aren't telling their students that at all.  I could imagine something like that coming out of a conservative seminary, but the large Divinity Schools are largely approaching the study of religion from a post-Christian point of view.  I am surrounded by atheists, agnostics, and a smattering of Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists, and other religious and non-religious people.  As MarXian hinted at above, theology, when removed from its faith context, is ideas, and a historian of religion dealing with theology is in effect dealing with the history of ideas.  Can you write a history of something without seriously engaging in the history of ideas? Sure.  Can you write a history of religion without doing so?  Probably, but it gets a lot harder. 

But I would completely reject the idea that Divinity Schools are telling students, explicitly, implicitly, or otherwise, that you must approach the topic from an insiders prospective.  Some of the best scholarship on religion comes from outsiders because they can be more objective. What I think I hear going on here is a conflation of Divinity Schools with seminaries and bible colleges.

 

Perhaps they are not. Though I have heard this kind of thing from divinity students from Emory, BC, HDS, YDS, and with the greatest frequency DDS. My interactions with these divinity students was as an 'outsider' from RS. Perhaps they are more sensitive to these issues (as I am) when confronted with someone from the other side. 

I don't know a ton about VDS (beyond a visit before my first M*). I do have a hard time believing you are surrounded by atheists and agnostics, at least in Vandy's Divinity School.

 

As someone who studies ancient history I cannot adequately (or at all) comment on what theology is and isn't. The original post was about American religious history, so I see your point about theology (historically) being an 'idea' when removed from from its faith context. However I wonder if the faith context of such periods (exuding movements and events occurring now) can be recovered at all without attention to "the history of ideas." This is your point, I think; so we mostly agree. 

 

*edit* thinking back...I think the student comments I have heard about insiders understanding their subject material was mostly from students. I can't speak of academics. Though Stanley Hauerwas comes to mind. 

Edited by sacklunch
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