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Yale/Duke => Current Research Interest of Professors


Panera
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I have narrowed down my choices to Duke Divinity (MTS) or Yale Divinity  (MARc Ethics).  I have a double major in Religion and Economics and want to pursue a Ph.D. in Theology concentrating in Ethics.  I would like to incorporate social justice/public policy/economics into the theological conversation with a long term goal of teaching.  I think at this stage it would be important to choose a MA program where the professor's current research interest overlaps into these areas.  My question is how do I get a clear answer to what the focus/interest of the professors is at Yale and Duke apart from just reading the online bio?  Do you just email admissions?  I would think emailing the professors directly would be inappropriate.  Any ideas or if anyone has any insight into the Ethic's professors at these Schools would be greatly appreciated. 

 

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You can definitely email them! It's not inappropriate at all, especially considering the investment you're making into the MA in terms of time and money. I've been in correspondence with most of my POI and they could not have been nicer. If you feel still shy (I totally understand that feeling) then read their books! I borrowed a book from every POI and just read the introduction and skimmed through it to get a better idea and it definitely helps. I mean their bios list their major interests but then you don't know whether you'll be happy learning what they have to say about those interests. For example, in my field (Islamic Studies), I'm very wary of orientalists and it's difficult to get an idea of that just based on professor's bios so reading their publications is necessary. 

 

Aside from that, perhaps you could also consider Yale and Duke's public policy programs into your decision? You'll most likely be taking classes outside the Div School so it might end up being a big plus to go to a school that has a fantastic PP program. 

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Wanderlustxx's advice is mine, too, but I'd reverse it. Read their books, or at least the introductions. So much of one's time spent as an academic is writing, so it's in the books that you see what they're actually interested in and how they think about things. Also, run a quick search of their name on the library database ATLA—there you can see any articles they've put out, which gives a somewhat better representation of their total production. So, for instance at Yale, if you look at Herdt's most recent book, you can see that her interest substantially lies in virtue ethics and subject formation, especially from an analytical philosophy perspective. When you email a POI, you generally want to have done your homework so you're not like, "Um, so, like...what are you interested in?" It makes it look like you're not terrible invested, and that you may not have applied knowing why you were applying. (When they may have actually read your application...)

 

Also, go onto each school's course catalogue and see what classes they've taught recently. Seminars are often ways of workshopping ideas professors are working on with advanced students, so those can give clear ideas of their interests, while lecture courses are more likely to show where they're particular strengths are. It will also help you see how much a given professor is teaching.

Edited by theophany
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Great advice.  I had reviewed publications early on in the process.  Now that I have narrowed my choices I think it time to do a more thorough review and then fire off some email inquiries. In terms of the public policy programs, I will check them out.  I know that at Yale, taking courses outside of the Divinity school is easily done.  One MTS (ethics) student I spoke with takes half his courses in other graduate schools at Yale.  This is a big plus as I have noted varying abilities to do so amongst the schools that I am considering.  

 

Thanks again

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Is funding comparable?

I wish I knew! As you may know, Duke has still not released funding info.  They said in the acceptance notification last Friday it would be the first of next week.  Its Thursday for goodness sake!!!  Patience unfortunately is not one of my virtues.  

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I would seriously consider the flexibility of their programs. Duke's MTS is known for being fairly strict in its requirements, while Yale's MARc is known for the opposite. If you are forced to spend 3/4 of your degree fulfilling bloated requirements, you may be at a significant disadvantage when applying for doctoral programs. 

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I wish I knew! As you may know, Duke has still not released funding info.  They said in the acceptance notification last Friday it would be the first of next week.  Its Thursday for goodness sake!!!  Patience unfortunately is not one of my virtues.  

If one of the programs happened to be far superior in your prospective field, then financial matters would matter less, but it seems like both programs offer strong and diverse options, especially when you factor in philosophy departments. See what Duke is offering and then decide.

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I'd give the edge to Yale given your interests in theological ethics and economics. Duke has Bretherton, but Yale has Tanner and Herdt. Also, Yale, I think, has a better placement record for those pursing doctoral studies. Just something to think about.

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YDS ethics MARs did well this year in terms of placement, getting ethics Phd spots at Yale, Princeton, and Notre Dame, among others. I'll echo that Kathryn Tanner would be an excellent resource. She is currently teaching a course on "Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism," focussing on finance-based economics and its relationship to Christianity, which seems to currently be her main research interest. 

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I have read Kathryn Tanner’s “Economy of Grace” which aligns with my interest.  I am curious if any knows whether Miroslav Volf at Yale is still focused on the intersection of the Christian faith and the economy.  It seems early on that this was one of his major focuses along with the the globalization of faith.  Now it seems his primary focus is on interfaith engagement particularly between Christians and Muslims.  

Edited by Panera
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I have read Kathryn Tanner’s “Economy of Grace” which aligns with my interest.  I am curious if any knows whether Miroslav Volf at Yale is still focused on the intersection of the Christian faith and the economy.  It seems early on that this was one of his major focuses along with the the globalization of faith.  Now it seems his primary focus is on interfaith engagement particularly between Christians and Muslims.  

 

 

Tanner is giving the Gifford Lectures—one of the most important lecture series in religion/theology—next May in Edinburgh on the topic of economics and theology, for which she has been doing research for the past several years. If Economy of Grace interested you, then you'll probably very much like where her interest is now. Volf's interests have slightly shifted recently—the newest project the Center for Faith and Culture is working on is about joy. 

 

One thing against YDS on ethics at this point is that you should make sure to take a look at the currently faculty listing and notice how many ethics faculty there are...

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Tanner is giving the Gifford Lectures—one of the most important lecture series in religion/theology—next May in Edinburgh on the topic of economics and theology, for which she has been doing research for the past several years. If Economy of Grace interested you, then you'll probably very much like where her interest is now. Volf's interests have slightly shifted recently—the newest project the Center for Faith and Culture is working on is about joy. 

 

One thing against YDS on ethics at this point is that you should make sure to take a look at the currently faculty listing and notice how many ethics faculty there are...

I have just recently inquired as to the status of Yale’s search for a tenured ethics professor. Putting that search aside though, I am not seeing a huge contrast between Yale and Duke in terms of numbers.  Both schools currently have one tenured professor in Ethics (Herdt & Bretherton).  Duke has two associate professors and Yale one with one visiting professor.  

 

YALE

Jennifer A. Herdt Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics

Frederick Simmons Assistant Professor of Ethics

Gerald McKenny Visiting Professor of Ethics

 

Kathryn Tanner Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology

 

DUKE

Luke Bretherton Professor of Theological Ethics and Senior Fellow, Kenan Institute for Ethics

Amy Laura Hall Associate Professor of Christian Ethics

David Toole Associate Professor of the Practice of Theology, Ethics, and Global Health

 

Although Kathryn Tanner is a Systematics professor her interest coincide with mine and hopefully I will have an ability to work with her possibly in a directed studies format.  Both Hall & Toole at Duke are focused on Bio & Health ethics which I don’t have an interest in.  So by the numbers it seems like a toss up to me.  Tanner at Yale and Bretherton at Duke seem like a toss up in terms of sharing my interest in economics.

Am I missing something?

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Just be careful; McKenny is no longer visiting at Yale (he visited Spring '14), and Simmons' assignment is up this summer. Also, though he doesn't do economics stuff (as far as I know), John Hare does do ethics/moral philosophy. It's his primary methodological entry point into POR.

Edited by rlg
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Just be careful; McKenny is no longer visiting at Yale (he visited Spring '14), and Simmons' assignment is up this summer. Also, though he doesn't do economics stuff (as far as I know), John Hare does do ethics/moral philosophy. It's his primary methodological entry point into POR.

 

The key is that they have a visiting at all: YDS has been depending on bringing in people over the past few years because they don't have the people. Importantly, visiting faculty won't be eligible for being advisers. Simmons is leaving because he didn't get tenure. And Herdt is academic dean and so only teaches one class a semester, usually a seminar. They've had two failed searches in the past 3 years; a failed search at Yale results in a freeze on the chair for 2 years, which means they can't do a search for them. Tanner wouldn't describe herself as an ethicist really either...

 

The point is: Yale should have 4-5 tenure or tenure-track faculty in ethics. Unless something changes, next year they have only one, who is only teaching a half-load. They'll probably have some more visiting faculty, but this is a significant problem for them right now (and one they know about, of course, and are trying to do things about.)

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The key is that they have a visiting at all: YDS has been depending on bringing in people over the past few years because they don't have the people. Importantly, visiting faculty won't be eligible for being advisers. Simmons is leaving because he didn't get tenure. And Herdt is academic dean and so only teaches one class a semester, usually a seminar. They've had two failed searches in the past 3 years; a failed search at Yale results in a freeze on the chair for 2 years, which means they can't do a search for them. Tanner wouldn't describe herself as an ethicist really either...

 

The point is: Yale should have 4-5 tenure or tenure-track faculty in ethics. Unless something changes, next year they have only one, who is only teaching a half-load. They'll probably have some more visiting faculty, but this is a significant problem for them right now (and one they know about, of course, and are trying to do things about.)

Point taken.  I really appreciate the insight and will definitely consider it!  Any thoughts on John Hare in terms of ethics?  Several have mentioned him as doing "creative" work in the field of ethics.

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You should be thinking of this as a step toward the Ph.D. Doctoral programs are highly focused. So that rather than listing all the faculty teaching in a particular area at a school, you should be thinking about the one or two that'll advise you and oversee your project and hopefully write outstanding letters of recommendation. I think Herdt and Tanner will be better in these regards than Bretherton. But you should inquire with YDS to see what the possibilities of working with both are, especially given your interests. Also ask about directed studies or reading courses and if Herdt or Tanner are available to work with students in those capacities.

Here are the respective strengths, as I see them, of the possibilities. Herdt will provide you a strong background in ethical theory and early Modern ethical thought. Duke won't give you that in the same way Herdt (and Hare) would because the theological commitments of some at Duke are such that philosophy and theology are deeply opposed. They'll say something different, but if you scratch beneath the surface, the opposition is definitely there. Tanner will provide you with the connections between systematic theology and economics. There probably aren't any other big names in theology doing the kind of work she is doing at a conceptual level. Bretherton, on the other hand, does a little of everything but is especially good on empirical/ethnographic work and social ethics. He seems to think about concrete issues (usury or payday lending, for example) a little more than Herdt and Tanner, and he is much more amenable towards doing social ethics (that is, thinking about our common life together) than either of the other two. Pick your poison. I think YDS might provide you with better intellectual formation. But if you really care about spiritual formation (of a certain kind) and social ethics, then perhaps Duke is your place.

Edited by Lux Lex Pax
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  • 2 weeks later...

Officially headed to give Rory Gilmore a run for her money!! So excited and blessed beyond measure to be attending Yale Divinity School this fall!  Thanks to everyone who took the time out to thoughtfully answer my questions.  This forum proved to be invaluable for someone new to the many opportunities to pursue graduate work in religious studies.

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