An Academic Genesis

First (half) week of classes, and reactions to the coming Academic Experience

So it has been a bunch of days since I last posted here, not least of all due to being quite busy with a wide variety of pursuits.  Even though I knew that classes were incoming, that didn’t change the fact that I needed to look for a job (which I might have gotten, just waiting on a response from the hirer), do additional work on the house, and get other errands and tasks done that simply take time.  All of that said, classes seemed to come so quickly after a grueling week of orientation, but they oddly started on Wednesday; they almost swooped down upon us like some intellectual but ravenous bird of prey.  So which classes am I inaugurating my time at YDS with, you might ask?  Take a look (scheduling included):

1) Transitional Moments in Western Christianity I (MW 8:30-9:20am): this course is an introduction to broadly vital moments in Christian history, from approximately the time of Paul to approximately the Reformation in its earlier stages (with the second part of the course, in the spring, going from the late Reformation until modern times).  Although the moments we will examine are chosen from a large set of potential material, I am not at all concerned about this: the professor, Bruce Gordon, is apparently one of the absolute top academic contenders in this field of study.  Although I have only had his class once, and it was a an introduction class, I can already tell that this course is going to be fantastic: he spent the intro lecture taking us on a brief consideration of what it means to truly consider and study history, in a way that made a lot of sense to everyone (but which had taken me a good 2 or maybe 3 years at AU to figure some of those things out on my own) in a mere 50 minutes.  I imagine I will be posting a whole bunch more on this course and my experiences there over time.

2) Old Testament Interpretation I (MWF 9:30-10:20am): this course is again the first of a two-parter, with this fall semester focusing on the Pentateuch as one “half” of the Old Testament, and the latter half being the “minor prophets” as they are called.  Taught by Professor Carolyn Sharp,one of the Hebrew Bible scholars here at the school and an Episcopalian priest, the course is excellent in that she is carefully attuned to the necessity of making an introductory course like this one into both a) something accessible to people who are just starting out while also b) adding little “paperclips” into the lecture note outline, little details that are highlighted and meant to be returned to and studied further once we progress further into our studies.  The course seems like it will be an interesting experience, but I have already noticed that her teaching style is strongly theological; while this makes sense given that she is an ordained clergy member, I had some background in critical Old Testament studies while studying abroad in Jerusalem, so this will likely take some adjustment for me.

3) Systematic Theology I (MW 11:30-12:20): this has the capacity to be one of the best courses I take while I am at YDS, for a variety of reasons.  “Systematic theology,” for the sake of clarity, is the process of attempting to set up a philosophical and theological explanation for everything about God, the world, humanity, and the interconnections thereof.  Given that YDS is an ecumenical school, this course is a comparative examination of many different approaches to this type of theological project; this of course is the sort of course setup that drew me so strongly to YDS.  Even better, however, is the pair of professors who are team-teaching the course, as they are absolute giants in the field: Kathryn Tanner, and Miroslav Volf.  Professor Volf was not actually in the lecture on the first day, due to being on the return leg of an academic speaking trip abroad, but let me wax for a moment on the subject of Professor Tanner.  While I have had professors and clergy speak to me before in a meaningful way that made me truly question and pressure my own views compared to what I had just heard, this woman, in the course of a mere 50 minute long lecture period, managed to not only do the usual introduction/go over the syllabus/explain the course, she casually did the whole “incisive and brilliant commentary offered that truly shakes my understanding of the world/some aspect of it” no less than five (5) times.  That is unprecedented, and I think I know why it clicked so powerfully.  I am going to reproduce a quote from her Yale Div faculty page, linked above, right here, as it captures so concisely the exact reason I understand my calling to be a combination of clergy membership/outlook with an international development employer and career: “Theologians are now primarily called to provide, not a theoretical argument for Christianity’s plausibility, but an account of how Christianity can be part of the solution, rather than simply part of the problem, on matters of great human moment that make a life-and-death difference to people, especially the poor and the oppressed.”  While I don’t want to hope for too much too quickly, I am seriously praying that I will get the chance to do additional coursework with Professor Tanner as my time here continues.

4) Pastoral Care & Addiction (M 6:00-9:00pm): This is the last 3 credit course on my expected 4-course workload for this semester, and I have not actually been to it yet, as classes started this past Wednesday, and this course only happens on Monday nights.  That said, I picked this course for a pair of reasons: it is the only skills-based course I will be taking this semester, which is necessary given the massive workload in the other classes I am taking; and second, because this area is something that deeply interests me.  I will post more about this once I go and get a sense, but both Bill Goettler (Dean of the MDiv students) and my personal advisor Paul Stuehrenberg (head librarian, and head of the Lutheran programs on campus) had the highest of praise for both the course and the professor, so I have high hopes for my experiences therein.

5) Lutheran Students Colloquium (T 3:00-4:00pm): Finally, another course I have not yet taken, and also an excellent segue to the other section of this blog post, I am also enrolled in the First Year Lutheran student colloquium.  This is both a community-building event for the Lutherans on campus, while also being a requirement for the Lutheran Certificate (awarded to students who participate in the communal life of the Lutherans, as well as ministerial formation events).  I have heard that it will be a great experience, and though this is content for a future post, I am also fairly heavily involved in Lutheran student planning for this year, so this will be a great support network.  The other Lutheran offering at YDS is the Diploma in Lutheran Studies, which I explain in the next section.

Diploma in Lutheran Studies, Lutheran Certificate

Now, since its apparently not online anywhere else, I wanted to just give the requirements for the Diploma in Lutheran Studies I will have to fit into my MDiv coursework:

-6 credit hours of Koine Greek (which I am interested in doing over a summer, even if not a ELCA requirement)
Holy Scriptures
-6 credit hours Old Testament interpretation
-6 credit hours New Testament intepretation
-one additional exegesis, interpretation, or theology
History and Theology of the Christian Tradition
-1 course in theology or history of the early church
-1 course in theology or history of the medieval and Reformation church
-1 course on the theology of Martin Luther
-1 course on the Lutheran Confessions
Christian Ethics
-1 course on ethics, the recommendation being “Lutheran ethics in a comparative context”
Social, Cultural, and Global contexts of the church’s mission
-1 course required
Liturgy and preaching
-1 course in foundations of liturgical study
-1 course in parish worship: Planning and presiding
-1 additional course in preaching
Theory and practice of ministry
-1 course in ecclesiology, ministry, and polity
-2 additional courses in pastoral care, counseling, or Christian education

I am quite excited at this list; the Lutheran students spent all day today doing our yearly retreat for planning the coming year, and as we discussed several times, the huge benefit to being Lutheran at the ecumenical Yale Divinity School is that we learn more about our own faith identity by being in the midst of other faiths (as opposed to a Lutheran seminary, whereat everyone shares the same basic views and sometimes those can go unnoticed as a result).

Photos of new books (and my joyful acquisition of Puerto Rico, the best board game ever), as well as some more shots of the interior of our house and its yard:

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