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Praises Present Instruction Methods of Divinity School


"In so far as our American churches share the immediate interests and speak the vernacular of their world, they tend to lose the dispassionateness which pure religion ought to share with pure science," Willard Learoyd Sperry, Dean of the Divinity School said in his annual report issued yesterday.

Dean Sperry said that instruction in the Divinity School continues to be predominantly historical in its content and method. "Theology as the 'queen of the Sciences' no longer enjoys its ancient and unique position. In liberal seminaries it in supplemented, if not supplemented, by academic disciplines which have an independent status in the world of secular concerns. These disciplines are variously psychological, philosophical, sociological, aesthetic, and historical. In this School we have deliberately stressed the historical approach to the study of religion, at the cost of emphasis upon other approaches. The result is a curriculum which is confessedly over-developed on one side and under-developed on other sides.

Historical Perspective

"On the other hand, we dare to believe that our historical disciplines give to our men a perspective which American Protestantism too often lacks, and that, because of their habits of mind, they make a needed contribution to their several denominations. An English scholar has said that modern Protestantism has developed a 'theology of accommodation,' that is, it lives by a nicely calculated adjustment to the dominant interests of the common mind. Plainly, in so far as our American churches share the immediate interests and speak the vernacular of their world, they tend to lose the dispassionateness which pure religion ought to share with pure science.

"It may be said that we are living at a time when dispassionateness is a luxury which we cannot afford. But it may equally well be said that only as some men and some institutions, such as the university and the church, preserve that dispassionateness can we be saved from the fallacious hopes and needless fears. In religion, at least, only a study of its history can give us the long range view of spiritual and moral processes, which are our best safeguard against disillusionment and despair. We venture to think that, in spite of many valid criticisms of our curriculum, for its archaic and non-contemporary quality our alumni are probably more likely to weather the next few years, and to weather the next few years, and be of greater service to the permanent religious cause, than are those whose professional preparation for the ministry has failed to develop historical-mindedness.

Theological Conference

"Some twenty years ago, at the invitation of Harvard, the theological seminaries of the Unites States and Canada met here to consider the postwar problems of the churches and the prospect for the future. That meeting resulted in the organization of the Conference of theological Seminaries and Colleges in the United States and Canada. The intervening years have been spent by that organization mainly in a study of the forces and the nature of the Protestant ministry and its professional training. We now have, in place of guess-work, reliable information as to these matters. Meanwhile the Conference has been drawing up a list of accredited theological schools, which have academic equipment and standards of decent graduate school level. The attempt to establish such standards has, of course, aroused resentment in those quarters where piety is cultivated at the expense of sober learning. Nevertheless, if a church is to go through the motions of giving its ministry an academic training, there is no hallway house in which it can complacently settle down. Once the principle of a learned profession, as against a lay, unprofessional ministry is conceded, then the standard should be set as high as possible.

"The most immediate effect of this list of approved seminaries, so far as we are concerned, is a much greater assurance in the exchange of students. In particular we in the Harvard Divinity School are now able to appraise the academic ability o men wishing to come on to us for post-graduate work. We know that their grades and degrees are worth, and with this list of accredited institutions at hand we shall be saved a great deal of the wasted time and effort and scholarship money which in other years have been given to men who were not in a position to profit by work with us. Incidentally, the Divinity School was visited last year by the examining committee of the Conference, was duly recommended as approved, and was placed on the accredited list at the June, 1940, meeting of the Conference."

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