Divinity School Expands Focus

As the College’s curricular review enters a period of debate and discussion this fall, the Harvard Divinity School has finalized a new curriculum for its Master of Divinity Degree program—the first such revision in more than 20 years.

If accepted, students who are currently applying to the three-year master’s program will be the first to experience the revamped curriculum, which includes new language requirements, a stricter introductory class structure and a minimum of three classes in non-Christian religions.

The revised curriculum for the program, usually taken by students who plan to enter ordained ministry, was approved by a majority vote of the Divinity School’s faculty in the spring, according to Dudley C. Rose, an assistant dean for ministry studies.

“[While] there was no overwhelming feeling that the program was light, weak or out of date, we saw ways in which we could really improve it,” Rose said.

In approving these changes, the Divinity School considered the recommendations from the Master of Divinity Planning Committee, adopting all of the suggestions except for one which was tabled until next year. This last recommendation, if implemented, would make junior papers and senior theses mandatory.

The changes in the master’s program come at a time of larger debate over the purpose and structure of the Divinity School.

Some faculty, like Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes, insist that the school should retain its traditional focus on Christianity.

“If this school’s future is to be worthy of its past,” Gomes said during a September speech in Sanders Theatre, “that future dare not compromise the essential Christian identity of the place, without which no other identity would be possible.”

Yesterday, Gomes characterized any attempt to “give up the Ghost” as a “fatal wound” to the Divinity School.

“[The Divinity School] will exhaust every possible option before it does the right thing, and it’s exhausted nearly all of them....I’m guardedly optimistic, and I hope I live long enough to see it make the right decision,” he said.

“No one can afford not to listen to me,” Gomes added. “I have the alumni on my side.”

But Rose said that it is essential even for those entering the Christian ministry to explore other religions.

The planning committee’s report offers further justification, “While some might assume that comparison or ‘comparative religion’ necessarily entails a position of either extreme universalism or radical relativism, the study of religious worlds that are distinct from one’s own challenges one to consider the family resemblances among human concerns, to see the rich diversity of responses to such human concerns as a resource for thinking anew within one’s own tradition.”

The Divinity School is following the lead of other graduate religious programs, according to Professor of Comparative Religion Diana L. Eck.

“[The Divinity School] has never been a place where a person goes who wants to be an imam or a rabbi....the Christian ministry [has been] its heart,” said Eck, who is also the director of The Pluralism Project. The project—an effort to engage religious diversity—is under the Committee on the Study of Religion, which oversees the University’s religious studies.

Harvard has taught religion since its founding in 1636, but the Divinity School only dates back to 1816.

In addition to the Master of Divinity program, the Divinity School offers a two-year Master of Theological Studies Degree program, which is normally taken in preparation for academia.

Christina Wright, a second-year student in the Master of Divinity program, said she chose to attend the Divinity School because of its lack of affiliation with a specific denomination and its ministerial emphasis.

“Harvard does well by defining ministry widely, including politics and teaching,” in addition to traditional religious vocations, Wright said.

“I hope it stays on track,” she added.

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