Rainey Harper founded the Divinity School as an essential component
of the University, hiring the faculty from the Baptist seminary
in nearby Morgan Park and establishing Divinity as the U of C's
first professional school. Both a scholar of Semitic languages
and a member of the Baptist clergy, Harper wanted to guarantee
a place at Chicago for the systematic inquiry into the complex
structures of the world's religions.
than a century later, Richard Rosengarten continues that tradition
of disciplined religious scholarship. Rosengarten, AM'88, PhD'94,
associate professor of religion and literature, became the Divinity
School's dean in July 2000 after serving nine years as the school's
dean of students.
specialist in narrative theory and 18th-century religious thought,
Rosengarten has written and lectured on such authors as Jonathan
Swift, Voltaire, and Flannery O'Connor. His recent book,
Henry Fielding and the Narration of Providence: Divine Design
and the Incursions of Evil (Palgrave, 2000), examines the
providential design of history during the rise of the English
Divinity School is a professional school, but it awards Ph.D.s
to two-thirds of its graduates. How does the school walk the
line between being a teacher of ministers and a teacher of academics?
course the University's motto argues against the distinction-crescat
scientia, vita excolatur-but the Divinity School's particular
take follows Harper's founding conviction: a divinity school
would only do its work well if it had one faculty and one curriculum
serving a student body that included those preparing for the
ministry and those preparing for careers in teaching and research.
So our introductory course in New Testament includes ministry
students who will preach these texts, historians of ancient
Christianity and Judaism or with comparative interests in Greco-Roman
religions, theologians, and ethicists. The pedagogical challenge
this combination mandates is one that does full justice to the
text as a document of many dimensions and alerts scholar and
minister alike to the range of resonances their object of study
has in the wider world.
what extent should the school be a public voice when the nation
is in crisis, such as in the current state of world affairs?
crucial that we provide accurate, reliable information about
religious traditions-their histories, their teachings, their
self-understandings in the world. This sort of perspective is
easily underestimated in terms of Islam but also in terms of
Christian and Jewish traditions. We desperately need frames
of reference, and information can help. A distinct but related
task: those of our membership who study the moral dimension
of human life and activity can and should bring to the fore
the resources of various theological, ethical, and philosophical
a school, we of course don't take positions on world events
but do work hard to facilitate informed conversation about them.
One example of that is our Web editorial column, "Sightings,"
sponsored by our Martin Marty Center. "Sightings"
appears twice per week and provides 500-750-word essays on topics
in religion. You can visit the column online [divinity.uchicago.edu/
sightings/] to read a collection of writings
on September 11 and related matters.
does the Divinity School relate to Chicago's other professional
schools and academic departments?
connections are absolutely crucial to our work, and another
respect in which this divinity school is truly unusual: good
collegial relations exponentially increase what students can
do and fundamentally enhance our research.
of the Divinity School faculty hold joint or associated appointments
with other departments or schools at the University, ranging
from South Asian languages & civilizations and Social Thought
to anthropology, comparative literature, history, classics,
and sociology. It's extremely rare for a Divinity School student
not to enroll for several courses offered elsewhere in the University,
and we are delighted to see students from around the campus
taking our courses. We have dual-degree programs with the Harris
School and with the School of Social Service Administration
and are completing a similar arrangement with the Law School.
And of course everyone on the faculty holds an appointment in
the College, since we offer a small but very popular undergraduate
concentration in religious studies.
has the curriculum changed since Harper founded Divinity as
the University's first professional school?
Harper hired the very distinguished faculty of the Baptist seminary
in Morgan Park, the initial curriculum reflected that group's
ideals about how best to train a learned Christian ministry-Hebrew,
Greek, and Latin, extensive study of Old Testament and New Testament,
church history, theology, and the ministerial arts of preaching,
worship, pastoral care, and religious education.
curriculum was both ambitious and intellectually spry: Harper
thought the school's graduates would shape democracy first for
America and then for the world, and colleagues such as George
Burman Foster grasped quite clearly the much larger world of
religions that became visible to the West at the turn of the
century and saw its implications for excellence in research
curriculum is not solely oriented by the commitment to training
ministers-although we retain that commitment-but more by the
faculty's judgments about scholarly education in the study of
religion. So we have a program in the history of Judaism, we
study Buddhism and Hinduism, and we foster comparative work
across traditions accomplished through such disciplines as philosophy,
sociology, and anthropology.
we study, and to some extent how we study it, has changed. But
we retain the ambition that our work matters for the future,
and we certainly hope we're a spry and forward-looking crowd.
kind of students attend the Divinity School rather than a seminary
or a humanities program?
attend because our focus is knowledge about religion, and that
is the fundamental orientation of their interest and the work
they hope to do. They ask-and this is as true of our ministry
students as it is of our doctoral students-no special privilege
for religion in the marketplace of ideas, but they are adamant
that religion is a force in the world and needs to be understood
well-and, some would say, practiced with vigor and responsibility.
nice way to capture the ethos might be the following: if asked
whether religion is a force for good or for ill in the world,
our students-and our faculty-would provide quite nuanced answers-but
we would all concur that it is indeed a fundamental force, one
that scholars ignore (and have, in the past, ignored) at their
what direction is the Divinity School moving?
three respects, we need to enhance what we do. We need a fuller
presence for scholarship on the Islamic tradition in the faculty.
We've felt the urgency of this for some time and have appointed
scholars whose work addresses aspects of the tradition. They
are excellent, but we recognize the sheer size, grandeur, and
complexity of Islam requires more than we now have.
also hope to find ways more fully to integrate work in the social
sciences into our curriculum. We boast a long, honorable tradition
of work in religion and psychology, but the combination of faculty
retirements in that area and more recent developments in the
social sciences require that we rethink that aspect of our work.
The wider academy has not done it well, and we must.
but certainly far from least, I'm quite interested in ways to
enhance pedagogy for our graduate students, both in our own
teaching and in preparing them to teach. Thanks to a generous
grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, we've sponsored a dissertation
seminar for doctoral candidates which emphasizes thinking about
how they can bring their scholarship into arenas outside the
realm of specialists, with the first such audience being the
classroom; they are required to teach a course at a Chicago-area
seminary, college, or university under the watchful eye of a
full-time faculty member at that school, and then to reflect
on the experience through writing and discussion in the seminar.
we've just launched a program of lectures and colloquia on pedagogy
in religion that is off to a fast start. Our recent conference
on concepts of curriculum in religious studies brought in five
faculty from colleges, universities, and seminaries to discuss
their work. I want to do whatever we can to develop our reputation
as a teacher of teachers in the study of religion.