Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Duke the best place to study theology?

Ben Witherington (via Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank) draws attention to the following article in First Things

First Things: On the Square (August 30 2006)
R. R. Reno
U.S. New [sic] & World Report has just published its annual rankings of higher education. In addition to calling the horse race for No. 1 university, the magazine also puts out rankings of graduate programs . . . .

. . . . . The ratings game got me thinking. The magazine has nothing to say about theology (or religious studies, as it is called at many universities). So I thought I might throw out some observations about the best places to pursue a doctoral degree in the sorts of fields I study—theology and ethics. I haven’t developed any objective method of analysis, but this is not the first time I have thought about graduate programs. Students often ask me for advice, so over the years I have formed some impressions about how the programs compare to one another. Here are the best schools, to my mind, followed by some comments about the also-rans.

At the top of my list is Duke. Richard Hays and Ellen Davis are leading a strong cohort of biblical scholars toward the recovery of a theological voice in biblical interpretation. Add to that the creative mind of Stanley Hauerwas, the rigorous mind of Reinhard Huetter, the learned mind of Geoffrey Wainwright, and the outspoken voice of David Steinmetz, as well as some excellent younger faculty (Amy Laura Hall, Warren Smith, Steve Chapman, and others), and you have a program firing on all cylinders. Three cheers for the Dean, Gregory Jones. He has done wonders in bucking the trends toward the banality and post-Christian distraction that afflict other mainline institutions. It isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as we have now in the United States . . . .
It's nice to see Reno rating Duke so highly, even if his criteria will not be shared by many looking into graduate programmes in religion. There are a few remarks I'd lack to add by way of clarification from an insider. The article does not make clear that the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke is jointly run by the Divinity School and the Department of Religion. One would not have realized that on the basis of this article. Indeed, one wonders whether it would have been a negative consideration if the author had realized (given his criteria). The link in his article goes to Divinity School and not to the Graduate Program. Moreover, as Andy Rowell points out:
As far as Duke, he must be talking about Duke University's Ph.D. program. But Jones is not the dean of this. He is the dean of Duke Divinity School which just accepted their first crop of Th.D. (doctoral) students for this fall.
The head of the Graduate Program is Grant Wacker who has just taken over from Eric Meyers.

Nevertheless, I'd want to argue that the joint involvement of these two different entities, the Divinity School and the Department of Religion, makes the Graduate Program strong and enhances the students' experience.

Incidentally, in USNews.com's overall rankings for American universities, Duke comes out eighth:

America's Best Colleges 2007

For further comment on the Reno article, see Kevin Wilson in Blue Cord.

Update (Wednesday, 7.36): On Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson refers to an interesting recent posting by Pete Williams on Evangelical Textual Criticism also asking about "Where to do a PhD", this time on the topic of Textual Criticism, and following on from a lengthy and interesting thread on the Textual Criticism e-list. Begin from that link and follow the thread; it includes several contributions from Bart Ehrman. I was happy to hear about my former institution, University of Birmingham, being so well spoken of.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks for this Mark. Too bad he omitted your name among the Duke faculty!

Zerihun said...

Dr. Mark,

I will like to have your comment regarding to PhD programs in NT. I read all the past blogs, but My particular field of interest is Pauline study, so where is the best program in this field here in USA and UK? and who is there?