Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Strength of Duke's Graduate Program in Religion

Over on Duke Newt, Nathan Eubank draws attention to an article in First Things by Rusty Reno.  Its title is Schools of Thought and it offers reflections on the best places for graduate students to study Theology.  It is gratifying to see Duke once again placed at the top (along with Notre Dame) but it is disappointing to see similar errors once again being perpetuated about the program (see Duke the best place to study theology and First Things article rates Duke at the top for previous attempts to set the record straight).  Reno writes:
The main problem with Duke is, well, Duke. The Ph.D. program is run through the university’s department of religion, not the divinity school, and this has tended to restrict artificially the number of students admitted.
As I pointed out last time, this is incorrect. The PhD program is actually run by the Graduate Program in Religion, and not by the Religion Department. The Graduate Program in Religion is a collaborative venture involving both the Department of Religion and the Divinity School.  To illustrate the point, I might add that the current director, Grant Wacker, is housed in the Divinity School, and there are more Divinity School faculty in the program than there are Religion Department faculty.

The limited number of admissions to the PhD program is indeed disappointing, but this has nothing to do with the Religion Department but is related, rather, to the kind of pressures that are felt nationally (and internationally) at present, pressures shared by other great strong institutions and programs.  Nevertheless, one of the results of the highly competitive nature of the program is that it continues to produce the strongest students around.  A Duke PhD in Religion is a Rolls-Royce qualification.

As a member of the here maligned Religion Department, as well as of the Graduate Program in Religion, I would like to add that the collaboration between the Divinity School and us is one of the things that makes the program so strong.  It is not just that colleagues from the different entities get to work together, something that I value hugely, but it is also that the students get the best kind of experience because they are studying and working across the boundaries.   PhD students in the Graduate Program in Religion will often teach or teaching-assist in the Department of Religion, thereby gaining valuable experience in working with university undergraduates in the Arts and Sciences.  The same people also get the chance to teach and precept in the Divinity School, so working with students who are training for the ministry.


Rod said...

She also excludes the fact that Duke has a ThD program from its divinity school so it is more incluside, numbers wise. I am friends with Curtis Freeman from the NABPR meetings.

Rich Griese said...

Can you tell me some of the schools that have good Christian history programs that are contained inside History departments, and not religion or divinity schools? As someone that is not a supernaturalist, I am trying to find sources of christian history from sources of people with degrees in history, not from religion or theology schools. Although I am just a hobbyist so I am not familiar with the schools that are producing folks that are doing good work in Christianity from history departments, or even how to go about trying to track down a list of such schools. Any help would be appreciated.


Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Rod. I didn't realize it was a "she".

I am afraid the only program I know well is the Duke one, Rich. Our religion department is not situated in the Divinity School, but in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and in my own work I take a rigorously critical, historical approach.

Rich Griese said...


I understand, but what I was looking for is History Departments that have a reputation for turning out students that end up doing historical work on Christianity, not Religion Departments. Are you aware of any schools that are known for their history departments? Or would the ranking that you were talking about list any history schools in it?


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Rich, I think there may be a form vs. substance issue. In substance, Duke's Religion Dept. actually does study early Christianity from a fully historical, critical perspective. In form, however, it is its own department and not part of the History department. Personally, I don't see what relevance the internal, administrative organization of Duke's Trinity College of Arts and Sciences should have.

Jason A. Staples said...

In general, Rich, that sort of historical program tends to be found in top religious studies departments, not history departments. Find a top religious studies department and you'd be getting what you ask for; I'm afraid you're misunderstanding the nature of religious studies departments if you think the majority of studies in said departments are from "supernaturalists" who aren't worried about rigorous historical work.

And, to be frank, if you want to deal with sources of Christian history from "people with degrees in history," you'll just end up with unqualified people, since the historical degrees awarded in that area tend to come from religious studies departments.

Rich Griese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich Griese said...

Dear Stephen & Jason,

I am trying to get to know folks that I talk with via email, and/or older BBS style forums. I have been studying Christian history for a bit over ten years, and am familiar with a number of popular sites and people that do that from religion departments, and from theological stand points. What I am trying to do is find an additional group of people.

Many if not most people that I have come in contact with started with an interest in Christianity, and from that interest in Christianity later also developed an interest in Christian history. What I am trying to do, is find people that began with a interest in history. History of all kinds. Preferably those that had no interest in supernaturalism. Some of them may later have developed an interest or done work in the area of Christian history. It is that type of person that I was hoping to locate and get to know.

I have begun to start gathering lists of schools that are known for history.

I guess my next step will be to see if they have any good forums/bbs sites associated with them, and attempt to meet some of the folks that frequent them, that also have web sites/blogs.

If you happen to know of any history degreed folks, and even better any that are currently interested in the study of christian history, especially patristics, please be encouraged to send me their emails or site/blog URLs.

I also participate on the history, christianity, christian history, and patristics Google Groups if you want to get into additional convos about christianity or religion in general.

Looks like an excellent book by the historian Chris Wickham ( ) just came out. The Inheritance of Rome, A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. Apparently he will be dealing with a number of aspects of Christianity in this one.