“I’m sure that some pastor somewhere finds this funny,” Rachel Duncan DIV ’11 said.
She was referring to the blog “Overheard at Yale Divinity School,” where Duncan, the site’s administrator, posts off-color comments submitted by divinity students and faculty. With an average of 156 page views a day, the blog has attracted a following of students and faculty at the Divinity School. And, readers said, the site’s content — from jokes about Communion wine to jabs at Martin Luther — shows that even Yale’s future ministers and theology professors up Prospect Street enjoy lewd or funny comments.
As Duncan put it: “We’re human.”
LET THERE BE BLOG
Among the revelations on the blog is Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge’s knowledge of Star Wars.
“The best way to understand Stoicism is to think of Obi-Wan Kenobi,” reads a quotation from Attridge posted Nov. 9, 2007. During an interview last week, Attridge reread his quotation on the blog to refresh his memory, chuckling to himself and admitting the quotation’s truthfulness.
“It’s Star Wars and the notion of force that pervades all things,” Attridge explained.
The “Overheard” blog was created two years ago by Lindsay Bacher DIV ’09, who said she was inspired by blogs like “Overheard in New York” and “Overheard in Minneapolis,” her hometown. These blogs were the inspiration for a similar blog, “Overheard at Yale,” which began in March 2007 but has seen a drop-off in updates in recent months. While one might expect the quotes in “Overheard at Yale Divinity School” to be relatively tame, given that quotes come from divinity students and professors, even a quick glance at the blog ends this preconception. Geoff Parker DIV ’10, a friend of Duncan’s, said the blog shows that divinity students are “a little edgier” than expected; Parker added that the blog even features off-color comments about sex and drugs.
“Well, I had never had sex with a woman, so I was ready to have sex with something,” says one suggestive quotation from Jan. 19, 2009.
“We put the meth in Methodist,” reads another quotation from Sept. 4, 2007.
FUN ON THE HILL
The blog reflects that divinity students are down-to-earth and form a close-knit social community, Divinity School students said.
Students have been known to throw keggers, and libations are not lacking at student gatherings, said Jeff Wieringa DIV ’11. As another source of fun, divinity students often gather at Gryphon’s Pub @ GPSCY, a bar whose employees include several Divinity School graduates, for Wednesday’s two-for-one drinks night.
Dec. 15, 2007, Bacher posted the overheard quotation, “So … I’m pretty buzzed on the blood of Christ right now,” a joke based on the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion, which involves drinking wine thought to be or represent the blood of Christ.
Drinking-related “Overhead” comments are very popular; “Vino et Veritas” has the largest number of quotations — 23. The second largest group of quotations falls under the tag “Adam and Steve,” which includes 22 quotes referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual humor — a reflection of the significant LGBT presence on campus, students said. “Knowing Biblically,” the topic referring to sexual encounters, comes in third with 21 quotes.
Some higher-ups at the Divinity School also find humor in the blog.
Laughing heartily, Associate Dean of Students Dale Peterson said over the phone that he keeps track of the blog by reading it over his assistant’s shoulder. Peterson added that the Divinity School ethos is conducive to humor. “Theologians are very bright and witty,” he said, chuckling.
Attridge was also alerted to the blog by a Divinity School staff member, who he said called the blog a “‘hoot.’” While no acknowledged relationship exists between the blog and the official Divinity School Web site, which is currently undergoing a redesign, the Divinity School “tweeted” a shout-out to the “Overheard” blog on its Twitter account May 20. Attridge said this enterprising bit of PR was not a “high-level decision.”
KEEPING IT CLEAN
Despite the blog’s irreverence, Duncan adheres to some policies, for example, keeping all student quotations anonymous. Professors, however, are fair game, she said.
Upon hearing his most recent quotation read to him over the phone, in which Peterson had said nudity was by no means scandalous, Peterson laughed good-naturedly.
“Oh my goodness, I don’t remember saying that!” he said.
But not all professors share this sentiment. Professor Jeremy Hultin recalled learning of the site when he received a call from his brother who asked, “Dude, do you have some kind of skeezy reputation [at the Divinity School]?”
A comment Hultin had made about love and magic had been posted on the “Overheard” blog, and Bacher had given it a potentially misleading title, which Hultin’s brother had come across in a Google search. Bacher accommodated Hultin’s request to change it.
Despite such rare hiccups, students said the blog provides welcome comic relief on campus. Many jokes are academic in nature. For example, the section “The Reformation Party Pack” cites jokes made about Martin Luther. Duncan said Luther’s writing can get a little “intense,” and jokes release some of that tension.
CONTINUING THE LEGACY
While she has graduated, Bacher expressed confidence in Duncan’s ability to maintain the blog’s character. The two share the same dry sense of humor and progressive views, Bacher said, which allows Duncan to maintain the intended tone of the blog.
In her role as site moderator, Duncan selects a submission to post and does “a touch of editing,” she said. Still, her humility belies the creativity of her wry titles, which accompany all posts. Duncan spiffs up potential lame ducks with captions like, “Would transubstantiation and substitutionary atonement help us here?”
While Duncan acknowledged that the blog’s progressive nature might alienate some more conservative students, Parker asserted that the blog “is a space of being so ridiculous that it is universal.” Attridge suggested that if people are offended, they can make their own blogs.
“The flippancy is something one has to have to get through life,” Attridge said. “Nothing said in [the blog] is deleterious.”
And, as Parker added, the blog reflects a new approach to religious issues.
“If there is any hope for us at all, it is that [religion] will look different in the future,” Parker said. He referred to what he said was a popular desire at the Divinity School to apply spirituality to social causes, adding that divinity students need Duncan’s spirit of “just kind of throwing spitballs at people and saying, ‘Lets look at it differently.’ ”