The Yale Divinity School is launching a new program this fall meant to cultivate leadership skills among students across campus.
Through a series of seminars and lectures entitled “Transformational Leadership in Church and Society,” administrators at the Divinity School hope to impart leadership skills through three case studies by three prominent social and religious leaders, each of whom will speak about critical moments in their careers that informed their leadership. This fall’s lecturers include one of the leading voices of the #BlackLivesMatter movement — an activist movement which campaigns against recent sparks police brutality against African-Americans. Reverend Nancy Taylor DIV ’81, who is the senior minister of the historic Old South Church in Boston — right outside of which the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings took place — and United States Senator Chris Coons LAW ’92 DIV ’92 associate dean and the instructor for the course. “We will talk through how [the lecturers] dealt with those challenges, what informed their decision-making process The seminars span the first weekend in October to mid-November.
Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling said the vision for the program was to bring non-academic leaders with a theological sensitivity to campus to speak from personal experience. Sterling added that he also hopes students will be inspired by leaders who have achieved great professional success but whose values remain informed by faith.
“We want to challenge them to think in ways that they would not have otherwise, about some unusual path to success or a transformative moment,He noted that the most difficult part of putting the program together was coming up with the funding, but added that DIV ’17, one of the students leading publicity initiatives for the program, said the courses offer students the chance to engage with social issues based on the experiences of leaders in three different professional arenas. Spitz said she sees society and the church as interwoven, meaning they can be studied in concomitance.
“The study of theology is not separate from what it means to be human and our roles to be responsible citizens,” she said. “Questions of ethics are at play, questions of spirituality are at play, especially in times of crisis, and so I think that leadership and society do and should go hand-in-hand.”
Sam Thomas DIV ’01, associate professor of religion at California Lutheran University, said he has observed a shift in traditional approaches to theological education that are increasingly placing an emphasis on community leadership. Thomas teaches courses in CLU’s Theology and Christian Leadership Department.
Colleen Windham-Hughes, director of CLU’s Theology and Christian Leadership program, expressed a similar sentiment, adding that theological study must be coupled with real-world applications.
“You don’t want to have this disconnect of ‘This is what I did in seminary and it no longer applies,’” Windham-Hughes said. “Institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to teach those competencies associated with productive leadership.”
One student, who wished to remain anonymous because of conflicting interests, said the speaker series is merely “box-ticking,” adding that she worries the courses will not go sufficiently in-depth.
Tim Gaura DIV ’18, who is signed up for Mckesson’s course, praised the series as a forum for voices not typically heard in the Divinity School. He also noted that the approval process for a traditional course is slower and prevents the inclusion of topical material.
“A person like DeRay would never be able to come into this space, because of his educational background,” Gaura said. “It’d be completely apart from his position, from what he’s trying to do.”
The first public lecture, featuring Mckesson, is slated for Oct. 2.