With the addition of new concentration programs in Latinx theology and ecology, Yale Divinity School is making an effort to bring an age-old discipline into the 21st century.
Yale Divinity School announced in December the addition of two new concentrations to its Master of Arts in Religion Concentrated Program: Latinx and Latin American Christianity and religion and ecology. The school’s Concentrated Program is a two-year curriculum that allows students to pursue in-depth work in a specific discipline of theological study. These two new concentration programs, which debut next academic year, emerged from the school’s efforts to increase faculty and student diversity as well as to encourage environmental consciousness throughout its campus.
“These are [master’s of arts in religion] that are relevant to the intellectual desires and goals of many young people,” said Dax Crocker DIV ’17, one of the students who has been lobbying for a concentration in Latin American Christianity for the past two years.
Headed by professor of Latino/a Christianity Erika Helgen GRD ’15 and visiting professor Benjamin Valentin — two of the seven new faculty appointments at the Divinity School this year — the Latinx and Latin American Christianity program focuses on the expanding and increasingly diverse forms of Latinx Christianity in Latin America and the United States.
According to Helgen, the establishment of this program recognizes that Christianity today is increasingly centered in the Global South and Latin America.
Helgen said this specific concentration also intends to promote diversity within the future student body. The creation of a diverse faculty and student body has been a major focus of the Divinity School, especially in the past year as a result of the five-year, $50 million University-wide faculty diversity initiative announced in 2015. Last spring, the Divinity School made seven new appointments to their faculty, the majority of whom are from racial or ethnic groups typically underrepresented in higher theological studies. Furthermore, 36 percent of the incoming students in the 2016-17 school year came from underrepresented groups, the most in the school’s history.
With the Latinx and Latin American Christianity concentration, the administration hopes to attract and recruit more minority students, especially Latinx students.
“Naturally, there is a group of young Latino and Latina who are looking for graduate studies in theology that speaks to their culture, their ethnic roots,” Crocker said. “They want to find God in the color of their skin and the music that their culture celebrates. They want to find God in their language.”
Crocker, who has been involved in both pushing for the school to implement the new program and recruiting the new heads, said administration was “open-minded” and “accommodating” to students’ requests. It immediately contacted scholars to ask for professional opinions about the new concentrations and started a nationwide search for scholars in Latinx studies, Crocker said.
Part of the impetus for the creation of the religion and ecology concentration also came from student interest in the topic, said Peter Wyrsch DIV ’17, secretary of the student government and a co-chair of the school’s Faith and Environment Working Group. The group seeks to increase awareness within the Divinity School community about new ecological initiatives the school could implement, both academically and administratively.
Wyrsch added that a great deal of the drive for the new concentration came from the work of senior lecturers in religion and ecology John Grim and Mary Tucker, who have worked in the field for decades and in recent years have collaborated with the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
“We have scholars here in liturgical theology who have long been concerned with the nexus of religion and ecology and equipping our students to deal with it in churches and NGOs and all the places our students go after graduation.” said Carolyn Sharp, acting associate dean of academic affairs and professor of Hebrew scriptures.
According to Sharpe, interest for the new programs has already been growing: the school’s admissions office has received applications for these concentrations, and some current master of arts in religion students are trying to transfer to one of the new concentrations.
Since the deadline for applications is Feb. 8, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Vernice Randall DIV ’11wrote in an email to the News that it is far too early to make any quantitative predictions about this application cycle.
“What we’re working on and what is going to come out of these new concentrations is going to be a strengthening of what YDS is good at — really academically sound theological inquiry,” Wyrsch said
Current concentrations in the master of arts in religion program include Asian religions, black religion in the African diaspora and ethics.