Julia Leatham

Connecticut is a notoriously boring place. It’s a commuter state for wealthy New York businessmen with families to own large homes and access quality school systems. “But, it can’t possibly be that bad,” I’d convinced myself upon choosing Yale last spring, “People just love to complain.” But, over the months since arriving here in August, that optimistic mentality has been beaten to a near pulp. That is, until I discovered the beautiful sanctuary at the peak of Science Hill. If you ever wish to escape the repetitive cycle between bed and Bass Library or exchange the gaggles of tourists for lithe students in delicate gold-framed glasses and dark turtlenecks, I recommend a trek to Yale’s Divinity School Quadrangle. It is worth the hike. And it “is” a hike, but once you’ve taken it, you’ll understand the journey as transcendence.

Once you’ve peaked Science Hill, and Yale College students are no longer anywhere to be found, you’ll notice a lightness to the air, like when your backpack comes off after a long day or when you finally shower after a week of major assignments. Up there, you’ll find both a park and a garden where people cruise the streets on bicycles, and no one’s in a rush. The houses are large and decadent with long driveways, porches and lawns. The trees are tall and abundant, and when the sun sets, light sprinkles in through the branches like God himself is speaking to you alone — because you are alone, the only soul brave enough to make this venture.

Tucked into this oasis is the Divinity School Quadrangle, a block of buildings that smell dusty, like you’re not in 2017 anymore. If you love long paths through low archways or contemplative bearded men, this is the place for you. I entered the library at the far side of the Divinity School’s campus greeted by a flyer: “How to effectively invite your friends to church.” Ah, I had arrived. The library appears small at first but sprawls out once you enter. I was looking for the “rotunda,” a flyer advertising the “Two Hundred Years of Tracts” exhibit told me.

The exhibit itself is comprised of three illuminated cork boards, but fret not: Physical size is no constraint on this display’s capacity to rip through your mind. This is no bite-sized exhibit. Rather, it is a rigorous investment, word by word and again same word by word, in understanding what it means to spread scripture. This exhibit and its impressive structure require concerted reading concentration and stand as a perfect example of why tracts were introduced in the first place.

In this sense it’s a living, breathing, reflective exhibit on long-standing attempts to sell and thus spread Christianity. What “Two Hundred Years of Tracts” taught me is that spreading scripture is a truly impressive feat because even the tracts, which are accessible literary books or stories preaching Christian beliefs, are a far cry from “entertaining.” But they are “interesting.” They are simple. They are to the point. They’re honest. They are plain like cork board and Times New Roman. And they are full of genuine desire.

Missionaries would hand tracts to every kind of man and woman and often cater the genre of tract to their intended audience. For example, children’s stories for children, stories featuring women for women, the book “Two Seamen” for seamen, etc. Tracts were easily printed and distributed and thus served as an outlet for many individuals to spread their ideas without the need for organizational infrastructure. Many tracts were produced and distributed throughout the United States and the world. Tracts distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses alone number in the hundreds of millions and were rated as a highly effective way to spread the values of Christianity. They were so popular that they opened up an opportunity for women to take action by forming tract societies, which for many served as a first step out of their homes or local communities. These programs often grew into groups of women serving the urban poor through food and clothing distribution.

It’s almost ironic that there’s such a variety of tracts, since the content of each teaches the same lessons and uses similar vocabulary, but it was effective, as the passion of religion often is. And so we see religion still at the heart of much culture and conflict and high up in New Haven, overlooking all other disciplines from the top of Science Hill.

Contact Julia Leatham at julia.leatham@yale.edu .