The class for Introduction to Christian Ethics feels more like a sermon than a lecture, as students murmur and hum affirmations in the Yale Divinity School’s most popular course.

Eighty-six students listen to Eboni Marshall Turman, assistant professor of theology and African American religion, every Tuesday and Thursday morning in Niebuhr Hall. All students seeking to obtain a Master of Divinity degree are required to take the introductory course to graduate, but it is taught by rotating professors. Many have elected to take it this term because of Turman herself.

Turman is an ordained Baptist preacher whose work explores liberal theological traditions, particularly through a womanist lens. Womanist theology is a growing field of study that reevaluates Christian doctrine and practices for the empowerment of black women in America. She represents a unique perspective among the divinity school faculty as the only womanist theological ethicist.

“Christian ethics is not Christian ethics if it is not always a ‘doing something,’” Turman said during her lecture on Tuesday. “It’s another thing to be with people — to go out and be with the people — in the struggle, doing the work, accountable to people’s lives and livelihoods.”

According to Jennifer Herdt, the senior associate dean of academic affairs at the divinity school, the lecture course is open to all students at Yale. At the peak of shopping week, almost 100 students were registered for the lecture course, though demand has gone down slightly since then. Still, the 86-student class represents nearly half of the M.Div student body.

“The room was abuzz the first day,” said Ben Bond DIV ’22, who is enrolled in Turman’s class this semester. “The overall energy of the room was that something was going to happen. People were just coming in who just wanted to watch. It was standing room only. It was like we were at a concert or something.”

Turman, hired in 2016, has been on leave for the past three semesters. Jessica Church DIV ’21 said that students “have been really eagerly awaiting her return and to take this class with her.” Turman’s pedagogical approach is more contemporary than many of her colleagues’, placing a particular emphasis on ethical practice, not just discourse and debate.

According to the syllabus, the survey course aims to consider “what it means to love God amidst the machinations of empire, corruption, human nature and the moral will.”

The course readings include selections from Miguel De La Torre, Cornel West and Keri Day — all of whom are prominent intellectual leaders who interrogate race and resistance in Christian ethical thought.

“The syllabus itself is very womanist-centered and gives us a variety of ethical traditions that aren’t typical of what this class usually does,” Essence Ellis DIV ’21 said.

Prior to teaching at Yale, Turman was the Director of Black Church Studies at Duke University.

 

Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu