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Dean's trips to Asia and Germany focus on student exchange programs

By Gustav Spohn ’73 M.A.R.
Director of Communications and Publications

Over the semester break, Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge made a pilgrimage that took him far from the quiet of Sterling Divinity Quadrangle— to the northern reaches of the coast of Asia in South Korea and all the way down to the southern extremities in Malaysia.  The trip was a whirlwind of activity over a nine-day span from Jan.  2-10, including visits with alumni, theological educators and church leaders. When all was said and done, the dean had accomplished one of the trip’s primary goals: to cement agreements with two theological schools—one in Hong Kong, the other in Singapore—that expand YDS’s student exchange programs to include Asia as well as Europe.

Yale Divinity School will now have exchanges with students at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College in Hong Kong and Trinity Theological College in Singapore, complementing ongoing exchange programs at Westcott House in Cambridge, England, and at three German institutions—Heidelberg University, the University of Tübingen, and the University of Freiburg.

Attridge announced the expanded program in an open letter to YDS students on the heels of the Asia trip and a Dec. 1-5 trip to the German schools.  In his letter, he called addition of the Asia exchange initiatives “a step toward a new and more dynamic program to engage the world.”

Accompanying Attridge to Asia were Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Anna Ramirez and Director of External Relations John Lindner.  Ramirez also accompanied Attridge on the earlier trip to Germany.

Cardinal Zen and AttridgeDuring a presentation to students on Feb. 5 where details of the new programs were unveiled, Ramirez said the trip to South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia had greatly influenced her understanding of the culture in Asia and promises to do the same for students who choose to enroll in the new programs.

Given the dynamics of churches, and the roiling of politics and religion in Asia, said Ramirez, there was much to absorb.  “Our discussions at breakfast, lunch and dinner were very intense but very useful for us,” she observed, noting that the YDS visitors were “listening, and really learning from people who are living out Christian lives,” under sometimes difficult political situations.

What one realizes as an American, Ramirez pointed out, is that it is difficult to understand the religious/political situations in Asian countries without actually visiting them and speaking to the people in those countries.   "We learned a tremendous amount,” she said.

Lindner said, “No doubt, we will all learn and be challenged by the strengthening of these relations.”

“I was struck by the different experiences and approaches to interfaith relations and understanding in each place we visited,” observed Lindner.  “Spending time with Christians living as minorities within their culture is different than our American experience where Christians live with all the inherent privileges of majority status in our country.  As America becomes a more plural culture, we will benefit from the insights and experiences of Asian Christians.”

Malaysia Theological Seminary

Hong Kong and Chung Chi College

In Hong Kong, the YDS group met with faculty and administrators at Chung Chi College, which Attridge termed “a really interesting institution in a vibrant setting with a great cultural heritage, both Chinese and British.”

Chung Chi CollegeAlso in Hong Kong, YDS alumni gathered at the Kowloon Union Church, where a YDS alumnus, Nai-Wang Kwok ’66 B.D., is senior minister, and an evening dinner was hosted by the Yale Club of Hong Kong.  Visits were made as well to the Amity Foundation, which organizes religious volunteer efforts in China, and to the Hong Kong Christian Council, where another YDS graduate, Judy Chan ’82 M.Div., serves as director of communications.

Of particular interest during the visit to Hong Kong, Ramirez said, was the dinner with Cardinal Zen, well known for outspoken stands on issues of human rights and religious liberty, stands that have frequently riled the Communist Party of China.  Ramirez termed the session with Zen  “a wonderful privilege.”  The dinner was organized by a good friend of Zen, Lung Kwong Lo, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College, who met with the Yale delegation before Attridge delivered a lecture on the Gospel of John.

Radio studioAn affiliate of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Divinity School of Chung Chi College is the only theological education institution operating within a Chinese public university.  It is ecumenical in orientation, deriving support from several traditions:  Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist. There are opportunities for outside service work through ecumenical agencies such as the Amity Foundation and the Hong Kong Christian Council.  Research centers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong include the Center for Catholic Studies, the Center for Christian Studies, the Center for the Study of Daoist Culture, the Center for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism, and the Center for Harmony in Diversity.

Singapore and Trinity Theological College

Singapore’s Trinity Theological College, which has had an ongoing collaborative library collection development program with YDS, was the next stop.  At Trinity, Attridge told students at the Feb. 5 meeting, program participants would be exposed to an intense multi-cultural experience. “Singapore is a really interesting place to be for all sorts of reasons.  It’s a multicultural center... You have the opportunity of visiting Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic temples all over the place.  One of the things that is interesting about Singapore is its entrée into other parts of Southeast Asia.”

In fact, the YDS trio— accompanied by Trinity Theological College Principal Ngoei Foong Nghian—used Singapore as a point of departure to visit the Malaysia Theological Seminary in Seremban, which Attridge suggested would be a good place for YDS exchange students at Trinity to visit to get an idea of how theological training is conducted in a much smaller setting.  He noted that Charles Forman, the D. Willis James Professor Emeritus of Missions at YDS,  once taught at Malaysia Theological Seminary.

ChapelA meeting in Kuala Lumpur with Yung Hwa, bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysia, was especially stimulating, Attridge reported.  “We had a really lively conversation with him about our Christian/Muslim exchanges and conferences and the like.  He commented on it from the point of view of a very different social world where Christians are the distinct minority... and [there are] tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities.  So we had quite and earful on that.”


Over the past year and one-half, YDS has been particularly engaged in the subject of Christian-Muslim relations, beginning with the drafting of a widely circulated statement in November 2007 underscoring the commonalities between the faiths.  In July 2008, YDS hosted a Christian-Muslim conference that brought participants from around the globe.

The exchange agreement with YDS represents the first formal exchange program that Trinity Theological College has embarked upon. Trinity first opened its doors in 1948 under sponsorship of the Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian churches. The idea for a theological college in Singapore developed out of conversations among church leaders interned in Changi Prison during the Second World War who felt the need to establish an institution to train pastors and church workers.  Trinity operates two significant research centers: The Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA), which provides a forum where Christians in Southeast Asia can collaborate in affirming their distinct Christian ethos and articulating their faith positions; and the Centre for the Development of Christian Ministry, which aims to serve the Church by providing lay training programs, seminars, conferences and research on Bible, theology and ministry.

South Korea, Yonsei University, and Ehwa Womans University

OhThe first stop on the Asia trip was Seoul, South Korea, where the YDS group met with about a dozen YDS alumni, including Nakyun Shin, ’69 M.A.R., a member of the National Assembly of Korea; Joon Park ’69 B.D., former provost at Yonsei University; and Park’s wife, Sang Chang ’70 M.Div., former president of Ehwa Womans University and former prime minister-designate of South Korea.

Yonsei and Ehwa, both located in Seoul, are institutions that over the years have provided a steady stream of students to Yale Divinity School, primarily in the Master of Sacred Theology program for individuals who already have an M.Div. or M.A.R. degree. YDS representatives had dinner with the theological faculty at Yonsei and a meeting with representatives of Ehwa as well.

The capstone event in Seoul was a luncheon with the presidents of the leading theological schools in Korea, followed by a press conference with Attridge.


Looking ahead

Joon ParkInitial student exchanges for the new programs at Trinity Theological College and the Divinity School of Chung Chi College are targeted to place during the spring 2010 term. According to Ramirez, exchanges will begin on a one-semester basis but might grow to semester-plus-summer exchanges if some non-academic components are added to the programs, such as working with nonprofit agencies.

In both countries, Ramirez explained, YDS would like to establish supplemental opportunities beyond the academic setting for experiential learning and involvement.   “So we met with the Amity Foundation in Hong Kong,” she said, “to talk about the possibility of arranging a summer internship where our students could either teach English or work in the field, say, in some capacity in rural China.”  At Trinity, Ramirez noted, students would be able to visit Malaysia and see what it is like to live in a Muslim country, visit Malaysia Theological Seminary, and also explore volunteer work opportunities there

In his letter to students, Attridge referenced Yale University President Richard Levin’s commitment to making Yale a “global university” and spoke of a corresponding desire and need for increased international emphasis at Yale Divinity School: “As globalization evolves, patterns of communication, business and culture are being transformed; at the same time, in many parts of the world Christianity is taking on new forms and expressions. At the Divinity School we are committed to assessing what it might mean for us to more fully ‘engage the world’ in the years ahead and to developing programs to better serve and prepare students.”

In Germany at Heidelberg, Tübingen, and Freiburg

The Dec. 1-5 trip to Germany featured stops at the three partner schools, which included meetings with faculty and administrators.  In each case, the presidents of the institutions met with Attridge and Ramirez.  Accompanying them was Renate Seitz, director of the State of Connecticut’s Baden-Württemberg Exchange program, which coordinates the initiatives at the schools.

Mullins KleeFounded in 1386, Heidelberg University has a strong tradition in the liberal arts and now in the sciences. It has some 4,500 international students from 130 countries. The faculty at Heidelberg is Protestant.  Heidelberg is also the home of the College of Jewish Studies.

The University of Tübingen, which dates from 1477, offers a full range of academic disciplines.  Of particular interest is the living arrangement within the Stift, a medieval building that is the ecumenical home to students studying theology and preparing for ministry.  Through the centuries, Tübingen has prepared many leading theologians, and the school currently has dual Protestant and Catholic faculties.

Founded in 1457, the University of Freiburg is located in a picturesque valley on the western border of the Black Forest. The theological faculty at Freiburg is Catholic.  Freiburg is located on the border with France, near Strasbourg, home of the Lutheran Institute for Ecumenical Research.

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