Expanding Yale Divinity School’s engagement in social justice ministries
Divinity School students will be conducting a detailed mapping of New Haven religious life as part of a $250,000, three-year grant awarded this spring by the Jessie Ball duPont Religious, Charitable and Educational Fund.
The mapping project aims to produce an exhaustive inventory of the Elm City’s religious communities, ranging from those that meet in hotel ballrooms and community centers to traditional churches and synagogues. The effort is being led by Harlon Dalton ’73 Law, an Episcopal priest, YDS adjunct professor, and professor at the Law School
The mapping project is part of a larger three-year initiative, spanning 2008-2011, entitled Ministry in a Changing World: Equipping Students for Social Justice Ministries. Other primary elements of the initiative include:
The grant proposal to duPont says, “We are confident that, with careful and skillful development, this initiative will foster and sustain communities of justice-making at Yale Divinity School, encourage conversation and action with a purpose, and engender a self-renewing ethos of social responsibility.”
A cadre of trained and supervised divinity students will conduct face-to-face interviews under the mapping project to create a comprehensive inventory of New Haven’s religious communities and institutions. At each site, community and institutional leaders will be asked to identify their denominational or other affiliations; characterize their theological orientation and worship style; provide demographic information on members and leadership; describe the skills needed for successful ministry; describe their relationship with the city and with Yale; describe the social issues that are of greatest concern to the leadership and to the members; and report on any formal or informal programs of advocacy and social service that they sponsor or support.
Expectations are that the mapping project will have a significant impact on the YDS curriculum and faculty scholarship, as well as enabling New Haven congregations to see themselves in relation to other congregations and in relation to the city’s overall pattern of religious life.
The Leadership in Public Ministry program was made a permanent course in the YDS curriculum in 2006, under the direction of co-instructors Barbara Blodgett and Patrick Speer. Through classroom work and field trips to local ministry sites, LIPM teaches students leadership skills—building relational culture, using power effectively, and creating meaningful social change—drawing upon the principles of broad-based community organizing as practiced by groups like the Industrial Areas Foundation.
Under the duPont grant program, LIPM is expanding from a summer-only program into one that includes offerings during the academic year, with a half semester of class meetings initially, followed by short-term internships in Connecticut during the remainder of the fall term and for part of the spring term. During spring recess, students will engage in “immersion” experiences of longer duration to sites further afield.
The curricular innovation part of the duPont grant will feature creative methods of reaching students and the broader community as well, particularly on issues that lie at the nexus of religion and politics. “Focused engagements” related to social justice projects, for example, might enlist the arts—e.g., installations, exhibits, film series—as means of stimulating thought and action. And creation of “spaces of justice-making” may include projects such as identification of a specific congregation as a focal pint for developing a long-term relationship on social justice ministries.
Undergirding the curricular innovation component will be special seed money, teaching grants and program support made available for creative approaches to justice-making education. Distribution of those funds will be made under the direction of Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes.
The duPont grant proposal concludes, “It is our firm conviction that the Ministry in a Changing World initiative will bring to a new level Yale Divinity School’s engagement in issues related to politics, social justice and Christianity. The School has a strong tradition in this area, but shifts in the religious and political landscape necessitate a fresh look at the way things have been done and exploration of new possibilities for the future.”