New class welcomed to YDS in address by Kathryn Tanner

Just two days after Hurricane Irene barreled up the Eastern coast with devastating winds and rain, the sun shown brilliantly for Opening Convocation on Aug. 30, when students in the new class were officially welcomed and the new school year formally opened.

BTFO StudentsThe incoming class in 2011 numbers 130—75 women and 55 men—and includes slightly more M.A.R. candidates than M.Div. students.  Delivering the address at ceremonies in Marquand Chapel was Kathryn E. Tanner, the newly named Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology.

Tanner, who earned both an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in theology  at Yale, told a packed Marquand Chapel audience that the reason she returned to Yale in 2010, was “a curriculum and a student body that span, hold together and bridge the most rigorous thought and committed action in the world.”

Though philosophy teaches one to “think straight,” it is theology, Tanner noted, that sets forth the greatest challenges.

“Theology, to my mind, had going for it the training of all this disciplined thought on something of real importance for actual communities of persons on the ground—committed Christians.  This was not talk about talk about talk . . .

“Instead, here in theology was a content-driven rigorous thinking, about something that mattered—the most central issues of human existence, the meaning of life, the ultimate character of human fulfillment and happiness, cosmic questions, all viewed in light of God, our creator and redeemer—where the audience was not just other academics but people—committed Christians—thinking hard, one hopes, in order to live out that way of thinking or perspective on life, thinking hard in order to live differently, in order to make a difference in the world.”

Tanner, who returned to YDS after teaching for a decade at the University of Chicago Divinity School, concluded her talk with a word of advice: “Remember that all the disciplines of theological education are difficult because God shames the wise.  Remember too that God nonetheless calls those engaged in theological studies to love the wisdom of God, to serve it, to follow along steadfastly its sometime torturous paths, even as they unsettle and test us.”

In keeping with tradition, incoming students were treated to a week of Before the Fall Orientation (BTFO) activities, Aug. 22-26, choreographed by two second-year M.Div. students, Kathryn Killman and Caitlin Scott.

TannerBTFO featured worship services organized by various student groups, tours of the campus, coffee hours, an activities fair put on by student organizations, FAQs on financial aid, sessions on information technology, a gathering with YDS poets, a library information session, dinners with faculty and staff, an early morning run, a talk on faith and social action, an alumni panel, and more.

“We received many thanks for BTFO so we are hopeful that it was a great experience for everyone,” said Scott.  “I myself feel so blessed to be able to have planned and participated in orientation . . . It strengthened my relationships with the faculty and staff and my fellow students. Their generosity with their time, talents and sage counsel made me feel even more that this is not just an institution but a community, in many ways a family.

Killian expressed thanks for the “overwhelming support of fellow returning students and the faculty/staff of YDS.,” noting that 38 students volunteered their time as small group leaders, with another 10 students covering various other tasks during the week.

“Despite the visual presence of the co-coordinators, BTFO is actually a collectively conceived and enacted event, and it was the joy of my summer to get to see the welcoming intentionality of the people who constitute my daily life” said Killian.

The incoming class of 55 men and 75 women includes 62 M.A.R. candidates, 54 in the M.Div. program, 11 S.T.M. students, and three non-degree students. The largest denominational group represented in the Episcopal Church, with 31 students, followed by Roman Catholic, 19, and Lutheran, 12.  There are four Jewish students, one Hindu, and one Muslim.

There are 19 students over the age of 40 and five international students—two from Canada and one each from Ireland, South Africa, and South Korea—along with 12 international exchange students.  Racially, the class includes five Asian students, four Black students, and two Hispanic students.

The Fall 2011 Entering Student Directory provides a taste of some of the diversity that characterizes the class.  Following are glimpses of some of the biographical submissions from new students:

Gabriel Aydin, Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (Lebanon), M.A.R., Institute of Sacred Music, grew up in Eastern Turkey, speaks six languages. “At the Institute of Sacred music and Yale Divinity School, I would like to deepen my understanding of Eastern and Western liturgy and ethnomusicology. Furthermore, I intend to advance the field of Syriac music by rearranging and re-interpreting the Syriac music in light of today’s musical developments.”

BTFOCheryl L. Bundy, Smith College, NYU, M.Div., Berkeley Divinity School. “My 25-year professional career includes roles as a Wall Street executive, non-profit executive, real estate agent, community organizer, and stewardship director for one of the largest Episcopal churches in the country.”

Benny Chan, University of Toronto, M.A.R., “Through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I served as a legal advocate for Latino immigrants in New York City, working mostly in the area of public benefits.  I had previously spent a summer volunteering on an agricultural cooperative in Nicaragua.”

Cathleen Chopra-McGowan, Boston College, M.A.R., “I grew up in the Himalayan mountains of India.  My work is focused on the Hebrew Bible and archaeology.  I spent this last year doing a Fulbright in Israel.”

Brigid Davis, Mount Holyoke College, M.A.R., Joint degree candidate at Yale Law School with interests in covenant theology’s influence on contract law.

Troy Elder, Michigan, Yale Law School, M.A.R. “A law professor and litigator, my research, teaching, and advocacy focus on immigration international human rights, poverty, health, and critical legal theory, often at their intersection.”

Michael Estrada, University of Pennsylvania, M.A.R., “I am interested in religion, psychology, and sociology.  I’m returning to school after working for approximately 20 years in the field of corrections (prisons, probation and parole).

Margaret Fox, Yale, Harvard, joint J.D./M.Div. student.  “I have an academic interest in the intersection of law and religion and a career goal of helping to move the church in a more inclusive direction, specially for LGBT people.”

Eliza Ragsdale, Mary Baldwin College, Virginia Commonwealth University, M.Div., Berkeley Divinity School.  “I have lived and worked in Jerusalem for St. George’s College . . . I have worked in parish ministry, as a lay minister for 20 plus years and also as a mission leader to Our Little Roses in Honduras.  I was active in the ministry against the death penalty in North Carolina.  I am interested in dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.”

Omer Salem, University of California, Berkeley, M.A.R. Muslim Arab-American, originally from Egypt.  Founder of the Ibn Rushd Institute for Dialogue.  Main interest is finding ideas, ways and means to reconcile differences between Muslims and Jews starting with the U.S.A., then other nations.

Click here for more Opening Convocation photos.

Click here for more BTFO photos.

Posted: 09/05/2011