…places to study theology according to Creighton University professor R.R. Reno. Hurray! More reason for Dukies like me to be less than humble. (I’m seeking help, I promise).
He is open about his own biases, mind you. It’s worth pointing out that he studied at Yale under many of the founders of the postliberal school that is so strong at Duke. Nevertheless, according to his criteria, these choices make sense. The tying of spiritual formation (and, more broadly, a sense of the Church’s vocation) to academic rigor disqualifies many schools off the bat. Places like Harvard may have a major name, but their Christian identity went out the window years ago. Thus,
A program in theology is worth undertaking only if it includes the possibility of a spiritual formation that complements intellectual formation. That spiritual formation may, perhaps, be only latent, perhaps only partial, perhaps emerging from fellow students rather than from official goals. But it must be a real possibility.
Duke, he says, has a stronger degree of faculty unity and a sense of group identity, whereas Notre Dame has a better relationship with the larger university. (This strikes me as fair; during my time at Duke I was not once encouraged to take courses outside the seminary, which is common at many other schools of theology). And the winners are:
And what about specific programs? Here is my crib sheet—a necessarily imperfect and idiosyncratic ranking of graduate programs. I’ll begin by cheating. I’ve ranked two schools in the number-one spot: Duke and Notre Dame. They have different strengths. Duke projects a stronger corporate personality, while Notre Dame offers an overall academic environment more profoundly and extensively sympathetic to the intellectual significance of Christian faith.
A Methodist institution, Duke features some of the bright lights of Protestant theology: Stanley Hauerwas, Geoffrey Wainwright, Jeremy Begbie, Amy Laura Hall, and J. Cameron Carter. Reinhard Hütter is a Lutheran turned Catholic, and his work moves in a strongly Scholastic direction. Paul Griffiths, another Catholic professor, is a polymath who combines a remarkable plasticity of mind with a vigorous defense of orthodoxy.
Out of defense, I must point out that my favorite Duke professors were left off his list! Warren Smith is an amazing lecturer and brilliant scholar on all things related to the Church Fathers. Likewise, I greatly enjoyed my courses with Douglas Campbell, a controversial and cutting edge Paul scholar who takes himself more lightly than most scholars at places like Duke. These were my two favorites. Of course, Hauerwas, Hays, and Wainwright are better known – and rightly so. I loved the one course I got to have with Wainwright.
As for Notre Dame? Well, let’s just say the Catholics have their #1 and we Protestants can have Duke. Fair enough?
What about Orthodox seminaries? I daresay they are probably more rigorous about spiritual formation that any of the schools mentioned above. But I don’t know enough Orthodox theologians to even begin to think about where good Orthodox scholarship is done.
R.R. Reno’s Heroism and the Christian Life is a wonderful book worth your time, especially for anyone who claims nonchalantly that Christianity “isn’t heroic” in the classical sense.
Is Duke really a Methodist seminary? As a Methodist pastor and graduate of Duke Divinity, I think this is a debatable question.