On choosing graduate theology programs

Once again, R. R. Reno has published a very nice article on where to study theology in America. And, I thought this year’s article was his best yet because of the good advice he offered at the beginning on how to choose a program.

He begins by noting how difficult it is to rank theology programs. But, he concludes that “certain qualities always matter: intellectual climate, commitment to students, corporate personality, and the atmosphere of faith at the institution.” I particularly liked his emphasis on “corporate personality.” Many people focus on the academic reputation or intellectual climate of a school, without considering the overall personality of the program that will by their academic home for several years. Understanding the personality of the program and whether it is a good “fit” for you is a critical part of the decision-making process.

He also offers a good warning about big-name professors who may have little-or-no actual contact with students, or even other faculty:

The same holds for professors in endowed chairs, who function as lofty aristocrats, removed from the faculty members who actually advise students and oversee dissertation research. Professors who won’t answer emails or meet with students are worse than useless. They encourage a selfish atmosphere that injures their less famous but more committed colleagues.”

So, he encourages you to consider the entire faculty and not just a single, big-name professor. (By the way, I think this is both more and less of an issue in the UK. Because you’ll be working very closely with just one person, the overall quality of the faculty is not quite as important. But, this also means that the quality and availability of your supervisor is even more important.)

One of his more interesting points was that a good theology programs “needs to stand for something.” I think his point here is that a quality program will not just have a hodgepodge of different professors, but will comprise a group of relatively like-minded individuals working from a common vision. Although you want enough difference to make it a lively place for discussion, a common stance facilitates the kind of creative cooperation that makes for a vibrant learning community.

Education in its fullest sense “will never issue,” as John Henry Newman wrote, “from the most strenuous efforts of a set of teachers with no mutual sympathies and no intercommunion.”

And, of course, he concludes with his ranking of theology programs.

1. (tie) Duke and Notre Dame

3. Princeton Seminary

4. Wycliff College (Toronto School of Theology)

5. Catholic University of America

6. Marquette University

7. Boston College

8. Yale University

9. Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University)

10. Up-and-coming programs (Wheaton College, Ave Maria University, University of Dayton)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on October 24, 2010, in Academics, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Interesting omissions: UVA, Vanderbilt, UChicago.

    • He did comment on Chicago and other historic programs (e.g. Harvard), but argued that they no longer have that common vision that he thinks is important for a strong program. He didn’t mention it, but UVA should probably be included among the rising program worth watching.

  2. I would suggest that students that have received their grade school, high school, undergraduate, and masters education in the US do themselves a favor and leave to distant shores when pursuing a doctorate in order that they may gain a different perspective.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: