Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Christian Spirituality at Harvard Divinity School

In my latest reading of The Search for God at Harvard (copyright 1991), Ari Goldman talks about the dearth of Christian spirituality at Harvard Divinity School, as people sought to avoid offending those from non-Christian religions.  He says that the chapel at HDS focused largely on left-wing political causes.  Goldman also discusses the spirituality of people he knew at the divinity school, who believed that they found spirituality in relationships with others, in language, and in life.  While I did not identify much with the students' spirituality, I did identify with their stories, particularly because they were searching for community and meaning in life.

So why did I have a hard time identifying with the students' spirituality?  Well, I mentioned finding spirituality in relationships with others, in language, and in life.  Regarding relationships, I have a hard time connecting with people.  On language, maybe I identify with that a little bit more, since I interact with God by seeking to understand the words of the Bible.  Regarding life, I struggle to believe in God despite life being tough; only occasionally do I feel that I'm having a spiritual experience in the course of day-to-day life.

What do I think about the state of Christian spirituality at Harvard Divinity School?  Was my experience at Harvard Divinity School like that of Ari Goldman?  There was still a desire to avoid offending people, but there were also more evangelical students attending than was probably the case when Goldman went there, plus there were some evangelical professors.  And I'd say that, in classes, there was much discussion about Christian biblical interpretation, beliefs, and spirituality, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was also the case (on some level) when Goldman went to HDS.

Regarding the chapel, I went a few times and did not care for it.  I don't remember much talk about leftist political ideology at the chapel services, as Goldman narrates, but rather New Agey-like sermons.  I remember one speaker paraphrasing Romans 8:38-39 by saying that nothing will separate us from the love of the earth.  When I attended chapel about a year later, I liked it much more.  Students who won a preaching contest were preaching, and I thought that their sermons were really down-to-earth and God-centric.  I especially enjoyed one sermon by a Jewish lady about her thoughts on Jesus and his message of inclusion.

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