Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Finding God at Harvard, and It's Never Too Late to Learn

I started Ari Goldman's 1991 book, The Search for God at Harvard.   Goldman was a New York Times reporter who had an Orthodox Jewish upbringing, and he attended Harvard Divinity School for a year as part of a paid sabbatical, so that he could learn about world religions.

This book often came up when I was at Harvard Divinity School as a student, especially within evangelical circles, which had issues with Harvard Divinity School's theological and cultural liberalism.  (As far as politics went, there were evangelicals who were politically liberal, and evangelicals who were politically conservative.)  We wondered if God could be found at Harvard!  When the number of evangelicals who were attending Harvard Divinity School was increasing, there were evangelicals who became more optimistic.

As far as Goldman's book is concerned, what I heard at HDS overlapped with this Book Description of Kelly Monroe's book, Finding God at Harvard: "Ari Goldman's best-selling book, The Search for God at Harvard, chronicled his search for signs of genuine religious faith at Harvard Divinity School. The New York Times reporter concluded that God was not very evident at the prestigious Ivy League campus."  I'll be reading the book to see if this characterization of it is true.  I doubt that Goldman would define finding God at Harvard as people becoming evangelicals, or as more evangelicals attending Harvard Divinity School, for he narrates that he looked at a variety of religious traditions when he was there.  But perhaps he believes that he found God at Harvard Divinity School in some other way.

For a long time, I was reluctant to read this book, largely on account of my own insecurities.  I was afraid that I would become bitter when I read Goldman's book because I thought that he probably had a better experience at Harvard Divinity School than I did----because he was more adept at getting to know people (students and professors) and took more fulfilling classes.  (I took fulfilling classes, but, I also took a lot of language courses, which prevented me from taking other classes, plus I was somewhat afraid of wading into certain classes.)

But, in my reading so far, I saw that Goldman had his own struggles.  For one, he wasn't much of a student, and one reason was that his parents divorced when he was in elementary school, and that deprived him of a supportive environment for learning during that time.  But Goldman resolved to be a better student at Harvard Divinity School.  Second, Goldman relates that a number of prominent faculty members were away from Harvard during his time there: Henri Nouwen, Harvey Cox, Krister Stendahl, and others.  Third, Goldman testifies to how difficult it was for him to get to know some of the faculty, since they tended to hide in their offices throughout the year, plus one professor who was an excellent lecturer was reportedly stand-offish in interactions with students.  And, fourth, Goldman mentions some of his social flub-ups, as when he was pressing his fellow Jewish students about what exactly they were planning to do with their MTS (Master of Theological Studies) degree, and they weren't comfortable trying to answer that question!

I'll close this post by saying that, while I look back at my time at various schools and reflect on how I could have done things better (i.e., in terms of interacting with students and professors or taking certain classes), I am glad that, for some things, it's not too late.  I can still read about theology, biblical studies, world religions, etc., etc.  It's never too late for me to learn!

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