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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