Mission & History

Yale Divinity School Mission Statement

The mission of the Divinity School is to foster the knowledge and love of God through rigorous scholarly inquiry, the preparation of students for lives of transformative service, the promotion of broad inclusivity and diversity in our communal life, encounter with the sacred through music and the arts, and the advancement of the sustainability of the earth. Traditionally and primarily Christian in character, the school welcomes persons of all faiths and those of no faith.

A professional school within Yale University, the Divinity School is uniquely positioned to prepare leaders who will address the major issues confronting the global community. YDS prepares students through rigorous scholarly inquiry, corporate worship and spiritual formation, and engagement in a variety of practicing ministries for three major venues: lay and ordained Christian ministries; the initial stage of graduate preparation for the Academy and other professional guilds; and for public service or other careers. In all cases the school seeks to help students understand the theological dimensions of their vocations.*

Nature of the Divinity School

Yale Divinity School is interdenominational and completely nonsectarian. The faculty is drawn from the major Christian traditions as well as other world religions. Students represent several dozen denominations and faith groups. Instruction is provided in the history, doctrines, and polity of all the major church bodies.

Since 1971, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, an Episcopal seminary, has been affiliated with YDS. Berkeley Divinity School retains its identity through its board of trustees, its dean, and the Berkeley Center located at 363 St. Ronan Street. Episcopal students come under the care of the dean of Berkeley Divinity School for spiritual formation and counseling but are not otherwise differentiated from other YDS students. As a result of the affiliation, there is one integrated student body and faculty.

The Institute of Sacred Music was founded in 1973. It is affiliated with both the School of Music and YDS.

Andover Newton, the oldest graduate school in the nation, formally affiliated with Yale Divinity School in 2017 as Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School.

YDS offers programs of study leading to the degrees of Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.), and Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.). Programs for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) are offered by the Department of Religious Studies in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

A number of YDS faculty hold joint appointments in the Department of Religious Studies, others participate in the doctoral program, and some Religious Studies faculty offer courses at YDS.

YDS is a graduate professional school of Yale University, which also includes Yale College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the schools of Architecture, Art, Drama, Engineering & Applied Science, Forestry & Environmental Studies, Law, Management, Medicine, Music, Nursing, and Public Health.

History of the Divinity School

Training for the Christian ministry was a main purpose in the founding of Yale College in 1701. As expressed in its original charter, it was to be a school “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts & Sciences who through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.” That purpose has always been recognized at Yale, and the history of the University is one of increasing development in the facilities for training for religious service.

During the early years of Yale College, its general curriculum, supplemented in some cases by a year or two of reading under the direction of its instructors, was deemed sufficient for ministerial preparation. But in 1822, in response to petitioning from students of theology who asked to be recognized as a distinct group, a professorship in theology was established, marking the formation of what was later to be known as the Yale Divinity School.

Divinity School classes were first held in rooms above the University chapel, and in 1835–36 Divinity College was constructed on what is now Yale’s Old Campus as the new home of the Divinity School. In 1869, two years after Yale awarded its first Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree (changed in 1971 to the M.Div.), the cornerstone was laid for new Divinity facilities at Elm and College streets. The present home of the Divinity School, Sterling Divinity Quadrangle on Prospect Street, opened in 1932, the same year women were admitted for the first time as candidates for the B.D. degree. A $49 million renovation of the Georgian Colonial-style campus, where Marquand Chapel dominates as the central unifying monument, was completed in 2003.

Over the years, YDS has been associated with some of the most prominent figures in American religion, such as faculty members H. Richard Niebuhr, Roland Bainton, Brevard Childs, James Gustafson, Henri Nouwen, Margaret Farley, and Emilie Townes; and alumni/ae including theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, antiwar activist and Yale University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Union Theological Seminary President Serene Jones, Sharon Watkins, former General Minister and President of the Disciples of Christ, and Otis Moss III, senior minister at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Other well-known alumni include International Rescue Committee President and CEO George Rupp, Emory University President and U.S. Ambassador James Laney, and former U.S. Senator John Danforth.

Today, YDS is a thriving ecumenical school inclusive of a wide range of Christian traditions. The School graduates about 150 students every year, including many who enter pulpit ministries and others who embark on careers in chaplaincy, academia, law, medicine, business, social service, and the world of nonprofit agencies.

Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, located at Yale Divinity School for almost five decades, was founded by Bishop John Williams in 1854 in Middletown, Connecticut, to be a mediating seminary during a time of theological division in the Episcopal Church. In 1928 Berkeley moved to New Haven to better fulfill its mission by taking advantage of the resources of an urban center and a great university, a purpose that came to full fruition through its affiliation with Yale Divinity School in 1971.

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music (ISM) has operated in partnership with YDS since it was established at Yale in 1973. The Institute is a successor to the renowned School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. ISM trains musicians for churches, and it supports programs in choral conducting, organ performance, voice, and church music studies (with the Yale School of Music) and in liturgical studies and religion and the arts (both with YDS).

In 2017 Andover Newton Theological School, the oldest graduate theological school in the country, affiliated with YDS as Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School, becoming the third YDS partner institution on the Quad. The focus of Andover Newton is its celebrated tradition of ministerial formation and specialization in the training of ministers within locally governed congregational traditions.

YDS Timeline:

  • 1822: First Yale professorship in theology established; YDS is born
  • 1834: James W.C. Pennington becomes the first African American to attend classes at YDS & Yale
  • 1836: Construction of Yale Divinity College on Old Campus completed
  • 1867: First Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree awarded
  • 1872: Solomon Coles becomes first African American enrolled at YDS
  • 1874: James William Morris becomes first African American to graduate from YDS
  • 1932: Sterling Divinity Quadrangle opens & becomes new home of YDS
  • 1921: First Asian American man graduates from YDS
  • 1932: Women admitted for the first time to YDS as candidates for the B.D. degree
  • 1945: First African American woman graduates from YDS
  • 1953: First Hispanic American woman graduates from YDS
  • 1957: First Asian American woman graduates from YDS
  • 1958: First Hispanic American man graduates from YDS
  • 1971: Berkeley Divinity School affiliates with YDS
  • 1971: B.D. degree renamed M.Div. degree
  • 1973: Institute of Sacred Music established at Yale in partnership with YDS
  • 2003: $49 million renovation of YDS completed
  • 2017: Oldest graduate theological school in U.S. affiliates with YDS as Andover Newton Seminary at YDS 
  • 2020: $15 million donation received in support of “We Are Called” campaign, the largest gift in YDS history
  • 2022: Bicentennial observance and public launch of campaign
  • 2023: Groundbreaking for the Living Village residential complex, designed to  be the first LBC-certified project in the Ivy League and largest living building in the higher education sector

*Updated March 27, 2023


Secondary Attractions

Changing Faces of YDS
An ongoing project exploring the Divinity School's distinguished alumni of color.