Institute of Sacred Music

Institute students who are also enrolled in YDS pursue the M.A.R., the M.Div., or the S.T.M. degree with particular interest in sacred music, worship, and the arts. More detailed information is online at or in the ISM Bulletin, also online at

Applicants must complete a separate ISM application for admission to the Institute of Sacred Music.

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music (ISM), an interdisciplinary graduate center, educates leaders who foster, explore, and study engagement with the sacred through music, worship, and the arts in Christian communities, diverse religious traditions, and public life. Partnering with the Yale School of Music and YDS, as well as other academic and professional units at Yale, ISM prepares its students for careers in church music and other sacred music, pastoral ministry, performance, and scholarship. The Institute’s curriculum integrates the study and practice of religion with that of music and the arts. With a core focus on Christian sacred music, ISM builds bridges among disciplines and vocations and makes creative space for scholarship, performance, and practice.

The Institute was established at Yale in 1973 through a gift from the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation of Columbus, Indiana. The chairman of the board of the foundation, Clementine Miller Tangeman, described the Institute as a place where “the function of music and the arts in Christianity will receive new strength through the preparation and training of individual musicians, ministers, and teachers who understand their calling in broad Christian terms and not exclusively within the limits of their disciplines.”

Today ISM is a vibrant community of 120 students, faculty, fellows, and staff. Students admitted to ISM are also admitted to either the Yale School of Music or YDS (or both), from which they receive their degrees. ISM students are eligible for a full-tuition scholarship and have the opportunity to compete for additional grants and merit awards. Students pursuing music degrees receive rigorous conservatory training in choral conducting, organ, or voice, and typically go on to careers in church music, public performance, or teaching. Students who pursue degrees in divinity—either the M.Div., the M.A.R., or the S.T.M.—with an emphasis in liturgy or religion and the arts may join the ordained ministry or pursue careers in the academy, in the arts, or in public service.

ISM serves to promote understanding of biblical texts as proclaimed in community and the unique sense of identity that the arts provide for worshipers in a variety of faith traditions. Every two years the Institute sponsors study tours abroad with the goal of obtaining a wealth of experiences in seeing, hearing, and learning firsthand in that particular culture. In the past decade, the ISM has visited Scandinavia, Mexico, the Balkans, Germany, Greece and Turkey, Italy, the Baltic states, and Spain. As a major arts presenter in New Haven, the Institute sponsors more than one hundred events attended by more than 25,000 people throughout the year, including recitals, concerts, liturgies, lectures, readings, films, symposia, and conferences.

At the heart of the Institute’s program is the weekly Colloquium, a lively interdisciplinary course attended by all ISM faculty and students. Faculty and guest speakers lecture in the fall on topics pertinent to the primary fields represented in ISM—worship, music, and the arts—and in their final year students present a project in collaboration with another ISM student outside their own discipline. In Colloquium, students and faculty explore the ways in which music and the arts function within diverse Christian liturgical practices. 

Upon graduation, students enrolled in both ISM and YDS earn an ISM certificate in addition to their Yale degree. The certificate signifies that the core curriculum of the chosen degree path has been enriched and deepened through study with the interdisciplinary Institute faculty. For example, music students will learn about the theological and liturgical roots of the sacred music they perform. They study the historical context and meanings of the texts used, and they learn about the modern contexts in which this repertoire appears, whether in liturgies or on the concert stage. Likewise, divinity students learn to make connections between theological concepts and artistic expression. They look at the historical roots and aesthetic constructions of the art and liturgies they study.