What’s new in the new academic year

Yale Divinity School is beginning its 198th year this week, kicking off a fall semester marked by new programs, new faculty and staff, new facilities improvements, and, of course, new students. Here is a non-comprehensive look at what’s new in the new academic year.

New class

A total of 146 new students begin their YDS careers this semester, hailing from nearly a dozen countries and bringing with them a vast set of experiences and interests. Sixty-seven are pursuing the M.Div. degree, 71 the M.A.R., and seven the S.T.M. (One is a non-degree-seeking student.) In addition to the United States, members of the new class come from Australia, China, Hong Kong S.A.R., Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Romania, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Their demographic diversity is as great as their geographical. They range in age from 21 to 74, with an average age of 28.2. Seventy-five identify as female, 66 as male, and five as other.

Racially and ethnically, the new class breaks down as follows:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native, 4.8%
  • Asian, 5.5%
  • Black or African American, 17.1%
  • Latinx/Hispanic, 4.1%
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 1.4%
  • White, 69.2%

In addition, 8.2 % of the new students are international.

For a sizeable portion of the class, YDS will not be their first experience in graduate education.  Thirty-four already possess advanced degrees, including the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Juris Doctor (Law).

Vernice “Hopie” Randall, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, lauded the new class as an “academically strong and richly diverse group of students from all across the nation and around the world.” Randall added, “We look forward with great anticipation to what they will bring to our forward-thinking scholarly community at Yale Divinity School, and to Yale University as a whole.”

New faculty

The beginning of fall semester marks the arrival of several new professors, lecturers, and a scholar in residence.

Laura Nasrallah, previously of Harvard Divinity School, comes to YDS as the Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation. Nasrallah’s research brings together New Testament and early Christian literature with the archaeological remains of the Mediterranean world, and focuses particularly on issues of empire, gender, and race and ethnicity. Read YaleNews article on Laura Nasrallah’s appointment.

With Nasrallah’s appointment, the YDS tenure-track faculty is, for the first time, more than 50 percent women—a fitting milestone to mark what will be a year-long celebration of the 50th and 150th year of Women at Yale. (YDS will participate in the celebration in several ways; watch for upcoming coverage.)

John Azumah comes to YDS as Visiting Professor of World Christianity. Formerly Professor of World Christianity and Islam and Director of International Programs at Columbia Theological Seminary, he is working to establish the Lamin Sanneh Institute at the University of Ghana while teaching at Yale. Like Lamin Sanneh, Azumah specializes in Islam, Christian-Muslim relations, Christian theology of religions, missions and missiology, and world Christianity and Islam in the Global South. Azumah is a Yale Presidential Visiting Fellow whose appointment is supported by the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative.

Daniel Bohac will serve as a lecturer in 2019-20 while working in the Divinity Library and continuing his research in New Testament. Bohac’s academic interests include early Christian reading and writing practices, orthodoxy and heresy, philosophies and cults of the early Roman Empire, and the Nag Hammadi codices.

Anthea Butler, a University of Pennsylvania professor who is a frequent media commentator and opinion-column writer on politics, religion, and race, is spending the year at YDS to complete her next major monograph, Reading Race: Hope, Religion Education, and Interracial Cooperation (1880-1917). Butler is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at Penn and graduate chair of Religious Studies. Butler focuses her research and writing on African American religion and history, politics, religion and gender, sexuality, media, and popular culture. Like Azumah, Butler is a Yale Presidential Visiting Fellow.

Abdul-Rehman Malik comes to YDS on a one-year appointment as Lecturer in Islamic Studies. Malik has distinguished himself as an award-winning journalist, civil society leader, and cultural organizer working at the intersection of faith, culture, and social justice. He has played several roles at Yale in recent years, including Director of the Social Justice Leadership Lab at Dwight Hall’s Center for Public Service and Social Justice.

Gabrielle Thomas joins the faculty on a three-year appointment as Lecturer in Early Christian and Anglican Studies. Thomas is formerly a postdoctoral research associate at Durham University, U.K. Her current research explores the role of “powers of opposition” in early Christian soteriology and human suffering.

The outcome of a major faculty search will be announced in September. Meanwhile, four searches will be continued or undertaken in the new year: in the Black Church in American Religious History, Medieval Studies, Spirituality, and World Church (with a focus on Africa).

New staff

Barbara Sabia began work this summer as the Divinity School’s new Senior Director of Alumni Engagement and Development. Sabia joins YDS from Yale Law School, where she was Director of Development. Prior to her service at Yale, she led fund-raising at several private schools, including Westover School, the Gunnery, the Pingry School, and the Willow School. She began her career at her alma mater, Skidmore College, where she directed several important fund-raising initiatives, including an $80 million comprehensive campaign. Sabia is tasked with the School’s most pressing fund-raising initiatives: the effort to meet students’ full demonstrated tuition need by 2022 and raising funds to construct the Living Village residential complex.

Alison Cunningham ’84 M.Div. comes to YDS as the new Director of Professional Formation. Cunningham is a visionary nonprofit leader who for the past 20 years has served as CEO and Executive Director of Columbus House in New Haven, which serves people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Alison is the inaugural director in a position YDS created as part of the restructured Ministry and Professional Formation team led by Bill Goettler, Associate Dean for Ministerial and Social Leadership. She will be charged with providing resources, training, and support for students who discover a vocational direction in nonprofit service.

Kelly Morrissey joins the YDS staff as Managing Director of the newly formed Center for Continuing Education, which includes the Yale Youth Ministry Institute (YMI), Yale Bible Study, and YDS Summer Study. Morrissey, who helped Skip Masback ’94 M.Div. launch the Yale Bible Study series in 2007 and the first YMI lecture series in 2012, comes to YDS from the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Conn., where she served as Chief Operating Officer. The new continuing education center is directed by Joel Baden ’99 B.A., Professor of Hebrew Bible at YDS.

Lynn Sullivan is the new Director of Community Equity. Reporting to Jeanne Peloso, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, Sullivan will develop and execute programming designed to enhance diversity and inclusion, with an emphasis on building a more equitable community at YDS. Sullivan is a diversity and inclusion educator and leader who has worked for 20 years as a senior administrator at independent schools. She most recently served as the Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Buckley Country Day School in Roslyn, N.Y.

Evan Rosa has joined the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at YDS as Assistant Director for Public Engagement. Rosa comes from Biola University in southern California, where he served as Director of the Center for Christian Thought. His work for the Center included founding and producing The Table, an online journal and podcast exploring diverse Christian perspectives on life’s big questions. Rosa has studied philosophy at UC Berkeley (B.A.) and Biola University (M.A.) and has been working at the intersection of academic research and public engagement for over 10 years.

Facilities improvements

Over the summer, YDS completed a series of highly visible improvements to the Quad, highlighted by the new landscaping in the courtyards behind Marquand Chapel. The north side of the space now features an outdoor reception area, complete with small group seating and an outdoor fireplace. On the south, or contemplative, side is a new stone labyrinth modeled after the famous labyrinth at Chartres.

In addition, the Quad received an almost complete makeover during the summer months, with new carpet installed in hallways and offices, among other projects.


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“Yale Divinity School upholds a standard of excellence in everything we do,” Dean Greg Sterling said. “We want everyone to know that when they enter YDS they are entering a place of the highest quality, reflected in our buildings as well as our people.”

New academic programs

Keeping pace with the changing landscape in church and society, YDS debuts three new academic programs this year—an M.A.R. in Practical Theology, a new pathway to the S.T.M., and a new non-degree program aimed at serving working ministers in the area.

The new Practical Theology M.A.R. (Master of Arts in Religion) is intended to serve two groups of students interested in the study of lived religion and theologically grounded research on religious practices: those who want to go on to Ph.D. work in the field and future pastors whose traditions do not require ministers to have the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree.

To serve working ministers in larger churches that offer their pastors sabbaticals, YDS has adopted a new S.T.M. (Master of Sacred Theology) program that allows students to do the second of their two semesters remotely—a first for the Divinity School. The S.T.M. degree is for students who already possess an M.Div. and want to expand their academic work in a specific area.

In addition, YDS adopted a “Ministers in the Vicinity” program to serve ministers within a fifty-mile radius of New Haven who have bachelor’s degrees but are unable to return to school for a master’s degree. The program allows them to take up to four classes over a two-year period and receive a certificate. Students in the program may petition to have the credits applied toward a YDS degree program in the event they later enroll.

YDS will begin recruiting students for the new programs this year and enroll the first cohorts in the fall of 2020.

Another new initiative will be in development in the new year: a program in Catholic lay ministry.

August 23, 2019