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Why are so many religious “nones” attending divinity schools?

Why are so many religious “nones” attending divinity schools?

The New York Times investigated why some religious ‘nones’–people who don’t identify as religious or part of an historical faith tradition–are attending divinity schools. They profiled several people involved in this phenomenon, including Angie Thurston, a Harvard Divinity School student who has helped create a vibrant community named Harvard Religious Nones for people who don’t associate with traditional religious creeds.

Thurston is critical of the term ‘nones’. From the article:

“It’s difficult to foster community based on negation, on saying what you aren’t,” she said. “To live in this soup of negation, it’s just not lasting.”

The students and alumni profiled speak about feeling drawn to sacredness and rejecting the lack of moral values in mainstream society.

The Atlantic covered a similar topic several years ago, with a first-person essay from a non-religious student of theology, who advocates studying theology to gain a deeper understanding of history and humanity, describing it as the study of history from within. The writer, Tara Isabella Burton, provides a compelling counter-argument to atheists who question the value of a theology degree.

Do you see the value in attending divinity school even if you aren’t devout? Does it surprise you that some people would not see the value of a theology degree?


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David O'Rourke

I took some classes this past year at the Iliff School of Theology, and in some of my classes a significant number of students were Unitarian Universalists and did not identify as Christian. It made for some interesting discussions about the Bible when not everyone in class approached it as sacred scripture for their own tradition.

If you are a “None” who is looking for a theological education, there are plenty of schools where you will find a place. One thing to look for is whether a school focuses on training and educating Christians, especially of the sponsoring churches denomination, for ordained ministry, or are they more of a school of theology. Several of these schools also have various types of hybrid programs that allow you to pursue your education from a distance.

Lynelle Osburn

Thank you Anne for writing this. I it helps all of us who are deciding to go further with formal study. Your friend Lynelle from Australia

Ann Fontaine

About half my class (about 200 at the time) at Harvard Divinity School were “nones” (in 1991) — they studied religion like one would study biology. The other half were seeking ordination in some denomination (Episcopal, UU, Presbyterian, Baptist,etc) or other faith (Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc) – made for a very rich stew of discussions. I learned as much from them than from actually class time. They also helped refine for me why I am a Christian and an Episcopalian (neither of which I was sure of at the time of beginning seminary and the ordination process) as well as helping me clarify how to speak of my faith outside of Episco-speak.

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