The Vanderbilt Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion (usually Vanderbilt Divinity School) is an interdenominational divinity school at Vanderbilt University, a major research university located in Nashville, Tennessee. It is one of only six university-based schools of religion in the United States without a denominational affiliation that service primarily mainline Protestantism (University of Chicago Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Yale Divinity School, and Howard University School of Divinity are the others).

Early history

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Vanderbilt Divinity School was founded in 1875 as the Biblical Department and was under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, one predecessor of the present-day United Methodist Church. In 1914, in concert with the University's severance of its ties with the MECS, the school became interdenominational and ecumenical, and in 1915, the school's name was changed from the Biblical Department of Vanderbilt University to the Vanderbilt School of Religion; it adopted its present name in 1956. The present physical plant of the school, known colloquially as the "quadrangle" or "quad," was completed in 1960; the Benton Chapel that abuts the quad is named for a mid-20th-century dean, John Keith Benton. In 1966 the Graduate School of Theology of Oberlin College in Ohio merged with that of Vanderbilt, increasing the faculty resources of both the Divinity School and the Graduate Department of Religion, as well as the holdings of the school's portion of the University Library.

Civil Rights era

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A notable period in the history of Vanderbilt Divinity School was the American Civil Rights era. In 1960, African-American Divinity student James Lawson was expelled from the university for his role in nonviolent protests in the Nashville area. This expulsion, in turn, sparked great protest from many members of the Vanderbilt community, including most of the faculty of the Divinity School, who resigned en masse. The so-called "Lawson Affair" was eventually resolved with Lawson's nominal reinstatement, and the resigned faculty resumed their posts, with the exception of the Dean of the Divinity School

Denominations served

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Despite having ended formal association with Methodism nearly a century ago, the United Methodist Church is the largest beneficiary of graduates from the Divinity School, with sizable numbers ordained in denominations such as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (which operates a seminarian apartment nearby the campus), the Presbyterian Church (USA), and African-American Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal groups. VDS, through the merger with Oberlin and an earlier absorption of Atlanta Theological Seminary, a Congregationalist seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929, maintains a historical relationship (although no legal ties) with the United Church of Christ as well.

Students come from throughout the United States, representing numerous denominations and traditions.

Degrees conferred

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The Divinity School awards the following degrees:

  • Master of Divinity
  • Master of Theological Studies
  • Master of Arts
  • Doctor of Philosophy


The dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School is Emilie M. Townes, formerly on the faculty of Yale Divinity School in Connecticut. Notable recent deans of the Divinity School include Joseph C. Hough, Jr., Sallie McFague, Walter Harrelson, and H. Jackson Forstman.

Vanderbilt Divinity School is a member of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

Notable faculty

  • Roy Clyde Clark - adjunct faculty
  • Langdon Brown Gilkey - Professor (1954â€"63)
  • Amy-Jill Levine - E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies
  • Wilhelm Pauck - Distinguished Professor of Church History (1967â€"72)
  • Jack M. Sasson - Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible
  • Kelly Miller Smith - former assistant dean
  • Eugene Sutton
  • Fernando Segovia - Current President of the Society for Biblical Literature

Notable alumni

  • Kenneth Lee Carder (D.Min. in 1980) - United Methodist bishop
  • Earnest Sevier Cox, Methodist preacher, white supremacist
  • Al Gore - attended 1971-72 on a yearlong Rockefeller Foundation scholarship for people planning secular careers
  • Clare Purcell (B.D. in 1916) - Methodist bishop
  • Robert Hitchcock Spain (M.Div.) - United Methodist bishop
  • Amy Welborn (M.A. in Church History) - Roman Catholic author, columnist, activist, academic and public speaker
  • Don West - studied under Alva Taylor and Willard Uphaus
  • Shelli Yoder (M.Div.) - Miss Indiana 1992, former Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Congress (IN-9)


External links

  • Divinity School homepage

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