Winter 2007 Volume 6 Number 2

Crossing Boundaries

New Interdisciplinary Doctorate Keeps Faith Communities at the Forefront

Photos by Duke University Photography

Amy Laura Hall, Director of the Doctor of Theology Program, answers questions from Divinity about the new degree and the first class of eight students.

  Dr. Amy Laura Hall

The Rev. Dr. Amy Laura Hall is the author of Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love (Cambridge University Press, 2002) and Conceiving Parenthood: The Protestant Spirit of Biotechnological Reproduction (Eerdmans, forthcoming).

A member of the Bioethics Task Force of the United Methodist Church, Hall is an ordained elder and has served in both suburban and urban parishes.

DIVINITY: What key characteristic defines the Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program?

HALL: Interdisciplinarity. The program encourages students to think and write across the boundaries of the four traditional disciplines in theological study: Bible, history, theology and ministerial studies.

Through this program we recognize the pastoral, moral and ecclesial passions that drive the most creative, bright individuals to seek disciplined doctoral work in the first place.

Our best students are making a particular type of witness, helping their professors, colleagues and students discern the difference between personal, scholarly ambition and genuine Christian vocation.

DIVINITY: How does the Th.D. differ from the other degree programs in theology and religion at Duke?

HALL: Our goal is an academically rigorous doctoral program for service to the theological academy as central to communities of faith. Our students will seek answers to questions emerging in the lives and practices of actual communities of faith.

For example, current student Andrew Thompson has recently written for a major ecclesial newspaper on the importance of engaging young adults with the riches of the Christian tradition, rather than meeting them in some supposedly appealing world of video-games and flavored coffee drinks.

Another student, Arnold Oh, is taking courses in post-colonial and historical studies in order to forge a field of missions and evangelism that truly attends to the mistakes of a Western past. These are only two examples.

I believe the resources for such answers, as well as better questions, may come from texts written in the 5th century as well as from texts written in the 21st. We will see students in this program asking key questions about race and identity, for instance, through close readings of Augustine’s City of God. It’s also a program where a student may read the Pauline corpus with probing questions for the construction of gender in the Christian community.

DIVINITY: What benefits are emerging from the students’ interdisciplinary research interests?

HALL: Our students are pursuing questions as diverse as evangelism in Asia and health and embodiment in the U.S. They are bringing together all that a major research university such as Duke offers.

They are taking courses in The Divinity School, but also from the history, English, and comparative literature departments. They come together for one seminar a year to focus on a set of texts in practical theology. The combination of interests and gifts is proving quite electric.

DIVINITY:As new members of The Divinity School community, what do these students bring to intellectual and spiritual life?

HALL: The students in our first class each have spent at least three years in sustained ministry, forming wise questions that are already informing their studies. They are genuinely gifted for ministry, and have discerned a holy call back into the stacks of the library—so that they might serve their callings in new ways.

In addition, the faculty anticipate they will serve as preceptors with pastoral wisdom and intellectual vigor.

DIVINITY: After completing the doctoral program, what contributions do you envision these students will make within the church and the academy?

HALL: The current group of students represents scholars who already have served as missionaries and ministers, in fields as varied as health care and youth work. I anticipate that they will be highly sought as faculty in ecclesial colleges and seminaries.

Their attitude is a witness: They insist, when people ask, that God will find a way for them to be “put to use.” Through their witness, I have been reminded to be more Wesleyan.

DIVINITY: As you look ahead at the challenges inherent in starting a new program, how do you envision the future for the Th.D.?

HALL: This is an ambitious new program. While some scholars have put up fences, we are criss-crossing fields of inquiry. Our students are going to need to be nimble, knowing how to translate across fields.

They will need to be apologists of a sort, explaining that their intellectual pursuits and their ecclesial passions are actually consonant, not conflicting. But, as I get to know these amazing pastors, I am clear that they are up for the task. I consider it a blessing and honor to be of use to them.

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