Interest in divinity school grows

By Katie Zager

Religion doesn’t get as much attention on the Macalester Campus as it does on other campuses. When asked about future plans, most students are likely to mention graduate school, working or traveling the world. But one group of students recently gathered to hear about another option, divinity school.Last week, about seven students gathered to talk to Lad Dell, an admissions officer at Harvard Divinity School. He is just one of many divinity school recruiters that will stop by campus this year.

Macalester is sending an increasing number of students to Divinity School every year.

“One interesting reality at Macalester is that though the college is often touted as a place that is uninterested in the practice of religion in a broad sense of that word, the reality is that we have sent at least as many students to seminary and divinity school over the past years as we have to law school,” said Associate Dean for Religious and Spiritual Life and Chaplain Lucy Forster-Smith.

In her 17 years at Macalester, Forster-Smith has seen tremendous growth in students’ interest in divinity school and religious vocations. In the 90s, Macalester sent only one or two students on to study religion further, compared to 14 or 15 more recently.

“It used to be they would come in, shut the door, and go ‘I’m kind of thinking about becoming a minister’,” Forster-Smith said.

Divinity schools are often associated with major universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, who boast well-established and rigorous divinity schools. They offer masters or doctorate degrees in divinity, and, not unlike more traditional graduate schools, offer both academic and professional tracks. Classes offered range from basic religion classes to courses on “Pastoral Care.” Graduates end up as professors, educators and counselors, and can also go on to seminary to become ordained as pastors, priests or rabbis.

Today, the dialogue on campus regarding religious education is much more open. Forster-Smith attributes some of the growth in interest to the presence of the Lilly Project on campus. Aimed at getting students to think about the meaning and purpose of their convictions, the Lilly Program provides support and encouragement for students looking into religion related vocations.

The program also provides scholarships so that students can go tour divinity schools and seminaries. In part due to these scholarships, within four years the number of students attending these schools rose to 6-8 per class.

The Lilly Project also supports Chiasma, a group for students looking into divinity school, seminary or other religious careers. The group hopes to bring a number of religious leaders from the community to campus to talk about what they do. More importantly, the group hopes to build a sense of community around religion and vocation.

Compared to the past however, there doesn’t really seem to be a disconnect between the average Macalester student and the idea of religious vocation.

“It really depends, it’s sort of a problem with my [Religious Studies] major. People here know what it means, that it doesn’t mean seminary. But back home, a lot more people question it.they assume I would do it with the intent to be ordained,” said Erin Hocking ’11, who is considering divinity school.