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New Concentrations at Vanderbilt Divinity

Upon satisfactory completion of the First Semester Orientation Course, the Master Divinity program and Master of Theological Studies require students to select a concentration option based on vocational interests. Students may elect to choose an additional concentration should their schedule permit. 

Concentrations aim to prepare students to be service oriented for religious leadership that is contextually focused; socially engaged, spiritually formed; and culturally literate. In other words, as a crucial component to the curriculum, concentrations contribute to students’ development of a disposition toward religious leadership that is transformative.

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Description of Concentration

Concentrations are comprised of 12 credit hours including a praxis-oriented course or experience.  This latter requirement may be met by field education or an engagement with another praxis as determined by the concentration faculty advisors.  

Concentrations embody five Divinity School curricular values:

  • Vocationally Relevant. Students are provided an opportunity to engage their vocational interests and sense of call, develop religious leadership capacities and deepen the knowledge needed to critically, thoughtfully, and creatively engage in ministry in all its forms.
  • Integrative of theory and praxis with the aim of preparing students for transformative leadership in faith communities and the broader society.
  • Interdisciplinary. Concentrations are comprised of courses selected from across the curriculum. The interdisciplinary foci of the concentration strengthen students’ capacity to make the connection between disciplines in the curriculum and the practice of ministry.
  • Intersectional in content and analysis. The intersectional nature of the concentrations help students become cognizant of the social factors that shape experience in society. Students learn critical social analysis and religious reflection that informs transformative responses in the embodiment of vocation.
  • Infused with the VDS commitments which provide a linchpin between the curriculum and our communal life.

The Concentration Steering Committee is comprised of an interdisciplinary group of at least three faculty members who serve as the advisers for the concentration. The Concentration Convener coordinates the steering committee, course projections, and bi-annual student/faculty conversations.

Current concentrations include:

Concentration Descriptions

Black Religion and Culture Studies
This concentration offers opportunity for study and research in the religions of the African diaspora, their spiritual, intellectual, moral, and cultural contributions towards transforming the world through institutors, social movements, and cultural politics of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Black Religion is an umbrella term for historically understanding the Black Church and other African derived religions in the Americas from their development during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the present and explores their creative, sacred powers of survival, resistance, and flourishing. Drawing on a wide range of resources in black biblical hermeneutics, African American religious history, Black philosophy and theology, African American religious Studies, womanist ethics, sociology and psychology, and cultural studies, the concentration is methodologically interdisciplinary. 
Learning Goals:
  • Historical understanding of the development of Black religion and culture formations from African roots and beginnings in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the present.
  • Explore creative and transformative cultural practices and institutions that empower the spiritual and moral universes of Black religion and culture.
  • Critique social forces of oppression and transformative sources of liberation through interdisciplinary analyses.
Chaplaincy (MDiv Only)
The chaplaincy concentration provides MDiv students theoretical and practical knowledge to prepare them for vocations in variety of chaplaincy contexts.
Learning Goals:
  • Reflect theologically and pastorally on the practice of chaplaincy
  • Understanding of institutional culture and systems for effective chaplaincy
  • Facility with practicing ritual and prayer in interpersonal, communal, and public contexts
  • Competence in theory and facility in the practice of pastoral counseling
Pastoral and Prophetic Congregational Leadership (MDiv Only)
This concentration is designed for individuals intending upon careers in congregational ministry. It provides an opportunity to delve more deeply into the literature, problems, practices of ministry.  Students in particular denominational traditions may be able to fulfill some of their ordination requirements in this concentration, but all students are challenged to think deeply about the intersectional dimensions of life in congregational community in twenty-first century North America.
Learning Goals:
  • Students will develop perspectives on contemporary ministry such that graduates will proceed into the further practice of ministry as thoughtful and engaged leaders.
  • Students will attain skills in the practice of ministry applicable to the practice of congregational leadership.
  • Students will engage in an additional unit of congregationally based field education in order to grow under supervision in the capacity for leadership and self-awareness of their own gifts.
Global Christianities and Interreligious Encounter
True and transformative knowledge of Christianity cannot exist without the study of other religions, their influence upon Christianity and its portrayals of these religious movements.  “Global Christianities and Interreligious Encounters” engages the inexorably intercultural and interreligious nature of the various versions of Christianity from its very first days, whether Second Temple Judaism or religions of Rome in the first century, ce.; whether Islam from its birth or Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions as mercenaries, merchants and missionaries encountered them; and whether various new religious movements in the recent past.  This Concentration offers a panoply of courses that are designed to introduce VDS students to the variety of encounters between various religious traditions and Christianity, and the mutual gaze that has influenced both sides.  The telos of this Concentration is to help the larger VDS community – students, alumni, and friends – to become better equipped to understand the complexities and nuances of the historical contingencies of their version and vision of Christianity vis-à-vis other versions of Christianity as well as other religions.
Learning Goals:
  • Students will understand how religions emerge out of contact with one another.
  • Students will recognize their traditions as contingent, thus open to interpretation, with an awareness of accompanying historical harms and benefits of their tradition.  Further, they will value difference and become aware of the dynamics of Christian privilege, with a concomitant commitment towards transformative solidarity not guilt.
  • Students will develop the capacity for deep listening and civil discourse across religious difference, thereby becoming more adroit in assessing religious traditions, building constructive alliances, and cultivating respect interreligiously.
Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies
The cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East have exerted a formative influence on identity and practice in a number of religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Students in this concentration are invited to learn a variety of disciplinary approaches to the study of religion as part of the cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East. Although there are no chronological limits to the focus of this concentration, the course offerings focus primarily on ancient and medieval cultures and languages. The subjects studied through a variety sources including textual, linguistic, material, geographic, and visual evidence. The courses offer a variety of approaches drawn from the disciplines of history, philology, visual arts, literary analysis, gender analysis, biblical studies, post-colonial studies, and the social sciences. Students are particularly encouraged to diachronically examine the reception and intersection of cultural and social forms and institutions.
Learning Goals:
  1. Students will become familiar with the cultural and social history the Mediterranean and Near East as a context for the development of religious traditions.
  2. Students will become familiar with textual, philological, and material approaches to the study of the religions of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean and Near East.
  3. Students will gain facility in the teaching and research practices use to study the cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East.
Prison and Carceral Studies
This concentration provides VDS students with the opportunity to take up the issue of incarceration from a theological perspective.  Students will explore biblical, theological and historical documents as well as sociological data to deepen understanding of the current reality of punishment in the United States.  We will explore what religious traditions have to contribute to critiquing the injustice of our justice system.  Students will engage prisoners and formerly incarcerated citizens through our Riverbend Program as well as appropriate field education opportunities. We will pay particular attention to issues of race, class, gender and sexuality in the application of punishment in the United States and beyond, taking up the relationship of discipline and punishment in society.  And we will develop theological and ethical reflection in relationship to these issues. What, for example, is the role of punishment and mercy?  How is reconciliation and justice possible?  The concentration draws on a broad range of disciplines and combines learning from those whose lives have been most affected by incarceration – the incarcerated and their communities-- as well as scholars whose research and teaching focus on the development and analysis of the prison industrial complex. 
Learning Goals:
  • To develop an understanding of the realities of mass incarceration in the United States.
  • To explore the causes and consequences of prison, paying particular attention to issues of race, class, gender and sexuality.
  • To mine religious/theological traditions for resources for disrupting the prison industrial complex, and the cradle to prison pipeline.
Religion and Economic Justice
Economic realities and faith traditions are closely related. Economic realities shape religious experiences, images, and practices at their core, even though this is often overlooked. Likewise, religion influences economics, providing both support and critique. The concentration on religion and economic justice is designed to investigate these interrelations and to address both the problems and the potential emerging at the intersection of religion and economics. Aspects include growing inequality as well as alternatives such as participatory economies and economic democracy, keeping in mind the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class.
Learning Goals:
  • Understand and investigate how economics, theology, and religion shape and influence each other.
  • Engage economic thought and practice in relation to the history of Christian and other faith traditions in terms of similarities and differences.
  • Analyze situations of economic injustice and develop viable alternatives informed by faith traditions in the context of the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class. 
Religion and the Arts
This concentration serves the student with interests in the mutually formative relationship of religion and the arts.  Areas of inquiry include theological aesthetics, the role of art in fulfilling the societal mission of congregations and communities, the role of religion in literature, art’s generative role in personal devotion, spiritual practice, and congregational life and identity. Practical courses in writing (creative, non-fiction, and song) are offered regularly and are an important component in the curriculum.
Learning Goals:
  • Student will demonstrate creative imagination in at least one of two streams of activity: A) The translation of theological concepts into images, sounds, movements, novels, plays, or poetry.  B) In scholarship, preaching, worship design, and other modes of expressive theological reflection.
  • Student will put their engagement with the arts into conversation with the broader components of their theological education.
  • Student will build a greater recognition of the interconnections between religion and the arts and be able to articulate points of affinity between the two.
Religion, Gender, and Sexuality
This concentration allows students to explore the complex intellectual, historical, and practical interactions between religion, gender, and sexuality.
Learning Goals:
  • To prepare students with the intellectual and practical tools to work effectively on these issues with communities of faith.
Spirituality and Social Activism
The Spirituality and Activism concentration gives students interdisciplinary knowledge for integrating spirituality with vocations of activism. Students will be exposed to the historical and contemporary contexts in which spirituality and activism have helped generate movements for justice in the academy, religious communities, and society.
Learning Goals:
  • Reflect ethically, biblically, and pastorally on the practice of activism in light of spirituality
  • Understanding and practice? of spirituality as an integral aspect for sustained commitment to social activism
  • Developing capacity in creating public spaces for the integration of spirituality in activism

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