Theology is the study of religious faith and practice. Many students study theology to prepare for ordained ministry, but others take theology courses to deepen their appreciation and understanding of religion. R.R. Reno, a theology professor at Creighton University, ranked what he saw as the nation’s top theological schools, noting that U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of colleges and universities has not done so. He published his list in 2006 on the website of First Things, a publication from the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
Reno ranked Duke University’s Divinity School as the top theology school in the nation, noting the number of leading biblical scholars on its faculty. The program at Duke also has avoided the trends toward a “post-Christian” perspective, a view in which Christianity is no longer the dominant religion in public life. Duke also has an undergraduate religious studies department and an excellent reputation among American theologians.
The large Department of Theology at Notre Dame has a cadre of excellent Christian intellectuals on its faculty, according to Reno. He ranks Notre Dame as the best institution to study the early Church fathers, as well as a school with outstanding scholars in moral theology.
Reno has a mix of praise and reservations about the undergraduate Department of Religion at Princeton. The school is a great place to grapple with issues of faith in the contemporary world and the role of the church in a democratic society. He also praises the department’s reputation for forming graduate students of religion. However, Reno cites weak historical and systematic theology resources as drawbacks to the Princeton program.
Boston College is a Jesuit institution with required theology courses for its undergraduate students, which ensures the school will have a large theology faculty. Reno also notes that the school provides strong support for its graduate students.
Reno places Catholic University, Princeton Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Seminary in a three-way tie for fifth place on his list. Catholic University in Washington, D.C., has a school of religious studies for undergraduate students and a theological seminary for men preparing for the Catholic priesthood. The seminaries at Princeton and Trinity exist mainly to educate future ministers, but both schools offer doctoral programs in theology, as well. Reno points out that both schools boast respected Protestant theologians on their faculties.
Harvard, Vanderbilt and Yale
Harvard’s Divinity School, in Reno’s view, has some excellent religion scholars, but the school suffers from a post-Christian environment. He has similar criticism of the theology programs at Vanderbilt and Yale. While conceding that the schools’ faculties include some great theologians, Reno contends that liberal Protestantism, as well as the agendas of feminist and gay theologians, have eroded serious intellectual study of religion at these and other mainline divinity schools.