On Being a Mormon at Yale Divinity School
YDS did challenge my testimony of certain Mormon beliefs, such as the Restoration of the gospel and the Book of Mormon, although I have already pointed out that at least my testimony of the Book of Mormon was not extremely strong at the moment that I entered YDS. What I found most challenged was my belief in God. I took a systematic theology course both semesters, in which I learned other theories of God. Because I was in a mode of questioning and really figuring out whether I did believe the claims of Mormonism, I was really shaken.
The curriculum might not have the same effect on a different person. This is simply what happened to me. I began to doubt that God was the God I had worshiped for my entire life. Because I felt like I no longer knew who God was, I felt like I could not exercise my faith in the same way that I had before. I began to seriously doubt the efficacy of prayer. I was also taking Old Testament at the time, and I began to doubt the inspiration and coherence of the scriptures, any scripture. These and my naturally questioning temperament made the experience very hard. I think a different student, one who went in with a firmly established understanding of the limits of his or her own abilities to question and to find answers without the help of the Spirit would nonetheless have a similar but less dramatic experience.
However, my experience is not singular by any means. Students of all faith traditions grapple with matters of faith to differing degrees, and I add that the experience of divinity school probably would not be that valuable minus the difficulty and rigor. For a while I felt as though my reading of scripture had been ruined. I was used to reading almost entirely for inspiration and edification and not for themes and content and theological streams. I waded through the text as a person might wade through a swamp, becoming increasingly frustrated and tired with analyzing the swamp and discovering it was not what I had previously thought at all. But, with a little distance, I feel as though my training in scriptural exegesis has enhanced my reading irrevocably, for which I am extremely grateful.
My motivation to attend YDS was primarily academic, although with deep spiritual roots. I have always been interested in comparative religious study with an eye of faith. The program description seemed to match my perceived academic interests (interdisciplinary study within the arts and religion). But the decision to go there was one of faith. I considered other schools but felt that YDS was the place for me. It has not been what I expected at all. I did not anticipate the intense spiritual rigor. I was okay where I was. That said, I have changed. I have become more dedicated to Mormonism -- to teaching it in a way that is not only spiritually edifying but also intellectually challenging. I have become more tolerant of not-knowing. I learned the importance of the atonement, the value of Christ suffering for and with me.
My increased knowledge has increased my faith (even though it has complicated faith in numerous ways). I now understand the interconnected nature of both much more than I did before. Faith without knowledge is dead and vice versa. We often learn through the Spirit, but the Spirit often speaks to our reason. It is difficult not to quash spiritual knowledge (not all knowledge is spiritual) but sometimes we must balance spiritual and "secular" knowledge. Divinity school has taught me the intricacies of living a faithful life.
Elizabeth Pinborough is a graduate student in the Yale Divinity school.