For some reason, many people here in New Haven have been asking me how classes are going, and the answer is, “Great!” (or in German, “Sehr gut!”). I am thoroughly enjoying my classes. To my surprise, two of the classes, which are larger lecture classes, have discussion sections once a week. I hated discussion sections when I was an undergraduate because I never learned much in them. But my discussion sections in New Testament and Church History (Early Medieval through Reformation) were not only informative, but fun. The TAs and the other students are wonderful people and resources. What a delight.
There’s also a wonderful intersection of content because, at the moment, I am studying the early Church (martyrdoms, Constantine’s conversion) at the same time that we are beginning study of the Gospels, early church Scriptures. So I find us discussing the nature of hagiography (saints’ lives) at the same time that we’re reading Eusebius’s near deification of Constantine in his historical writings.
The most challenging, and therefore the most exciting, class for me is my Schleiermacher seminar. Schleiermacher is the great 19th-century German pastor and theologian who drove a lot of people nuts, and he is driving me nuts, too. So far, we have read On Religion, a collection of 5 speeches in which he attempts to define religion. (His definition does not include the influence of a deity, which is one reason that he annoyed and angered other theologians, such as the 20th-century theologian Karl Barth.) Then we read A Brief Outline of the Study of Theology, which was a little too dry and repetitive for me, but he defines a new school of theology in the book: practical theology. Practical theology is loosely defined by this neophyte seminarian as the intersection between our quest to know God and our quest to find God in the world (and to show God in the world). Now we are reading his Life of Jesus, and Schleiermacher loves to take what other people have said about Jesus and debunk it. For example, he discredits docetism, which argues that Jesus was purely spiritual, and his human life was merely an appearance of human life. He shows how the Gospels discredit this. He also criticizes proponents of the purely human Jesus. It takes him quite a long time to say what he thinks about Jesus. He is currently, at my stage of the reading, trying to express that in order to be human, Jesus had to be not completely divine in his understandings in his human life; otherwise, he would not have truly experienced humanity. But I’m only on page 135.
In my Christian/Muslim Dialogue class, we are reading two classics right now, The Call of the Minaret and Islam: The Straight Path. We have covered only the early beginnings of Islam in the time of the prophet Muhammad, but I have to write two 15-page papers by Nov. 20 for this class, so I hope we move a little more quickly soon. We watched a movie of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all faithful Muslims. No one knows how the movie was made since cameras are not allowed in the proceedings, so it felt like we were sneaking around when we watched it.
And, of course, German continues. Ich studiere Deutsch. Last week, we learned, among other things, how to say years in German, and then we were to talk to the students around us about what year we were born. So two young women (18 and 19) asked me, “In welche Jahre bist du geboren?” somewhat shyly, because they knew that year was going to be WAAAAAY back. So I said, “Ich bin neunzehnhundertzweiundsechzehn geboren” (1962–the Germans run everything together). And they gulped as subtly as they could, because I am older than their Mutters.
As I said, I am having a blast in my coursework, but that may be because no papers are due yet! I have to come up with a big question to work on in the Schleiermacher class to write a 25-page paper, so if y’all have any ideas, feel free to send them to me. I would hate to tell my professor that I can’t think of anything to write about. It would help if Schleiermacher would get to the point….
Other important things I learned this week: a major food group is not sold in Connecticut grocery stores–wine! They only sell beer in grocery stores, and all beer sales must be completed before 9 p.m. One has to go to a wine and spirits store to buy wine and other types of alcohol. There are a lot of wine and spirits stores in the New Haven area….