William Rainey Harper believed that a great research university ought to have as one central occupation the scholarly study of religion, to prepare scholars for careers in teaching and research, and ministers for service to the church.
Founded in 1891 by John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago is a private, coeducational institution located on the South Side of Chicago. Under the leadership of its first president, William Rainey Harper, the University introduced innovations that are now considered commonplace in American colleges and universities: the four-quarter system, extension courses and programs in the liberal arts for adults, the junior college concept, equal opportunities for women in education, and an emphasis on broad humanistic studies for undergraduates. Throughout its history, the University has sought to maintain an atmosphere of free, independent inquiry that is responsive to the needs of communities outside the University itself. Today, the University includes six graduate professional schools (Business, Divinity, Law, Medicine, Public Policy, and Social Service Administration), four graduate divisions (Biological Sciences, Humanities, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences), the undergraduate College, and the Graham School of General Studies.
A distinguished Semiticist and a member of the Baptist clergy, William Rainey Harper believed that a great research university ought to have as one central occupation the scholarly study of religion, to prepare scholars for careers in teaching and research, and ministers for service to the church. These commitments led him to bring the Morgan Park Seminary of the Baptist Theological Union to Hyde Park, making the Divinity School the first professional school at the University of Chicago.
The Divinity School is located in Swift Hall, on the main quadrangle of the University's campus and in close proximity to the Divisions of the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Cross-disciplinary work, a long-standing hallmark of the University, is strongly encouraged and in some respects institutionalized: many Divinity School faculty hold joint appointments with other departments in the University, students can and regularly do register for courses outside their specific academic location, and dissertation committees frequently feature coadvisers or readers from other parts of the University.
From its inception, the Divinity School has pursued Harper's vision of an institution devoted to systematic research and inquiry into the manifold dimensions of religion, seeking to serve both those preparing for careers in teaching and research and those preparing for careers in ministry. The School has served for decades as the largest single institutional educator of faculty members for theological seminaries, departments of theology, and programs in religious studies across the spectrum of educational institutions that comprise American higher education. At the same time, the School is privileged to number among its alumni a long and distinguished list of ministers, and continues this tradition today through a Master of Divinity (MDiv) curriculum that prepares religious leaders for a life of service to the public and their religious traditions.