History and Mission

The Divinity School is dedicated to the critical study of religion as a category and the religions of the world, their history, beliefs, and practices. The Divinity School advances the study of religion with the conviction that doing so not only enriches various publics but is of critical importance to our understanding of human societies both past and present. Recognized as one of the world’s leading institutions in the academic study of religion, the Divinity School brings together – and indeed has pioneered – multiple perspectives on and varied theoretical approaches to religion.

Ours is a community of learning in which reasoned inquiry about religion informs various kinds of professional formation: that of undergraduates for a lifetime of critical engagement with religion in all its manifestations, of master’s and doctoral students for careers of scholarship and teaching, and of ministry students for careers of public religious leadership and service. This represents a unique collaboration in University higher education, since at other institutions the scholarly study of religion and theological education for ministerial practice are institutionally separated.

The four degree programs of the Divinity School train students for specialized knowledge in a range of religious traditions and in diverse methodological approaches to the study of religion itself. The Divinity School also provides undergraduate instruction in a wide array of topics concerning religion through its new Core sequence, “Religion: Cosmos, Conscience, and Community;” other course offerings in the College, and its Religious Studies major and minor. Across all its programs, the values of critical engagement and research guide the entire educational enterprise of the School.

William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, was also a distinguished Semiticist and a member of the Baptist clergy. He believed that a great research university ought to have as one of its central occupations the scholarly study of religion. 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. First chartered in 1865, the Divinity School was incorporated into the University soon after the latter's inception in 1890.