Tips on Applying: Spotlight on the Catholic University of America

This spotlight features Carl Cranney, who did an MA at Yale’s Divinity School and is now pursuing a doctorate at the Catholic University of America. Carl is also doing an excellent series at Juvenile Instructor on teaching Mormonism. Thanks, Carl.

I did my MA at Yale, a wonderful school with a very diverse student body-religiously speaking. In fact, it was so diverse that I wanted to go to a school that was a little less diverse. I wanted to be able to sink my teeth into some different arguments, instead of the (I’m generalizing) “Well, we’re all okay. She’s Jewish, you’re Mormon, I’m gay, etc.” kind of attitude that generally pervaded the student body at Yale. So I applied to, and got into, the Catholic University of America.

It is, as expected, a very Catholic environment. In fact, it was more so than I expected. The fact that there are currently 2 Mormons there in religious programs, me in systematic theology and one student in biblical studies, is basically an anomaly. The vast majority are very devout Roman Catholics. If you happen to take a MA course, your fellow-students will likely be 90% priests, nuns, and monks, which is a great opportunity to meet people who have dedicated their lives to the Lord, but not so big on diversity. But they have a great atmosphere of continuing the conversations that the Roman Catholics have been engaged in for millennia! Everything feels like it moves very slow, intellectually thinking. But that is a function of this atmosphere. We’re continuing the tradition. These things take time. So if you want a dynamic program that’s always cutting-edge, this isn’t the place for you. But if you want a reverence for the thinkers who have gone before us in the conversation, this is definitely the place for you.

The campus is a bit older, but sits next to the absolutely gorgeous Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Many times I, as a Latter-day Saint, have escaped from my studies to just go into this amazing building and say some prayers. It’s not the Celestial Room, but it’s still a place where I felt very comfortable praying with other Christian brothers and sisters. The basilica is open practically all the time for such uses.

One of the downsides is that CUA’s funding situation is actually not as good as most other universities. I don’t know a single PhD student who has escaped without some level of student debt or who needed to find outside sources of funding, but also admit that my own personal sample size may be too small and basically limited to students in Moral and Systematic theology that we felt comfortable enough discussing such matters.

The program was very good for me, because I felt my MA was a bit lacking in taking Roman Catholics seriously the way they take themselves, and my exposure to this (literally half) of Christianity has benefitted me as a theologian. However, I’m not sure I can recommend it to all LDS graduate students. It’s very very Catholic, more so than Notre Dame or Georgetown, and that needs to be taken into account when considering this program. It was a good fit for me. I’m not sure it would be a good fit for everybody else.

The program website is:

4 Replies to “Tips on Applying: Spotlight on the Catholic University of America”

  1. Carl,

    Thanks! I grew up in Montgomery County, MD and first became aware of CUA because it was on the red-line of the Metro. I have great respect for the Catholic tradition…if any because they actually have a tradition. I know that funding is an issue at CUA in other fields as well.

  2. Carl,

    It is good here about more LDS folks pursuing theology degrees–the next twenty years should be interesting as a growing cadre of theologically trained LDS come of age in their professions and in the church. Also, I have heard great things about CUA from a (non-mo) friend who does NT there.

    Quick question: do you find that devotional aspects crowd in on classroom discussion given the devout nature of the students? How do the professors manage class settings to either avoid or integrate devotional stuff? I ask only because though we are in somewhat related fields, I can’t even imagine what it would look like to be participating in a seminar where the vast majority of the students are overtly religious and devout.

    Again, glad to hear about your program. It sounds great.

  3. Thanks for the post Carl.

    So I notice from your blog that besides systematic theology you have interests in (quote unquote) fantasy. Is there some connection there? I’m thinking of say Robert Price, PhD in systematic theology and H.P.Lovecraftian. Probably just coincidence. But an earnest question. To bring it back to the post, do you find that many of your fellow classmates have similar interests in fantasy or not?

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