Yale Institute of Sacred Music

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music (ISM), an interdisciplinary graduate center, educates leaders who foster, explore, and study engagement with the sacred through music, worship, and the arts in Christian communities, diverse religious traditions, and public life. Partnering with the Yale School of Music and YDS, as well as other academic and professional units at Yale, ISM prepares its students for careers in church music and other sacred music, pastoral ministry, performance, and scholarship. The institute’s curriculum integrates the study and practice of religion with that of music and the arts. With a core focus on Christian sacred music, ISM builds bridges among disciplines and vocations and makes creative space for scholarship, performance, and practice.

The institute was established at Yale in 1973 through a gift from the Irwin Sweeney Miller Foundation of Columbus, Indiana. The chairman of the board of the foundation, Clementine Miller Tangeman, described the institute as a place where “the function of music and the arts in Christianity will receive new strength through the preparation and training of individual musicians, ministers, and teachers who understand their calling in broad Christian terms and not exclusively within the limits of their disciplines.”

Today ISM is a vibrant community of 120 students, faculty, fellows, and staff collaboratively reenvisioning the intersections of academic, artistic, and spiritual disciplines. Students admitted to ISM are jointly admitted to either Yale Divinity School or Yale School of Music, from which they receive their degrees. ISM students are eligible for a full-tuition scholarship and for additional grants and merit awards. Through their degree programs, ISM Divinity students (pursuing the M.Div., the M.A.R., or the S.T.M.) are equipped to follow careers in ordained ministry, the academy, the arts, or public service. Students pursuing music degrees receive rigorous conservatory training in choral conducting, organ, or voice, and typically go on to careers in church music, public performance, or teaching.

ISM serves to promote understanding of biblical texts as proclaimed in community and the unique sense of identity that the arts provide for worshippers in a variety of faith traditions. Approximately every two years the institute sponsors international study tours with the goal of seeing, hearing, and learning firsthand in those particular cultures. In the past decade, the ISM has visited Scandinavia, Mexico, the Balkans, Germany, Greece and Turkey, Italy, the Baltic states, and Spain. As a major arts presenter in New Haven, the institute sponsors more than one hundred events attended by more than 25,000 people throughout the year, including recitals, concerts, liturgies, lectures, readings, films, symposia, and conferences.

At the heart of the institute’s program is the weekly Colloquium, a lively interdisciplinary course attended by all ISM faculty and students. Faculty and guest speakers lecture throughout the year on topics pertinent to the primary fields represented in ISM—worship, music, and the arts—and in their final year students present a project in collaboration with another ISM student outside their own discipline. In Colloquium, students and faculty explore the ways in which music and the arts function within diverse worshipping communities. (A description of the Colloquium can be found in the chapter Areas and Courses of Study, under Courses without Area Designations.)

Upon graduation, students enrolled in both ISM and YDS or the School of Music earn an ISM certificate in addition to their Yale degree. The certificate signifies that the core curriculum of the chosen degree path has been enriched and deepened through study with the interdisciplinary institute faculty. For example, divinity students learn to make connections between theological concepts and artistic expression. They look at the historical roots and aesthetic constructions of the art and liturgies they study. Likewise, music students learn about the theological and liturgical roots of the sacred music they perform. They study the historical context and meanings of the texts used, and they learn about the modern contexts in which this repertoire appears, whether in liturgies or on the concert stage.

The Institute and Yale Divinity School

Institute students who are also enrolled in YDS pursue the M.A.R., the M.Div., or the S.T.M. degree with particular interest in sacred music, worship, and the arts. More detailed information is online at http://ism.yale.edu or in the ISM Bulletin, also online at https://bulletin.yale.edu.

Applicants must complete a separate ISM application for admission to the Institute of Sacred Music.

Master of Arts in Religion

Religion and the Arts

The institute’s curriculum in religion and the arts consists of courses in literature (poetry, prose, drama, and creative writing), the history of art and architecture, visual and material culture, and the history and theology of music. These courses are meant to help students investigate the rich artistic heritage of the church and the role of the arts in theological study and contemporary ministry. Students may elect to pursue the M.A.R. concentration in Religion and the Arts, choosing as a major focus the visual arts, literature, or music. They are encouraged to explore courses in other areas of the University in these disciplines and to process this work theologically at YDS. From time to time, the Religion and the Arts program sponsors art exhibitions, special symposia, and other events open to the University community.

Liturgical Studies

The institute places a strong emphasis on liturgical studies. The appointment of three members of the faculty in this discipline makes Yale one of the outstanding centers of graduate liturgical study in the United States. Courses taught by the liturgy faculty are open to all students, whether or not they are in the institute. Likewise, all students are free to consider enrolling in the M.A.R. concentration in Liturgical Studies, providing that their academic background has prepared them for this rigorous course of study.

Other M.A.R. Concentrations

M.A.R. candidates from other concentrations (theology, biblical studies, ethics, religion and ecology, etc.) who seek interdisciplinary study in the arts are encouraged to apply to the ISM and are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Master of Divinity

Pastors are continually called to integrate a wide range of human experience and expression, and nowhere is this more evident than in preparing and leading worship. ISM provides a rich environment for future ministers to develop a comprehensive pastoral vision that interweaves scripture, tradition, music, art, and performance practices in ways that illumine the human condition and enliven communities of faith.

By taking courses in music, liturgy, and the arts, and by learning side by side with musicians and students of literature and art, M.Div. students begin to understand how the arts and theological scholarship enrich each other. As a result, students are prepared more fully for the challenge of leading communities and individuals who hunger to see their fragmented lives redeemed by a more holistic vision of life and faith.

Master of Sacred Theology

The ISM accepts candidates for the S.T.M. degree interested in pursuing research in liturgical studies or religion and the arts. The program may be regarded as a fourth year of preparation for the Christian ministry, a year of specialized work in one of the theological disciplines, or as preparation for doctoral studies. A thesis, major paper in a regular course, or other acceptable project demonstrating independent research in the selected field of study is required.

The ISM provides a maximum of one year or equivalent of financial support to students in this program.

The Institute and Yale School of Music

Students in the institute whose primary interest is in music performance are enrolled through the School of Music as majors in organ, choral conducting, or vocal performance (early music, oratorio, and chamber ensemble). Their degree programs are the Master of Music, Master of Musical Arts, and Doctor of Musical Arts. Many also elect to undertake secondary study in harpsichord, voice, piano, and other areas. Applicants interested in performance degrees apply only to the ISM and the School of Music. They do not submit applications to YDS.

Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church

This new program aims to organize and expand the scholarly attention paid to the music of the Black Church and to this tradition’s extraordinary influence on a host of musical cultures—confessional and commercial, American and global. Drawing on constituencies at Yale, in New Haven, and beyond, Music and the Black Church hosts a concert series, residencies, symposia, and course offerings.

Positioned in the institute and partnering with YDS and other units at Yale, this program allows students to fuse intellectual inquiry and practice, creating a peerless hub for one of the most significant and most understudied traditions of American music. Directed by Professor Braxton D. Shelley, the program links together faculty in the Department of Music, the School of Music, the ISM, the Divinity School, and the Department of African American Studies. Through its slate of activities, the program draws together practitioners and scholars, students and congregants, neighbors and visitors, pursuing a fuller consideration of this crucial strand of African American life and history.

Fellows in Sacred Music, Worship, and the Arts

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music inaugurated a residential fellows program in 2010–11. Each year, the institute seeks a group of fellows from around the world to join the ISM community of scholars and practitioners for one academic year. Scholars, religious leaders, and artists whose work is in or is moving to the fields of sacred music, liturgical/ritual studies, or religion and the arts are invited to apply. Scholars in the humanities or the social or natural sciences whose work is directly related to these areas are also encouraged to apply.

Fellows have the opportunity to pursue their scholarly or artistic projects within a vibrant, interdisciplinary community. At the institute, fellows reflect upon, deepen, and share their work with faculty and students. Fellows also work with each other in weekly meetings, have access to Yale’s extensive collections and facilities, and, in some cases, teach in various departments or professional schools. Fellows are chosen for the quality and significance of their work. There is more information about the fellows program at http://ism.yale.edu/fellows or in the ISM Bulletin.


The institute maintains a commitment to living religious communities and diversity of every kind, including by race, gender, worldview, and religion.