If you ever find yourself sitting in a lecture or precept at Princeton Theological Seminary, take the opportunity to tune your ears towards the subtle, but audible sound of students saying “mmmmm.”  While this warming resonance is often associated with mouth-watering culinary delights or the nostalgic response to mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven, at Princeton Seminary the sound is an indication of concurrence.  

You see, Princeton seminarians like saying “mmmmm” to show that they not only agree with a statement, but also to pretend they find it cathartic.  Although you might think that keeping one’s consent in the innermost depths of one’s mind might be the most appropriate response, for Princeton seminarians, saying “mmmmm” is essential for trying to accomplish two things.  First, by saying “mmmmm” Princeton seminarians think they are demonstrating that they are more engaged in the discussion or lecture than their classmates.  Second, by offering a “mmmmm” at the precise moment, Princeton seminarians also think they earn points with the professor or preceptor by championing their astute assessment of the topic.  

Furthermore, if Princeton seminarians really want to convey solidarity with the professor, they are also accustomed to adding a slight nod of the head for further emphasis.  The nod, however, is only employed on occasion and with caution, as offering both sends a strong message to those involved in the theological discourse.  By offering both, they communicate that they not only read for class, but that what is being shared also strikes a cord deep within their hearts.  Though the nod has been attempted on its own, its isolated usage is looked upon as dangerous, as the professor might think the seminarian has developed a socially-awkward tick in their neck. 

If you are visiting a class and want to show that you agree with an assertion, feel free to offer a short “mmmmm.”  It’s important to note though, the length of your “mmmmm” must be precise and intentional.  If it’s too short, it might be perceived as an attempt to clear your throat before interjecting a comment, forcing you to say “uhhh… sorry” after everyone looks in your direction with anticipation.  Saying “mmmmm” too long is also dangerous, as it raises questions as to what you’re really thinking about, especially if you’re smiling.  

You should know, however, that if you decide to offer an “mmmmm,” you will evoke jealousy in many of the students present.  You see, Princeton seminarians don’t like to be outdone.  If you’re successful in offering your “mmmmm,” you’re likely to spawn several successive “mmmmm” from other seminarians.  This will typically escalate until the professor or preceptor furrows her brow, as if to say, “what the hell is wrong with all of you?”  At that point, all “mmmmm-ing” should cease for that class session.  Even if you don’t participate, it’s a fascinating and note-worthy phenomenon to observe in the life of Princeton seminarians.


If there is one thing that every Princeton seminarian loves, it’s buying books. If you’re ever in a bookstore around Princeton, without a doubt you’ll be able to spot Princeton seminarians rather easily.  Simply meander your way towards the theology or religion section, and look for studious looking young adults in their twenties or early thirties wearing mostly black and orange clothing.  Although they’re easy to spot in retail bookstores, Princeton seminarians tend to be a thrifty bunch, so used bookshops might offer a better opportunity to observe them in their preferred habitat.  A good rule of thumb is, the cheaper the books, the greater the number of Princeton seminarians.  Perhaps this is why they come in droves to used book sales, and in particular to the Seminary’s annual Stewardship sale in Whiteley Gymnasium.  Many Princeton seminarians even camp out the night before its opening, to insure that they’ll have first crack at the sale.

If you do decide to come on the first day of this yearly sale, it’s worth wearing a few extra layers of clothing, not because it’s cold in the gym, but due to the “check Jesus at the door” policy in which Princeton seminarians like to participate.  You’re guaranteed to get a little roughed up from the frantic shoving for table position.  Also, be prepared for a surprise body check if you’re holding a first edition of anything written by Barth.  If you prefer to look for books in a more civilized climate, try the second day of the sale.  Keep in mind, there are still many great books to be found, you just have to know where to look.  You see, Princeton seminarians like to hide books in the less perused sections, in hopes that they can pick them up cheap on the five dollar box day.  Consequently, some of the best places to look for those literary gems is in the devotional life and prayer section.

Given the book buying tendencies of Princeton seminarians, it’s rather ironic to find out that most of them don’t actually read the books they purchase, they just like displaying them on their bookshelves.  While most people decorate their apartments with artwork, pictures, and memorabilia from international travel, Princeton seminarians like to line their walls with shelves of moldy books they’ll probably never read.  If you’re every visiting a Princeton seminarian, one of the most desired complements you can pay them upon entering their apartment or dorm room is, “Wow… you sure have a lot of books!”  Alternatively, if you want to belittle their meager collection, simply ask where they keep the rest of their books.  After a few failed attempts to hide their embarrassment, they’ll probably say something like, “Uhhh… most of them are in storage.”



Although it’s been a week since the last post (an observation that was duly noted again and again), this timeframe is in perfect accordance with the habitus of seminary life, because if there is one thing that almost all Princeton Seminarians like, it’s procrastination.  In an environment that’s filled with a never-ending litany of readings to finish, papers to write, reflection journals to maintain, sermons to construct, and field education requirements to fulfill, Princeton seminarians might be considered some of the best procrastinators in the world.  You see the unofficial motto of Princeton seminarians is, “Why do well today, what I can do crappily tomorrow?” 

While you might think that completing one’s assignments and readings early would yield more time for leisure activities, Princeton seminarians know that putting off their studies is the one thing that secures the most time for throwing the Frisbee on the Quad or shopping for deals on Princeton University clothing.  Besides, why complete one’s assignments early when waiting until the last minute takes the fullest advantage of the seminary’s well-known grade inflation policy.  Additionally, by not proof reading their first drafts of their papers and only reading the first sentence of every paragraph while blindly make their way to class, Princeton seminarians demonstrate to their professors and preceptors their intellectual deftness and the fact that someone else probably wrote their admissions essay.  

It’s worth knowing that most Princeton seminarians are enjoyable creatures to engage in conversation with ninety percent of the time.  If, however, you happen to encounter one in the wake of her procrastination, avoid using phrases like, “perhaps if you’d planned better, you wouldn’t be in this situation” or “procrastination on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine”; that is, unless you enjoy having spittle-laden obscenities spewed in your direction.  You can sidestep these chance meetings with a keen eye for the telltale signs: traipsing across campus in unsightly pajamas, blatant disregard for personal hygiene, and prosecutable assault and battery of Stuart Hall printers.

graduationInevitably, as the spring semester draws to a close, graduating seminarians who’ve secured jobs and doctoral fellowships can’t help but share this news with everyone they know.  You see, Princeton seminarians love telling people what they’re doing after graduation. It’s not enough for them to share their joyous news with their close friends and family, rather it’s only when the whole campus knows, that they begin feeling good about their future as well.  Even if Princeton seminarians secure jobs in the fall semester, you can be certain they’ll bring it up whenever another seminarian talks about the future.

You see, by telling people what their plans are, Princeton seminarians feel better about themselves, especially because many of their classmates who are graduating still haven’t secured jobs or admittance to graduate school programs.  By sharing their future plans with these anxious students, Princeton seminarians are able to project an air of success and confidence.  Additionally, by sharing their plans they’re also subtly communicating: “It’s not my fault that no one has hired you… it’s yours” and “Maybe you should have studied more and screwed around less.”  Sometimes when Princeton seminarians announce their news, it’s almost as if they’re saying, “I always knew I was smarter than you and now everyone else knows it as well” or everyone’s favorite, “You really sucked at preaching, the professor was just too kind to tell you.”  Instead of saying these horrible comments out loud, Princeton seminarians can simply say, “Hey, guess what! I got the job!”

It’s worth knowing that Princeton seminarians will probably tell you about their plans more than once, and even if you tell them you already know, they’ll just find new ways to talk about it.  Comments about moving, looking for houses, buying houses, and their estimated date of departure are among the most common methods for sneaking it into casual conversation.  Unfortunately, this sort of behavior usually goes on until the day a moving truck carts their stuff to their newfound home or apartment.  Even then the fun just doesn’t stop because you’ll still have to hear about what’s going on in their new lives, as Princeton seminarians also love starting new blogs in order to share with everyone what’s “going on.”  And if you think you can just avoid the site, know that they’ll probably send you emails whenever they put up a new post.

EasterWhile you might imagine that at a seminary, the students would solemnly observe the most holy days of the year, this needn’t be the case for Princeton seminarians. Even though the administration closes the seminary on Good Friday—an honorable effort to encourage students to take a few days off for rest and the Easter celebration—Princeton seminarians are not your normal theology students.

By not setting aside the holy week for reflection on the death and resurrection of Jesus, Princeton seminarians actually demonstrate their theological and spiritual depth. To Princeton seminarians, not observing holy days communicates to others that they’re “tight” with God. They have no need to prove their love for God; after all they’ve committed themselves to several years of studying theology and sometimes even the Bible. Engaging in spiritual practices or merely resting during the holy week is for Christians with weak faith.

You must understand that Princeton seminarians can still honor God through other activities.  For example, playing Ultimate Frisbee on the quad, taking in the latest blockbuster at the local cinema, and binge drinking until the wee hours of the morning (just like Jesus did at the wedding in Cana) are all acceptable holy week practices for Princeton seminarians.  Alternatively, for those Princeton seminarians who are more prone to “anti-social behavior,” the holy week provides the perfect opportunity to “get ahead” of their classmates by diving into the “recommended” readings on their course syllabi. Nothing says, “I’m prepared for class” by referring to a reading that even the professor didn’t touch. Ultimately, by not observing the holy days, Princeton seminarians show the extent of their gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

princetonclothing Typically, if you ran into someone in their twenties wearing a college t-shirt or sweatshirt from the local university in your town, you would automatically assume that she was a student at that school. I should warn you, however, if you’re ever in Princeton, you might want to think twice before making that assumption. Although most students you see clad in Princeton University gear are probably Princeton University students, some of them might actually be from the Seminary.You see, Princeton seminarians love wearing Princeton University clothing. Apparently, there’s something about wearing the colors orange and black that makes them feel special. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of one or two carrying around Princeton University binders and day planners with little tigers on them. Why? You might be wondering. Seminarians think if they wear University clothing that people will assume that they actually go to the University.At one time, the Seminary was part of the University, but in 1812, it decided to jump ship and start its own school on the other side of Alexander Street. In an effort to distinguish itself from the University, it abandoned the famous black and orange, in exchange for navy and some sort of maroon-ish color (which naturally doesn’t lend itself to any sort of cool mascot like a tiger).History aside, if you’re ever walking around the Seminary’s campus and you see a student wearing a shirt that says, “Princeton University,” it’s probably safe to assume that he’s really a seminarian, as most University students tend to avoid hanging out with seminarians. If you want to make sure he’s actually from the Seminary before you engage him in conversation, simply say, “Hey, do you go to the University?” If he looks away or pretends he didn’t hear you, it’s probably safe to talk about Barth with him. And if he says, “Uhhh… No,” it’s always fun to reply, “I don’t understand, then why are you wearing that shirt?” He’ll probably tell you it was a gift from his visiting parents or maybe even that it was on the clearance rack. After all, it’s hard to pass up a deal on an article of clothing from a school that you don’t attend.

Karl BarthThere’s no doubt that Princeton seminarians love Karl Barth. I’m not sure at what point he replaced John Calvin as the most respected theological figure at the seminary, but without question he did. It’s hard not to hear his name peppered throughout casual conversations at the lunch tables and interspersed in precept discourse, when seemingly appropriate. If you’re lucky you might even see a few aspiring Ph.D. students wearing Barth t-shirts, in hopes that the professors will assume because they own “Barth gear,” that they’ve digested his work.

Juniors often start their theological education mispronouncing his surname with a soft “thhh,” that is, until they quickly learn that it’s more akin to Bart Simpson’s Christian name. Middlers (2nd year Princeton seminarians) are usually the first to jump at the opportunity to correct these misguided neophytes in hopes of being perceived as budding Barth scholars themselves.The truth is, however, most seminarians don’t really know much about Barth. In reality, Princeton seminarians like the idea of Barth more than the actual figure. Most seminarians couldn’t tell you much about him, other than he wrote the Church Dogmatics. Even the doctoral students who claim to know Barth are usually regurgitating second-hand McCormack Barth.Although, by the time Princeton seminarians are graduating, they’ve heard enough about Barth to sufficiently fake their knowledge of Barthian concepts. Two of the most popular take-aways are: “Barth corrected Calvin’s doctrine of predestination” and “Barth forms the basis for the missional conversation,” (the latter also being something they like to pretend to know). For those seminarians who can’t quite grasp even these basic assertions, usually say they don’t like Barth.If you don’t know much about Karl Barth, but you find yourself talking with a Princeton seminarian who is trying to sound intelligent, just respond to whatever he says with: “but surely you know what Barth says about that in the Church Dogmatics?” (Then add a haughty little chuckle). Even though you won’t know what you’re talking about, chances are he won’t either and then he’ll think you know more about Barth than he does. You see, Princeton seminarians like to talk to people who know less about Barth than they do. (Which is why at Princeton seminary parties, everyone wants to talk to little kids.) Moreover, this should squelch the imposing conversation rather quickly and you can find someone more interesting to converse with.