His professors called him one of ``the searchers,'' who thought studying theologians and philosophers could help them make sense of Vietnam.
He stayed for a year, taking courses on the Hebrew prophets and social justice, religion and the natural sciences, and the like--a far cry from the fundamentals he learned growing up in the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church near Carthage, Tenn.
Both the conservative church and the progressive divinity school left their mark. Gore and his wife, Tipper, say they are both ``born-again,'' and they attend a small church that's part of the increasingly conservative Southern Baptist Convention. But Gore's writings about the spiritual roots of the world's environmental problems in his book, ``Earth in the Balance,'' have brought charges of New Age pantheism from Christian conservatives.
Gore maintains that exploring diverse teachings about religion and the environment has been key to finding his own spiritual balance.
``The search for truths about this ungodly (environmental) crisis and the search for truths about myself have been the same search all along,'' he writes in the book.
Spiritual influences competed from Gore's earliest days. ``He grew up with what we in the South call a mixed marriage,'' says Eugene TeSelle, a Vanderbilt professor who taught Gore. His father went to a Baptist church, his mother, the Church of Christ, and they brought their son on alternate Sundays. During the summers in Carthage, he joined his grandparents at what one biographer called ``hellfire and damnation'' revival meetings that could last for days.
He spent most of the year in Washington, where his father served in the House and then the Senate. There, young Al attended morning chapel at St. Albans, an Episcopal school favored by the Roosevelts and Bushes, which preached to young men about heaven and Harvard.
During his junior year at Harvard, Gore had his first ``born-again'' experience.
``It's very personal and I don't want to be advertising all of the particulars and details,'' he told ABC News. ``When I was a young man, I had an experience (of) a very intense awareness of the presence and the meaning of Jesus and the message of God through Jesus.''
But Gore says his experience in the Vietnam War--he spent a five-month tour as an army journalist--would challenge teachings he had taken on faith.
``It's wrong, we're wrong,'' he wrote of the war in a 1966 letter to his future wife. In the end, he called the war ``one of the most painful and costly experiences in American history'' and said it left him ruminating on the ease with which people inflict suffering and such evils as massive starvation and nuclear war.
He wanted to know, ``How can human beings do these things to each other?'' said Jack Forstman, a Vanderbilt professor. ``He thought a few courses in religious studies, particularly in ethics and philosophy of religion, would be helpful in ordering his own mind.''
Gore never intended to become a minister. He attended Vanderbilt on a yearlong Rockefeller Foundation scholarship for people planning secular careers, and later said that he had hoped to make sense of the social injustices that seemed to challenge his religious beliefs.
``Our strength was interfaith understanding, grappling with critical philosophical issues that seemed to undermine theology,'' said David Ogletree, Gore's Christian ethics professor who now teaches at Yale.
Still, Gore remained grounded in traditional worship after he left Vanderbilt, attending churches and prayer meetings as his political career advanced, representing religiously conservative Tennessee, as his father did. He invoked Christian parables in political speeches as a congressman and senator, and later as vice president, at times falling into a preacher's cadences.
When Gore began a talk at the Temple Of Deliverance, Church of God in Christ in Memphis in September 1996, it sounded like a political speech. But when audience members cried out ``amen'' and ``preach,'' he segued into the biblical tale of the good Samaritan.
``When we reach down to the man beside the road who has been passed by for so long, we are called upon to lift him up and testify, and with our, faith, breathe life,'' he said, blowing into the microphone for emphasis.