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.
While in Carthage, the Gores continued to attend the Salem Missionary Baptist Church of Al's childhood. In Washington, they went to Tipper's home church in Arlington, Va.--Mount Vernon Baptist, where she would serve as a deaconess.
In the late 1970s, she and her husband reaffirmed their religious commitment when they were ``born again'' at the Arlington church.
``He was baptized here, full immersion.'' says the Rev. Martha Phillips, the church's interim minister. ``When we are immersed we are burying our sins with Christ.''
A few years later, Tipper earned points with the religious right with her campaign to put warning labels on records that contained sexually explicit and violent lyrics.
A family crisis intensified the couple's self-reflection. In 1989, Gore saw his 6-year-old son Albert hit by a car and almost lose his life.
``A single horrifying event triggered a big change in the way I thought about my relationship with life itself,'' he wrote in ``Earth in the Balance.'' The incident ``gave me a new sense of urgency about those things I value the most.''
Determined to spend time with his wife and four children, he decided not to seek the 1992 Democratic nomination.
Tipper continued her work as an advocate for the mentally ill and homeless, a commitment her husband calls an expression of faith. Gore went on to write his personal, passionate discussion of his environmental beliefs.
In ``Earth in the Balance,'' Gore wrote of his faith, which he said was ``rooted in the unshakable belief in God as creator and sustainer, a deeply personal interpretation of the relationship with Christ, and an awareness of a constant and holy spiritual presence in all people, all life, and all things.''
Faith, he wrote, should lead to an adherence to just principles, including a responsibility to preserve the earth for future generations. He talked of lessons to be learned from other religious traditions, including ancient earth goddess worship, and of God's place in the universe.
``Why does it feel faintly heretical to a Christian to suppose that God is in us as human beings?'' he wrote. ``Why do our children believe that the Kingdom of God is up, somewhere in the ethereal reaches of space, far removed from this planet? Are we still ... looking everywhere except in the real world.''
Ogletree says Gore's sense of the sacred in nature was not at odds with a belief in a transcendent God: ``The Old Testament is full of images of God being concretely present and yet totally beyond.''
But Mark Tooley of the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy wrote that Gore offended Christians who believe that ``the Earth is but a footstool to the sovereign and very distinct creator of all creation.''
His positions on political issues involving religion have been tough to categorize.
Gore is pro-choice and supports gay rights, positions that Southern Baptist Convention officials have urged him to recant. He is also against school vouchers supported by many religious conservatives.
While he agrees with liberals that evolution should be taught in public schools, he made conservatives happy when he said localities should be free to teach creationism as well.
He supports ``charitable choice,'' a plan that many religious conservatives support and more liberal groups call a violation of church-state separation. It allows the government to fund church-based social programs, such as drug abuse counseling, homeless shelters and efforts to combat youth violence.