Harvard Divinity School: 200 Years of New Knowledge, New Voices, and New Ideas

Harvard Divinity School shield

1816

“The theological seminary of the University” is first mentioned in the minutes of the October 18 meeting of the Harvard Corporation, signaling the founding of Harvard Divinity School.

Divinity Hall in 1826

1826

The School dedicates its first building, Divinity Hall. “We want powerful ministers, not graceful declaimers, not elegant essayists . . . to make themselves felt in society,” declares the Rev. William Ellery Channing, the day’s featured speaker.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

1838

Ralph Waldo Emerson, HDS ’26, urges the School’s senior class to “cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity.” His “Divinity School Address” causes a furor and Emerson is not invited back to campus until 1874.

Charles Carroll Everett, HDS ’59

1872

Charles Carroll Everett, HDS ’59, Bussey Professor of New Testament and Dean of the School, offers a class on East Asian religions, the first comparative religion course given in the United States.

Ephraim Emerton

1884

Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Ephraim Emerton co-founds the American Historical Association, today “the largest professional organization serving historians in all fields and all professions” in the United States.

Francis Greenwood Peabody

1906

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Francis Greenwood Peabody founds Harvard’s Department of Social Ethics, melding the teaching of ethics with social science and his own perspective on Christianity, which emphasizes social action.

Harvard Theological Review, first volume title

1908

The Harvard Theological Review is launched, realizing Charles Carroll Everett’s hope for a nondenominational theological journal. The HTR becomes one of the country’s leading academic journals in the study of religion.

Edmund Harrison Oxley, SB ’09

1909

Edmund Harrison Oxley, SB ’09, is the first African American to graduate from HDS.

Andover Hall

1911

Andover Hall is completed and dedicated by Andover Theological Seminary in fulfillment of a plan to share faculty with HDS. The plan is reversed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1926, and the building is purchased by HDS in 1935. It becomes the School’s main classroom building.

Doctorate of theology

1914

HDS establishes the doctor of theology degree, the first doctorate at Harvard in the study of religion.

Harvard President Emeritus Charles Eliot

1916

The Alumni Association of HDS commemorates the School’s one hundredth anniversary. “The Divinity School stands on the same academic footing . . . and enjoys the same atmosphere of freedom in research, inquiry, and exposition” as Harvard’s other graduate schools, says President Emeritus Eliot.

World War I battlefield

1918

Around 50 theological schools from Canada and the United States convene at Harvard for the conference “Problems of Theological Education Arising Out of the War.” The gathering becomes the impetus for the transnational Association of Theological Schools.

George La Piana

1919

The Italian historian and priest George La Piana becomes the first Roman Catholic to hold a position at the Divinity School when he is appointed an instructor in church history.

Mordecai Johnson

1922

Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, STB ’22, represents all Harvard graduate students as one of three student speakers at the University’s Commencement. Johnson’s address, “The Faith of the American Negro,” gives an unvarnished account of American race relations and calls on Christians to work toward legal protections from the federal government.

Harvard University shield

1934

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences offers the University’s first PhD in the history and philosophy of religion. In 1963, the program will become the Committee on Higher Degrees in the Study of Religion, overseen jointly by FAS and HDS faculty.

Henry Joel Cadbury

1947

HDS professor Henry Cadbury, a Quaker, accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization he co-founded and led for many years.

Paul Tillich

1955

The German theologian Paul Tillich comes to Harvard as University Professor, based at HDS. During his time on campus, Tillich will publish The Dynamics of Faith and work on his magnum opus, the three-volume Systematic Theology, published in 1963, one year after leaving HDS.

Emily Gage

1957

Emily Thornton Gage becomes the first woman to graduate from HDS. Gage was joined by the first women admitted to the School: Joyce Mann, HDS ’55; Constance Parvey, BD ’63; Letty Russell, STB ’58; and Marianka Fousek, ThD ’60.

Frank Moore Cross

1958

Professor Frank Moore Cross publishes The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies, a 196-page book that becomes one of the leading texts about the Dead Sea Scrolls and establishes him at the forefront of his field.

Helmut Koester

1959

Helmut Koester joins the faculty. Named John J. Morison Professor in 1963, Koester becomes one of the world’s preeminent New Testament scholars, forging new connections between biblical studies and archaeology. His two-volume Introduction to the New Testament becomes a classic text for scholars, clergy, and laypersons alike.

Center for the Study of World Religions

1960

The Center for the Study of World Religions, founded in 1958, dedicates the building that will be its permanent home. Featured speaker Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, soon to be president of India, urges "goodwill and understanding of the basic principles which govern the lives of the different peoples,” in his address, “Fellowship of the Spirit.”

Roman Catholic–Protestant colloquium

1963

In response to the Ecumenical Vatican Council II in Rome, HDS hosts a fourday Roman Catholic–Protestant colloquium. The conference, the first of its kind at Harvard, attracts 120 theologians and features an address by Augustin Cardinal Bea, head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith

1964

Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith brings the study of Islam in its sociopolitical contexts to HDS as the new director of the Center for the Study of World Religions. His leadership draws a generation of young scholars who will influence the field through studies of Islam in a range of political, cultural, historical, and national settings.

Harvey Cox

1965

Professor Harvey Cox publishes The Secular City, in which he discusses the decline of creedal Christianity and “the presence of God in all of creation.” The book becomes an international bestseller and is selected by the University of Marburg as one of the most influential books of Protestant theology in the twentieth century.

HDS MTS graduate degree

1968

HDS adds a new graduate degree, the master of theological studies (MTS), which enables students to combine theological studies with studies in a secular field chosen by the student, such as teaching, social work, or religious journalism. In the ensuing years, the MTS becomes the largest degree program at the School.

Preston Williams

1971

Preston Williams becomes the first tenured African American professor at HDS, and one of only a handful at Harvard. As Acting Dean of the Divinity School in 1974–75, Williams also becomes the first African American to lead one of Harvard’s graduate schools.

Carolyn Bynum

1973

The Women’s Studies in Religion Program is founded, the first initiative at Harvard dedicated to the study of women and gender. That same year, Caroline Walker Bynum (right) begins as the first woman in a full-time teaching position at HDS.

Harvard University shield

1974

Harvard College establishes the undergraduate concentration in “the Comparative Study of Religion,” overseen by the joint FAS/HDS Committee on the Study of Religion.

Women at HDS

1980

Women make up the majority of students at HDS.

Margaret Miles

1985

Margaret Miles, a historian of Christianity, becomes the first tenured female professor at HDS.

James Luther Adams, STB ’27

1986

Professor Emeritus James Luther Adams, STB ’27, recognized as the most influential Unitarian Universalist theologian of the twentieth century, is honored with Harvard’s 350th Anniversary Medal for distinguished service to the University.

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

1988

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, a pioneering scholar of biblical interpretation and feminist theology, is appointed Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity. In 2012 the American Academy of Religion recognizes Schüssler Fiorenza’s groundbreaking work with the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.

Al Gore visits HDS during book tour

1992

Then-Senator Al Gore visits HDS for a reception and signing of his new book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. In 2007, Gore will win a share of the Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, ThD ’97

1998

The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, ThD ’97, becomes the first Roman Catholic to lead HDS. A scholar of theology, world politics, and American society, Hehir is the chief author of the U.S. Bishops 1983 pastoral letter on nuclear disarmament, “The Challenge of Peace.”

Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, MTS ’01

2000

Student Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, MTS ’01, spearheads the first Harvard-wide conference on Islam in America. The conference becomes an annual event that attracts scholars of Islam as well as religious and political leaders, journalists, and documentary filmmakers.

William A. Graham

2002

William A. Graham, Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of the History of Religion, is appointed dean of HDS. Graham is the first layperson to lead the School. During his 10-year tenure, the School becomes one of the world’s premiere centers for the academic study of global religion.

Jon Levenson

2007

Professor Jon Levenson wins the National Jewish Book Award for Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel. Levenson holds the Albert J. List chair, established in 1988, HDS’s first professorship in Jewish studies.

Karen King

2009

Karen King, one of the world’s leading scholars of early Christianity and author of What Is Gnosticism? becomes the first woman to hold the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, the oldest endowed chair in North America.

His Emminence Alhaji Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar IV

2010

His Emminence Alhaji Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar IV, the leader of 150 million Muslims in and near Nigeria, comes to campus to deliver the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture, titled “Islam and Peace-Building in West Africa.”

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

2011

The inception of the Buddhist Ministry Initiative enables students not only to study Buddhism, but also to prepare for service and ministry in Buddhist settings.

Toni Morrison

2012

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison visits HDS and delivers the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality on the topic “Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination.”

Jimmy Carter

2014

Saying “I don’t know of a more important, single human rights cause that anyone can undertake,” President Jimmy Carter visits campus and issues a call to action to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

HDS faculty, 2016 Convocation

2016

At Convocation, HDS launches its year-long bicentennial celebration with remarks on the School’s multireligious character and on its future from Dean Hempton, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, and former dean George Rupp.