Faces of Divinity Exhibit

Envisioning Inclusion for 200 Years

How should we approach religion? Whose religion should we study? What should we include?

Students, faculty, and staff at Harvard Divinity School have labored over these questions for 200 years. For the School's bicentennial in 2017, Professor Ann Braude organized an audacious project to present its history in context, combining critical thinking about religion with the training of religious leaders at a research university. Faces of Divinity draws on this history to shed light on the path from Harvard Divinity School's Unitarian origins to a multireligious divinity school in the twenty-first century.

Far from a complete record of the School, Faces of Divinity of necessity leaves out important people, programs, and issues. At the same time, it follows students, faculty, and staff across porous and shifting lines between HDS and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a line often discussed in relation to the exhibit’s themes.

Faces of Divinity

Students are always the forward edge of where the School is going. Students saw the possibility of what the School could become before the faculty did. Jewish students came here in the 1970s when HDS really was an exclusively Christian environment. Muslim students came in the 1990s when there were very few Muslim scholars available for them to study with, but they understood that a multireligious environment provided the resources they needed for the issues they wanted to explore. Some of those students, now alumni, shared their remarkable stories for this exhibit.

Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies

Study of the Hebrew Bible, revered by Harvard’s Puritan founders, had a secure place in the curriculum long before the founding of the Divinity School. Ability to read the Old Testament in the original languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, joined knowledge of Latin and Greek as a foundation of the learned ministry.

Nearly 100 years after Crawford Howell Toy criticized viewing Judaism through a Christian lens, a student-initiated Colloquium on Jewish-Christian Relations articulated a similar complaint as a discussion topic: “Christianity is not the fulfillment and/or substitute for Judaism.” While Hebrew Bible had long been a key component of the study of Christianity, Judaism itself after the rise of Christianity drew little attention before the 1970s.

Jewish students began enrolling in small numbers after the introduction of the MTS in 1968. They began meeting monthly in the early 1970s and soon proposed an appointment in Jewish studies. In 1978 Marc Saperstein was appointed to the first regular faculty position in Jewish studies and became the first non-Christian full-time faculty member. In 1981, Dean George Rupp announced the establishment of the Albert A. List Professorship.

Krister Stendahl and Marc Saperstein sitting together in an office Krister Stendahl and Marc Saperstein. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Histories and Anthropologies

Church history and the history of religions, conceived as distinct fields, each took root at the Divinity School in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The first focused on the history of Christian thought and institutions understood as ongoing human efforts. The second favored comparison as a vehicle for locating both the universal and the particulars in human religiosity, usually non-Christian. By the twenty-first century, the two approaches mingled. Anthropologists, ethicists, and theologians joined historians in the religions of the Americas MTS concentration in 2005. Harvard faculty and doctoral students contributed to the emergence of “lived religions,” as a distinct approach to historical studies. And comparative work continues to be a hallmark of the HDS curriculum.

Ephraim Emerton

The first formal chair in church history was established in 1877, when Ephraim Emerton became Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Islamic Studies

In the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, courses on Islam and Arabic language were taught by scholars of Semitic languages and Hebrew Bible. Wilfred Cantwell Smith brought the study of Islam in its sociopolitical contexts to HDS when he was hired as the director of the Center for the Study of World Religions in 1964. His leadership drew a generation of young scholars who would influence the field through studies of Islam in a range of political, cultural, historical, and national settings. In the 1990s and 2000s, HDS began to attract a growing number of Muslim students who wanted to study Islam in a multireligious environment, and made several faculty appointments. Following September 11, 2001, the study of Islam became an urgent priority.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith standing in front of a chalkboard with Arabaic text written on itWilfred Cantwell Smith in front of chalk board. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Learning the Ministry

Harvard College and the subsequent Divinity School were founded to inculcate a “learned ministry.” But this formulation presupposed a dichotomy: learning occurred within the School, and ministry beyond. What about learning about ministry itself?  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, pastoral care was taught by example. Exemplary pastors, such as Willard Sperry or Henry Ware, Jr., treated Divinity School students like parish members – and students could observe what it meant to minister. In 1961, a formal Department of the Church was formed to engage the “concrete issues of religion,” and its primary responsibility was what became known as “field education.” Beginning with church and hospital-based internships, the scope of field education has grown to encompass a wide array of venues serving many religions. In the modern era the idea of ministry has exploded. Formal clerical ministry and chaplaincy remains a core of ministerial instruction, but ministry students use their training in law, public health, activism, politics, international relief, medicine, education, and the academy.

Willie Bodrick standing in front of the 12th Baptist Church Churches were the original sites of HDS student internships and remain a major location for field education. Willie Bodrick, MDiv ’14, currently serves as minister to youth and young adults at the same church at which he did field education in 2013, Twelfth Baptist Church in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. HDS photo/Kristie Welsh.

New Testament and Early Christian Studies

The story of New Testament and early Christian studies at Harvard Divinity School is one of ever-widening approaches. Beginning with nineteenth-century scholarship firmly rooted in Protestant theology, Harvard faculty increasingly emphasized historical-critical approaches. In the twentieth century, faculty and students saw biblical studies as an intellectual home not only for studying the past, but also for analyzing how biblical texts were used to challenge and to support specific theological and ethical commitments. They expanded the conception of who and what, in the early Christian world, was worthy of study and considered the public impact of biblical interpretation. Faculty began to draw on interdisciplinary approaches—archaeology and papyrology, feminism and gender studies—and to study early Christianity beyond the boundaries of the canon. The ethical orientation of New Testament and early Christian studies at HDS has produced generations of scholars who have gone on to positions of ministerial and academic leadership in churches, public service, seminaries, and universities.

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, the Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity since 1988, published the groundbreaking book In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins in 1983. In 2000, Schüssler Fiorenza was elected the first female president of the Society of Biblical Literature. HDS photo.

Nonsectarian to Multireligious

“Dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust,” the English settlers of Massachusetts dedicated Harvard College to “the education of the English & Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness.” The question of which religious path led toward God, and of how the godly should relate to those of different views, spurred their exodus from England and the establishment of Harvard College in 1636. One hundred eighty years later, the Divinity School was founded to continue the mission of educating clergy—but on a different religious basis.

In 1968, the introduction of the master of theological studies degree and a new doctoral field in comparative religion opened the School to enrollment beyond Protestants and Unitarian Universalist candidates. The 1970s and 1980s saw a dramatic and permanent shift in the student population: women became at least half of each entering class. Gradually, students from other religious groups joined Protestant ministry candidates. Students enrolled in the MTS for predoctoral work, as well as combining training in religion with other professional fields. With the new curriculum in 1981, MTS students could concentrate in non-Christian religions as well as study Christianity.

In the opening years of the twenty-first century, the faculty moved decisively toward the embrace of religion per se as the School’s focus, rather than privileging Christianity as normative. The multireligious master of divinity curriculum, introduced in 2005, was accessible to Christian and non-Christian students alike. A new MTS curriculum followed, in which students could concentrate in any field taught at HDS. No formal decision ordained that HDS would become a multireligious school. Curricular decision by curricular decision, the School moved toward a more encompassing meaning of its founding commitment to “nonsectarianism,” while continuing its unique combination of theory and practice in the study of religion.

Colloquium participants gathered for a group photoPastor James Movel Wuye and Imam Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa, co-executive directors of the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, Nigeria (center), with the Religions and the Practice of Peace Working Group in 2015. HDS photo/Angela M. Counts.

Preaching to the Conscience

Harvard was founded as a place to inculcate a “learned ministry.” But not until the founding of the Divinity School did it attend to the communication of that learning: preaching. Henry Ware, Jr., left Second Church, Boston, in 1828, to become the first professor devoted to the subject. Throughout the next two centuries, ministers of major Boston churches crossed the river to teach divinity students how to preach.

In the modern era, the teaching of preaching has been tightly connected to the career of Peter Gomes, STB ’68—a Baptist—who served as Pusey Minister of Memorial Church from 1970, and as Plummer Professor of Christian Morals from 1972 until his death in 2011. A brilliant preacher, Gomes taught generations of ministerial candidates to strive for that “Aha!” moment, when preacher and congregation make new discoveries about their faith together.

Religion and Social Justice

Harvard Divinity School was the center of Unitarian moral conscience in the nineteenth century, and early students recalled vigorous discussion of social reform. James Freeman Clarke, HDS 1833, recalled that prison reform was the most debated cause when he was a student in the early 1830s. But Clarke’s first parish in Louisville, Kentucky, thrust the issue of slavery into the center of his ministry and activism. He wasn’t alone. Professor Henry Ware, Jr., helped create the Cambridge Anti-Slavery Society and later served as its president.  Deans Francis Greenwood Peabody, in the early twentieth century, and Krister Stendahl, in the late twentieth century, understood HDS to be a key element of the University’s outreach and moral leadership.

During the twentieth century, HDS hosted a strong contingent of faculty members whose religious background and personal commitment made them advocates of peace in a century of warfare. Quakers such as George Huntston Williams and William Hutchison and Mennonites such as Gordon Kaufman and J. Lawrence Burkholder were influential voices, making HDS a place where peace found a place in the curriculum and beyond it. But this concern has not been the exclusive province of people hailing from historic peace churches–or of Christians. Students have protested violent conflict and collected aid for its victims around the world. Furthermore, the School has often provided a haven for students, activists, and academics who have sought to end warfare, escape violence, or resist participation in war.

Young man and two children working in a gardenJack Hasegawa, MTS ’68, plans a strawberry garden with children at the Cooper Community Center in Roxbury, his field education site. Born during the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans, including his family, during World War II, Hasegawa came to HDS after working as a civil rights organizer in Georgia through the Methodist Church. At HDS he studied African history and briefly joined the Black Panthers. When he graduated, he realized he knew little about his own background and traveled to Japan with a Methodist mission agency. On his return, he campaigned for reparations for Japanese Americans interned during the war. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Rockefeller Hall

As the Divinity School grew during the 1950s and 1960s, Divinity Hall and Andover Hall could no longer accommodate both students and faculty. Dean Krister Stendahl argued that a dining hall on campus was needed to unify the School. Built as a dormitory with classrooms and refectory on the ground floor, it stood in a long HDS tradition of promoting the bonds between students by housing them together, a goal that would become impracticable as the School continued to grow. Rockefeller Hall was built in 1970–71 from a donation in honor of the late John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the heir to the Standard Oil fortune, by his wife, Martha Baird Rockefeller, and son David Rockefeller, SB ’36. By the end of the twentieth century, Rockefeller Hall had come to show its age. Its large windows were energy sinks, and the need for more office space had grown with the size of the faculty and staff. The 2008 renovation brought the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and created the fourth LEED Gold building at Harvard.

Rockefeller Hall and patioRockefeller Hall, photo by Bradford Herzog.

Across the Street/Across the World

The Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR), Jewett House, and the Carriage House, run alongside one another on the same stretch of Francis Avenue and have hosted countless scholars and thought leaders.

The CSWR has been a major nexus for the expansion of the HDS curriculum beyond its liberal Christian origins and its American orientation. Under the guidance of visionary directors, starting with Robert Slater and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, the Center stimulated a comparative approach to the study of religion, encouraging students to develop expertise both in their own religion and in an additional tradition. The founding of the CSWR marked a continuation of one of the themes in HDS history—housing students together for the creation of academic and spiritual community.

Jewett House, constructed in 1913, is named for its first occupant, James Richard Jewett, a professor of Arabic from 1914 to 1933. Jewett’s son had donated the house to Harvard for the use of the Divinity School, but it was instead taken over by Harvard University Press. In 1956, the house was renovated as the deanery.

The Carriage House of Jewett House is now the home for the Women’s Studies in Religion Program. In the past it has served as a home or office for a series of Divinity School faculty and staff, including the family of Brita and former dean Krister Stendahl, who lived in the Carriage House in the 1960s.

A New International House

CSWR Director Robert Slater with the Center's first three affiliates in 1960

First CSWR director Robert Slater, right, exploring the new building in 1960 with three of the CSWR’s first affiliates: from left, Sao Htun Hmat Win, a Buddhist scholar from Burma; Rabindrabijay Sraman, a Buddhist monk from Pakistan; and Nobusada Nishitakatsuji, a Shinto priest from Japan. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

African and African American Studies

Critical attention to race, of necessity, informed the approach to theological education taken by the few African American men who attended HDS between the late nineteenth century and the 1960s. Extraordinarily talented graduates of HDS became leaders of religious and educational bodies in Africa and its diaspora. While race and immigration were concerns of the HDS curriculum in the 1920s, alumni recall little attention to civil rights among faculty or students in the1950s. After 1960, HDS graduates like Charles Gilchrist Adams became civil rights leaders. He expresses the religious foundations of Civil Rights in his prayer at the funeral of Rosa Parks.

Preston N. Williams, Houghton Professor of Theology and Contemporary Change

In the early 1960s, the civil rights movement engaged many of the all-white HDS faculty of HDS, some deeply so. Yet the School as a whole was unprepared when students recruited to HDS found it unequipped to meet the needs of students of African descent. Continued student activism resulted in the appointment of social ethicist and minister Preston N. Williams. The first tenured African American professor at HDS, Williams was one of very few at Harvard when he was appointed. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Andover Hall and AHTL

Andover Hall, view of the bell tower and cross

Andover Hall was built not for Harvard Divinity School but rather to accommodate a move to Cambridge by Andover Seminary, the orthodox seminary founded when Trinitarian Congregationalists objected to the installation of Unitarian Henry Ware, Sr., as the Hollis Professor at Harvard in 1805. Because of this history, Andover Hall has a distinctive, explicitly Christian architectural profile.

Andover-Harvard Theological Library now holds one of the great research collections for the study of religion. The library contains over 530,000 volumes, 85,000 of which are rare books and pamphlets.

Asian Religions

Religious texts from Asia fascinated nineteenth-century Unitarians looking to broaden the sources for their own theology. As the study of Asian religions flourished, Christian theologians taught courses with scholars of Hinduism and Buddhism and explored what the study of Asian religions could teach Christians about their own faith. Since the inception of the Buddhist Ministry Initiative in 2011, students at HDS not only study Buddhism, but also prepare for service and ministry in Buddhist settings.

The Dalai Lama Visits HDS

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama visits HDS in 1979 On his first visit to Harvard in 1979, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, spoke to divinity students in Andover Chapel. Photo courtesy of Harvard Divinity Bulletin.

Divinity Hall

Divinity Hall—constructed in 1826—was the first Harvard building constructed outside of Harvard Yard. The founders of the Divinity School prioritized housing the students together. But student life in Divinity Hall was hardly idyllic. In 1829, the students signed a long letter of complaint over the conditions in Divinity Hall. In the student records, repeated reference is made to “inflammation of the lungs” or “bleeding at the lungs.” In 1857, the building received gas heating, in 1872 toilets, and only in 1916 steam heating and electric light. The last residents of Divinity Hall moved out in 1998.

Divinity Hall historic photo Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Theology and Ethics

Harvard Divinity School in the nineteenth century was the flagship institution for Unitarian theology—at that time a system of moral philosophy. Late in the century, faculty began to see the field as a scientific endeavor with an eye toward theology’s evolution over time, avoiding normative or systematic work. Students preparing for ministry complained of the faculty’s cold detachment from religious content. This changed dramatically in 1955 after Harvard president Nathan Pusey appointed Paul Tillich—among the preeminent Protestant theologians of his day—as University Professor. Tillich’s impact was profound. Thereafter, Harvard hosted a strong tradition of systematic and philosophical theologians, as well as theologians engaged in contemporary affairs, and scholars focused on intersections of theology and culture.

Instruction in ethics as a discrete subject of study at the Divinity School was connected to the fervent belief in its importance held by Francis Greenwood Peabody, who began teaching the topic in the 1880s amid the emergence of American pragmatism at Harvard. The social agitation of the 1960s, like that of the antebellum period, again put ethics urgently in the spotlight. The appointment of Preston Williams, PhD ’67, was a major step forward in formalizing the study of ethics as it related to “contemporary change.” This became the modern tradition of ethical instruction at HDS. At Harvard, ethics was a field taught with a close eye to the world beyond, specifically concerned with the challenges of modern society to people of faith.

Harvey Cox holding up a small round object

Harvey Cox examines a Honeywell fragmentation device. Photo: Rob C. Croes, National Archives of the Netherlands, Anefo, license CC-BY.

Unitarians, Universalists, and HDS

Harvard Divinity School and the Unitarian Universalist tradition have grown up conjoined. Despite formal nonsectarianism, HDS was founded by Unitarians, nurtured by their support, and shaped from the outset by their interest in non-Christian religions. Even when President Eliot, himself a member of a prominent Unitarian family, insisted that other Protestants join the faculty, the critical mass of Unitarian students and faculty gave the atmosphere a distinctive cast. And it was the support of Unitarian churches, ministers, and laypeople, funneled through the Society for Theological Education that provided most of the financial basis for the School’s survival in the nineteenth century.  The transformation of HDS from nonsectarian to multireligious has been paralleled within the Unitarian and Universalist traditions. In addition, like many members of the Divinity School community, the Unitarian Universalist Association prides itself on a long heritage of activism on behalf of social justice and inclusion.

Clergy march at James Reeb’s funeral Dana McLean Greeley (1908–86), BS ’31, STB ’33, second from left, marches with other clergy to the funeral of James Reeb, a UU minister and member of Arlington Street Church slain in Selma, Alabama, March 11, 1965. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.


Women, Gender, and Religion

Women were admitted to HDS in 1955 as part of the expansion of the School’s mission to train leaders for the international ecumenical movement. By 1969, a total of 23 women had graduated, never more than 3 in a single year. In a dramatic reversal, women would compose a majority of students by 1980 and would remain at least half of each class from then on. If women were to become religious leaders, millennia of scholarship supporting their exclusion had to be critiqued, reformed, or contradicted. Women’s studies started as an approach to women’s ministry but expanded to ask what difference gender makes in every field taught at HDS.

Women seated in rows of pews As part of its service to the churches, HDS faculty addressed laywomen on Thursday mornings, followed by tea at Jewett House. Listening to a lecture by Krister Stendahl are, from right, Elinor Lamont and Anne Pusey, wife of President Pusey. In 1973, Brita Stendahl, wife of then dean Stendahl and a biblical scholar in her own right, reformulated the “Ladies Lectures” as “Theological Opportunities for Women.” Theological Opportunities for Women incorporated lecturers from the new WSRP Research Associates and combined theological exploration with feminist consciousness-raising. Ecofeminist theologian Elizabeth Dodson Gray directed the program from 1978 until 2010.

Worship and Gathering

HDS has a vibrant spiritual life. The religious traditions students study and practice at Harvard Divinity School are lived with astonishing variety and texture on and beyond campus. Andover Chapel, for example, has played host to myriad services including noon worship, which was held daily in the 1950s and 1960s, a commitment ceremony in 1980, an HDS production of Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, produced and directed by Sarah Taylor Peck, MDiv ’07, and a Dia de los Muertos celebration in 2007. The weekly noon service that continues today in Andover Hall is organized by a different organization or religious group each week.

Woman dancing during a worship service Nicole Saxon, MDiv ’12, performs the Yankadi/Makru, a common dance from Guinea, as part of the Wednesday Noon Service hosted by Harambee in 2012. Photo: Steve Gilbert.