Program for the Evolution of Spirituality

The Program for the Evolution of Spirituality (PES) supports the scholarly study of emerging spiritual movements, marginalized spiritualities, and the innovative edges of established religious traditions. It also prepares students for ministry in these movements. Through conferences, field experiences, course offerings, and public lectures, the program expands HDS's expertise in topics such as spirituality among the millennial generation, ecological spirituality, and the ethics of power in spiritual communities. The program is directed by Professor Dan McKanan.

Power Dynamics in Research Methodologies with Marginalized Spiritual Traditions

Register here

On Tuesday, December 7, from 2 to 3:30 pm EST, we will host the next iteration in our series on power dynamics in emerging and alternative spiritual spaces. At this month's event, we will shift our discussion from abuse of power within these organizations to the study of these communities, specifically with regards to contemporary Pagan traditions.

Anthropologist Giovanna Parmigiani, historian J. Christian Greer, and religious studies scholar Russell Burk will join our assistant director, Natalia Schwien, to discuss their research methodologies when working with these marginalized spiritual communities and the steps they take to support a productive and respectful dynamic between themselves and their interlocutors.

About the speakers

Dr. J. Christian Greer is a scholar of religious studies, currently holding a postdoctoral position at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. His forthcoming book, Angelheaded Hipsters: Psychedelic Militancy in Nineteen Eighties North America (Oxford University Press), analyzes the expansion of psychedelic culture in the late Cold War era.

Dr. Giovanna Parmigiani is an anthropologist and a scholar of Contemporary Paganisms. She serves as a Lecturer on Religion and Cultural Anthropology at HDS, and as a research assistant at the Transcendence and Transformation initiative at the CSWR, where she hosts a series of online lectures titled "Gnoseologies."

Russell Burk is an ethnographer of religion and is a PhD candidate in religions of the Americas at Harvard University. He is currently conducting field research in Chicago, Illinois, for a dissertation on contemporary Pagans' interactions with African Diaspora religions. His research interests include critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, alternative spiritualities, and religion and neoliberalism.

Inaugural Ecological Spiritualities Conference

Rescheduled for Wednesday-Saturday, April 27-30, 2022

After postponing our inaugural conference on "Ecological Spiritualities" to protect the health and safety of our community, as well as to adhere to the recent guidelines around Covid-19 across Harvard University, we are pleased to announce that new dates have been confirmed. We will host the series of events Wednesday-Saturday, April 27-30, 2022.  

Learn more about the conference, presenters, and presentations.

Launch of Colloquia on “Abuse of Power in Alternative and Emerging Spiritual and Cultural Organizations”

In the wake of our February 25 virtual panel on the “Abuse of Power in Alternative and Emerging Spiritual and Cultural Organizations,” many people have expressed a desire to continue the conversation. Therefore, we are launching an ongoing discussion on our platform around this complex and sensitive topic. We plan to host monthly colloquia which will feature a variety of speakers, including practitioners, scholars, survivors, and activists, who will come together to talk about their experiences around power dynamics, both positive and negative, in emerging and alternative spiritual and cultural organizations. We hope these conversations will be productive, illuminating, and empowering as well as a source of education on creating structures of accountability. 

View past PES events.


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Associated Courses and Groups

Course: HDS 2798: Introduction to Religion and Ecology
Instructor: Dan McKanan

“Religion and ecology” is one of the fastest-growing subfields within the study of religion, and our approach to this topic will be broadly “ecological,” which is to say that we will attend to the interconnections linking seemingly disparate phenomena, and to the ways in which all phenomena are continually evolving in mutual relationship. This course explores the intersection between religious traditions and ecological activism, with special attention to current conversations about sustainable agriculture and ethical eating. View scheduled offerings of HDS 2798 in my.harvard.

Course: HDS 3099: Earth-Based Spiritualities: An Anthropological Perspective
Instructor: Giovanna Parmigiani 

This is a course in the Anthropology of Religion, with particular focus on contemporary earth-based spiritualities, such as Contemporary Paganism, Wicca, NewAge, and Core-Shamanism. While often misunderstood in popular culture, these religions are now part of the lives of a growing number of individuals and groups. By engaging with ethnographic works, primarily based in the US and Europe, students will get acquainted with or deepen their knowledge of the main issues, traditions, debates, and research in the field of Anthropology of Religion.View scheduled offerings of HDS 3099 in my.harvard.

International Communal Studies Association: 2022 Conference Call for Papers 

"Co-Creating Community: Evolving Models of Intentional Community" 

The fourteenth International Communal Studies Association (ICSA) conference will explore the ways communes and intentional communities continually evolve in relation to one another, to the larger culture, and to political and ecological challenges.  

ICSA Conference Call for Papers (PDF)

Student Animism Reading Group

The Animism Reading Group is a discussion group that studies indigenous cosmologies and Western animist worldviews. It is an open group that welcomes anyone who is interested in this conversation including students, faculty, and community members. We meet bi-weekly to discuss scholarship on animist cosmologies and their implications for politics, ethics, culture, and science. While the primary intent of the group is academic, it also provides validation and community for those whose spiritual beliefs include an animist cosmology. Several CSWR speakers have been invited in connection with the animism group, including David Abram, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Graham Harvey. The group was initiated by Mary Balkon under a CSWR research fellowship, and it is currently facilitated by Natalia Schwien, MTS 2021.


Dan McKanan, Program Director
Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity

Natalia Schwien, Assistant Program Director
HDS MTS Candidate, 2021


The Program for the Evolution of Spirituality
Harvard Divinity School
Divinity Hall, Room 409
Cambridge, MA 02138

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