Charles Stang Named Director of Center for the Study of World Religions

April 4, 2017
Charles Stang
Professor of Early Christian Thought Charles Stang. Photo: Justin Knight

Charles Stang, Professor of Early Christian Thought, has been appointed the next director of the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR) at Harvard Divinity School, beginning July 1. He will succeed Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, who is stepping down after leading the Center for seven years.

Stang joined the HDS faculty in 2008 as Assistant Professor of Early Christian Thought after earning his doctor of theology degree from the School the same year. He has been a member of the CSWR community for just under a decade and has participated in the CSWR’s advisory board.

“Professor Stang has been a major contributor to the thinking about the future of CSWR,” said HDS Dean David N. Hempton. “I know his plans include efforts to continue to expand the engagement of the HDS community in the work of the Center. As an active participant in the larger Harvard University community, Professor Stang will also concentrate on continuing to draw our colleagues closer into the CSWR.”

His research and teaching focus on the history and theology of Christianity in late antiquity, especially Eastern varieties of Christianity. More specifically, he is interested in the development of asceticism, monasticism, and mysticism in Eastern Christianity.

His most recent book, Our Divine Double, was published in 2016 by Harvard University Press. His earlier book, Apophasis and Pseudonymity in Dionysius the Areopagite: "No Longer I" (Oxford University Press, 2012), won the Manfred Lautenschläger Award for Theological Promise in 2013.

“I am grateful, and humbled, to have been chosen to serve as the next director of the Center for the Study of World Religions,” Stang said. “I have been fortunate to have been a member of the CSWR community for nearly nine years, seven of those with Professor Clooney at its helm. Professor Clooney has instituted a wide range of programming initiatives that have engaged the HDS community and the wider University. I am grateful to be inheriting not only such robust programming but also a vibrant residential community.

“I look forward to working with residents, staff, and my HDS colleagues to imagine and enact the next chapter in the life of the Center. My own nascent aspiration is that the Center serve as a sort of ‘think tank’ for HDS, helping to discern the future of the study of religion, at Harvard and beyond. Central to this discernment is the unique chemistry of the Center, where scholar-practitioners of different religious traditions live and study together.”

During his seven years as director of the CSWR, Clooney conceived and established many high-quality programs and resources. He is responsible for the creation of the Center’s nondenominational meditation room as a space to encourage reflection and spiritual nourishment.

“I have been privileged to be director of the Center for the Study of World Religions since 2010, and to be part of the many interesting and enriching activities of the Center,” said Clooney. “I am delighted that Professor Stang will be the next director. He will bring his own rich perspectives on the study of religions and many fine qualities as scholar, teacher, and friend to the work of continuing and deepening the life of the Center.

“Many wonderful visitors have come through our doors, and with the Center’s excellent staff, I have been happy to engage so many of our faculty, students, and staff in seminars, at public events, and in simple conversations over the years. The residential community too has been a special gift, surely a unique gathering of students and scholars of diverse generations, cultures, and faith perspectives. Perhaps above all else, the Center is an opportunity for centering—bringing together all the disparate energies and talents of the HDS and Harvard communities.”

As director, Clooney created or secured grants for several lecture series including the “Hindu View of Life Lecture,” and instituted the “Albert and Vera List Fund for Jewish Studies Lecture.” What’s more, he launched a “Religion in the News” series during which participants discussed how religion plays out in current events. His commitment to scholarship and the residents of the Center are highlighted by his establishment of the Junior Fellowships program and the Undergraduate Summer Research Grants awarded to undergraduate religion concentrators at Harvard.

“While we will have many occasions to thank Professor Clooney for his diligent and dedicated work during his years as the Center director, I would not want to let this moment go by without expressing my own thanks,” said Dean Hempton. “Professor Clooney has instituted many creative initiatives that have added much to the life of the School and our community, and we all owe him our gratitude.”

—by Michael Naughton