Top Stories of 2019: A Look Back

December 16, 2019
Swartz Hall rendering
Rendering of Swartz Hall. Courtesy Ann Beha Architects

This past year, HDS began a major renewal project on our main campus building, welcomed new Hindu monastics in residence, became inspired—yet again—by the words and work of our faculty and students, and experienced many momentous moments.

With 2019 coming to a close, and so many significant events taken place, we took a look back at some of the top stories from the past year and recapped them below.


Joining the HDS community in fall 2019 as Hindu monastics in residence, Sadhak Akshar, Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya, and Swami Sarvapriyananda are the first to participate in a new program made possible by a generous gift from Vibhu and Ajit Nagral out of their interest in strengthening the Hindu presence on campus. The new program has two main objectives: to enrich the HDS community, and to enable the participating monastics to return to their communities with expanded horizons.

HDS Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy Cornel West was the faculty speaker at the 2019 Multireligious Commencement Service. "You're going to have to take a risk, you have to pay a cost, you're going to have to cut against the grain. It's not going to be fun, but there will be joy in that kind of struggle, joy in your intellectual courage," he told the graduating students.

In August the HDS community was shocked by the passing of Anne E. Monius, Professor of South Asian Religions. A distinguished scholar and engaging teacher, Monius taught for 17 years at Harvard Divinity School, where she specialized in the religious traditions of India. Her research examined the practices and products of literary culture to reconstruct the history of religions in South Asia. Her office door turned into a space of remembrance with students, faculty, staff, and others leaving messages on Post-it Notes. Her former students also wrote remembrances of her, some of which were shared online.

Professor Anne Monius

Shovels broke ground on the Swartz Hall (formerly Andover Hall) renewal project just after Commencement in May. The 18-month project, the first renewal for century-old Swartz Hall, will transform the building into a true campus center while maintaining historical character and focusing on sustainability.

Swartz Hall rendering

About 40 HDS students participated in the School’s Field Education Program this summer. Students worked in a range of settings—non-profits, educational and health care chaplaincy, and congregations—in locations from Tennessee to Northern Ireland to Italy. Among them were Allison Rosen, who worked at a local nonprofit that builds sustainable food projects throughout Puerto Rico, and Salvador Peña, who worked for El Arca Argentina, a chapter of the international L'Arche organization that allows people with and without intellectual disabilities to grow in competence.

Salvador Pena at El Arca Argentina

The Harvard Religion Beat podcast continued examining religion’s underestimated and often misunderstood role in society with new episodes that explored why hate crimes are on the rise and considered mainstream meditation and the million-dollar mindfulness boom.

On February 19, U.S. presidential candidate, spiritual lecturer, and number one New York Times bestselling author Marianne Williamson spoke at HDS on the topic "Reparations for Slavery: The Role of Repentance in Politics."

In a November note to the HDS community, Dean David N. Hempton considered the question, what does it mean to belong? In his note, he wrote about the six most important aspects of belonging.

Dean David Hempton

At Morning Prayers in September, Ali Asani, Harvard Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, said we should seek to cultivate inner beauty so that it mirrors divine beauty—and allow our souls to be nourished by it.

Professor Ali Asani

During the School’s Convocation in September, HDS paid homage to the late Toni Morrison, who passed away in August, for the wisdom she shared during her many appearances at Harvard and still shares through her writings.