Nation & World

Scholarly journal reveals precious gems; marks major milestone

4 min read

In what single location can you find the summary of two travel journals based on early medieval visits to Rome, a popular article on the influence of the Beat Movement, and a perspective on religion in the United States in the year 1800? The answer: The Harvard Theological Review (HTR).

One of the oldest scholarly theological journals in the country, the HTR celebrated its 100th anniversary last Friday (April 11) at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) with a day of talks by several HDS scholars.

The discussions included a presentation by the researcher indexing the journal’s entire collection of articles, in which she described how she uncovered a wealth of treasures along the way.

Independent scholar Fay Martineau took on the monumental job of indexing the vast body of work and has spent the last year and a half poring over the roughly 4,800 articles written for the publication since 1908. Though she tries to skim as much as she can, the articles, she admitted, are often too compelling to brush over.

“It’s a goldmine of material,” said Martineau, adding, “You want to lead people to as much of it as you can.”

Informational gems culled from the earlier volumes, Martineau told the crowd gathered in Andover Hall, include a 1914 article that reveals how children were depicted in 18th and 19th century Christian fiction, a 1915 work on the Russian Orthodox Church with references to the various protests and reform movements that were part of the rise of socialism in that country at the time, and a review of six groups of sermons inspired by World War I.

Stirred by the amount and richness of the material, Martineau is tailoring the index to serve not only religion scholars involved in serious academic study and research, but also those intent on what she called “freewheeling exploration.”

“My hypothetical seekers may certainly include religion-oriented academics, but I have in mind as well historians, ministers-in-the-making, curious undergraduates, graduate students casting about for potential dissertation topics, creative writers — in essence, an eclectic audience,” she said. “I want to enable this diverse group of people to catch some of the relatively rare, unusual, somehow distinctive, quirky, or striking passages, themes, comments, perspectives, or views which may constitute some sort of serendipitous discovery and inspiration.”

The complete index will be available on the journal’s Web site by the spring of 2009.

From the very beginning, the publication encompassed a diverse array of disciplines, reflecting the intent of its creators to explore not only theology, but also a wide range of subject matters and their various relationships to religion.

The inaugural issue of the review from Jan. 1, 1908, noted its mission was to include “not only theology, in the wider meaning of the word, but the history and philosophy of religion, ethics, sociology, economics, and education in so far as these have a bearing on religious thought or the practical work of the church.”

A glance at the first volume’s index page confirms the journal’s expansive aim, with chapters such as “Modern Ideas of God,” and “The Call to Theology,” as well as “Recent Excavations in Palestine” and “The Economic Basis of the Problem of Evil.”

In his introduction to the centennial event, William A. Graham, dean of the Faculty of Divinity, John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, and Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, said the review has far exceeded its original goals.

The publication’s articles, he said, “have challenged scholars around the globe to change and deepen their understanding of many topics from Old and New Testament studies and early archaeological findings, to ethics, women’s studies, and comparative religion.”

Graham also noted the journal’s forward-thinking perspective. From its earliest years, he said, editors included articles by women as well as work by scholars from beyond the borders of the Western academic world.

The Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, provided an historic context for the creation of the review. Gomes noted 1908 was a momentous year, as it marked the return of the Andover Theological Seminary to Harvard and the formation of a union between the two organizations. They had parted ways 100 years earlier over the appointment of the liberal, Henry Ware, to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity.

Though the union ultimately didn’t last, the HTR, said Gomes, continues to represent the best academic intentions of the early alliance.

“I would argue [the HTR] remains the vessel in which the hopes of new theological and intellectual collaboration can survive and flourish in each new and changing culture of the age.”