Campus & Community

Harvard Divinity School examines its 200-year history

6 min read

‘Faces of Divinity’ kicks off School’s bicentennial year

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

Students, faculty, and staff at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) have labored over these questions for 200 years. Together, they have undertaken an audacious project to combine critical thinking about religion with the training of religious leaders in the context of a research university. 

A special exhibit for HDS’s bicentennial year, “Faces of Divinity: Envisioning Inclusion for 200 Years,” tells the story of the School since its founding in 1816. It brings together the student experience, faculty work, and University initiatives. It draws on the School’s history to explore how it became a multireligious divinity school, while also broadening its reach as a multidisciplinary center of academic excellence, religious scholarship, and service to the communities — both locally and globally. At the same time, it follows students, faculty, and staff across porous and shifting lines between HDS and Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a line often discussed in relation to the exhibit’s themes.

It includes 21 exhibits of photographs, poetry, paintings, and audiovisual materials throughout three of the Divinity School’s buildings: Andover, Divinity, and Rockefeller halls. Curated by Ann Braude, director of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at HDS, the exhibit explores the development of HDS through a series of themes, including theology and ethics, history, and Unitarian and Universalist traditions, as well as Jewish, Asian, Islamic, African-American and women’s religious studies, ministry training, preaching, and social justice.

“Faces of Divinity” is one part of HDS’s larger yearlong celebration of its bicentennial, which kicks off on Tuesday. There will be a public unveiling of the exhibit (on display throughout the academic year) in Andover Hall at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. Also marking the day is the Divinity School’s Convocation ceremony. Harvard President Drew Faust will offer welcoming remarks during HDS’s Convocation at 5 p.m. on the Campus Green. Keynote speaker George Rupp, former HDS dean and past president of the International Rescue Committee, will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing HDS in its third century.

As part of their service to the churches, Harvard Divinity School faculty addressed laywomen on Thursday mornings, followed by tea at Jewett House. From right: Brita Stendahl, Elinor Lamont, and Anne Pusey, wife of Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey ’28. In 1973, Brita Stendahl, wife of then-Dean Krister Stendahl and a biblical scholar in her own right, reformulated the Ladies Lectures as Theological Opportunities for Women. The group incorporated lecturers from the new WSRP Research Associates and combined theological exploration with feminist consciousness-raising. Ecofeminist theologian Elizabeth Dobson Gray directed the program from 1978 until 2010. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Before coming to Harvard, Wilfred Cantwell Smith founded McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies in 1951, a program unique at the time for recruiting scholars of Islam, without whose perspectives he believed Islam could not be understood. In 1964, Smith was appointed director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, where he continued to bring scholars from different faiths together for common scholarly endeavor. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library
In 1979, the 14th Dalai Lama made his first trip to the United States. His final stop, at the invitation of the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR), was Harvard, where he gave a lecture in Sanders Theatre and taught a seminar to HDS students in Andover Chapel. He returned in 1981, 1995, 2003, and 2009. Here, he is pictured with Robert Thurman ’62, A.M. ’69, Ph.D. ’72, an affiliate of the CSWR in 1978–79. Photo courtesy of CSWR
A service in Andover Hall marking Black History Month. Delores Lovett-Sconiers, M.Div. ’91 (center), and Natalie P. Alford, M.Div. ’92 (right), worship in Andover Chapel. Four guest preachers spoke at weekly services during Black History Month in 1991. Among them were two fathers of students, the Rev. Hycel B. Taylor (father of Chandra Taylor Smith, M.Div. ’88) and the Rev. Howard Fauntroy Jr., B.Div. ’66 (father of Howard Fauntroy III, M.Div. ’93), and the Rev. Frank M. Reid, M.Div. ’78. Dean Ronald Thiemann sponsored the program and is visible in a back pew. Photo by Bradford Herzog/HDS
The 1971 appointment of Preston N. Williams, Ph.D. ’67, was a watershed in the intellectual life of HDS. His work brought attention to the idea that studying the appropriation of a religion by people with a shared historical experience could be as important as studying a religion’s classical expressions, expanding hermeneutical discussions across the curriculum. Williams was Houghton Professor from 1971 to 2002 and was founding director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Dana McLean Greeley ’31, S.T.B. ’33 (second from left), marches with other clergy to the funeral of James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister and a member of Boston’s Arlington Street Church. Reeb was slain in Selma, Ala., on March 11, 1965. Photo courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Churches were the original sites of HDS student internships and remain a major location for field education. Willie Bodrick, M.Div. ’14, currently serves as minister to youth and young adults at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, where he did field education in 2013. Photo by Kristie Welsh/HDS
Three mandalas have been created at the CSWR over the past 15 years. In 2008, Geshe Kalsang and Venerable Phuntsok from the Gaden Shartse Monastery sifted colored sand to create a mandala of compassion, named for Chenrezig, who pledged not to attain Buddhahood until all sentient beings were free from the sufferings of samsara. In keeping with tradition, each sand painting, once complete, is swept away in a communal ceremony to demonstrate the impermanence of all things. At an audiovisual station, Janet Gyatso narrates the creation of the Wheel of Life mandala in 2005 for the 45th anniversary of the CSWR. Photo by Kristie Welsh/HDS
Nicole Saxon, M.Div. ’12, performs the Yankadi/Makru, a common dance from Guinea, as part of the Wednesday Noon Service hosted by Harambee in 2012. Photo by Steve Gilbert
Among the first women to graduate from HDS was Judith Hoehler, B.D. ’58. After graduation, Hoehler was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister, serving for more than 20 years at First Parish Church, Weston, Mass., and becoming an active spokesperson for women’s equality within that denomination. In the early 1970s, she also became the denominational counselor for Unitarian Universalist students at HDS, guiding a generation toward the ministry and teaching a course in UU polity. Photo courtesy of Harvard Divinity Bulletin
At the 2013 Seasons of Light celebration in Andover Chapel, students from 11 religious groups each lit a candle or candles in recognition of their tradition’s winter celebration. Usra Ghazi, M.T.S. ’15, who lit a candle for the Muslim faith, is seen behind the flaming chalice, the symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Photo by Brian Tortora/HDS
First CSWR director Robert Slater (right) exploring the new building in 1960 with three of its first affiliates: Sao Htun Hmat Win (from left), 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