Campus & Community

Worlds of religion at Harvard

5 min read

At Center for the Study of World Religions, a living interfaith dialogue

Students are drawn to the study of world religions by the opportunity to participate in interfaith dialogue, rather than just study it. At the Center for the Study of World Religions, they also have the opportunity to live it. Since 1960, the center has welcomed hundreds of residents and thousands of visitors to bask in its peaceful garden, engage in thought-provoking conversations, or take in a lecture. In the evenings, public spaces become private enclaves as residents work, socialize, and relax.

Nestled on the edge of the Harvard Divinity School campus, the center promotes the study and understanding of the complexities of the world’s religions while fostering a vibrant community and a rich intellectual exchange. Enlightening conversations arise spontaneously and informally, as residents and visitors mediate, do their laundry, have a meal or a snack, or watch the wild turkeys gather.

Center for the Study of World Religions residents (from left) Melissa Coles, a student at Harvard Divinity School; the Ven. Changshen Shi Wang, visiting assistant professor at HDS; and Sara Klingenstein, a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, chat in the center’s courtyard. “Residents are a microcosm of the larger community at HDS: a non-sectarian school of religious and theological studies that is home to a diverse community of scholars and practitioners,” Coles said.
During a weekly “Around the Table” discussion, HDS students share lunch and ideas about how different religions view suffering. There are several such luncheons every semester, each with different topics, student speakers, and group discussions. “There are countless opportunities, both formal and informal, to further understanding across lines of religious difference,” said Nina Bryce, a student at the Divinity School and resident at the center.
Nina Bryce (right) and her fiancé, Soltan Bryce, talk beneath a canopy of foliage in the Center for the Study of World Religions garden. “As an interfaith couple, making the CSWR our home this year has been a beautiful experience. The resident community celebrates learning from one another while exploring complex questions related to religion,” said Bryce.
Jack-o’-lanterns look on as Vicky Lee, M.Div., practices Kriya Yoga mudras and breathing exercises in the CSWR courtyard. Lee, a Christian, incorporates yoga and meditation into her spiritual practice.
HDS student Daniel Kraft (from left), the Ven. Changshen Shi, CSWR Director Francis Clooney, Ph.D. candidate Seth Powell, and Powell’s 2-year-old son, Ruben, talk in the center’s courtyard. By facilitating connections with the larger Harvard community and beyond, the center convenes conversations about cutting-edge research.
Christian and Buddhist statues are displayed together at the Center for the Study of World Religions.
Vicky Lee (left) and William Wang ’20 discuss ballot questions during “Religion in the News: How Shall We Vote?,” a lunchtime event in the CSWR common room.
GSAS student Sara Klingenstein (from left) and the Ven. Changshen Shi discuss ritual in different religious traditions. “People in CSWR are peaceful, thoughtful, and encompassing,” said Shi. “The beautiful combination of our differences and common interests makes me feel grateful to live in this spiritual and colorful pure land.”
“Shakyamuni Buddha Surrounded by Heavenly Circles,” a 17th-century mandala of gouache and ink on silk, is displayed in the CSWR common room.
Joshua Greene, the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, speaks about “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them” during the Divinity School’s “Religion, Ethics, and Psychology” symposium. Behind him is James Nelson of Valparaiso University.
Seth Powell holds a pose as he plays ball with his son. The CSWR “has proven to be not only an ideal place for study, but a wonderful place to raise a family,” he said. “It’s the place where [our son, Ruben] learned how to walk and talk, where he enjoys playing sports, and where he is exposed every day to a diversity of cultures, languages, religions, and people from all over the world.”
Melissa Coles (from left) and teaching fellow Laura Thompson have a heart-to-heart in the courtyard.
Across the street from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Andover Hall, HDS students Kusala Bhante (from left), a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka; former CSWR resident Priya Rakkhit, Sraman, a Buddhist monk from Bangladesh; and Hyun Shin, a Korean Buddhist monk, attend a reception for the “Faces of Divinity” exhibition at the Divinity School bicentennial.
HDS student Daniel Kraft (center, beard and green shirt) attends a reception for the “Faces of Divinity” exhibition. “I have been privileged to participate in so many interesting and stimulating colloquia and lectures, meet so many visitors, including former residents over nearly six decades, and to help convene so many conversations essential to the good health of the study of religions at the Divinity School, at Harvard, in today’s religiously diverse and ever-changing world,” said CSWR director Francis Clooney.