Women philanthropists, activists convene at HDS

2 min read

The tragic impact of war and corruption in Afghanistan; developmental pediatrics in inner-city communities; the current state of philanthropy for organizations serving women and girls: If asked where at Harvard these subjects were recently discussed, one of the last places someone might suggest is Harvard Divinity School (HDS).

And yet all three were topics at HDS’s National Leadership Conference of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program (WSRP). Held February 3-5, this annual event convenes women leaders in business, law, the arts, philanthropy, and community activism to interact with the WSRP’s five research associates about their scholarly work, and to discuss contemporary challenges that disproportionately impact the lives of women.

Participants praise the conference as a rare chance to receive “brain food,” allowing them not only to “refuel” but to also “self-transform.” This year, the weekend kicked off with a dinner to honor Constance Buchanan.

An associate dean of HDS from 1977 to 1997 and special assistant to Harvard President Derek Bok for his initiative in improving the quality of teaching and learning at the University, Buchanan was a “force of nature,” in the words of current HDS Dean William A. Graham. Her far-reaching vision and tireless fundraising efforts led the way for the WSRP to grow from an innovative but fledgling program focused on the interdisciplinary study of women, religion, and culture into an internationally recognized center for research and teaching on religion, gender, race, and sexual orientation. The WSRP brings five postdoctoral scholars to Harvard each year.