Humans of Harvard Divinity School: Who we are at 200 years

Cambridge, MA. Harvard Divinity School is about to begin its celebration of its bicentennial (1816-2016). The school’s website—recently refurbished—already notes a host of upcoming events, including, on Sept. 14, an opening panel at the Center for the Study of World Religions (of which I am the director), which includes five speakers, who range over 50 years in ages, on the topic, “How We've Studied Religions at CSWR: 1960-2016.” If you are in the neighborhood, feel welcome to come.

Harvard Divinity School is, I believe, the oldest of the self-standing Harvard schools, and the first to situate itself outside Harvard Yard. I will be writing more about this in the weeks and months to come, but today I wish to call your attention to an excellent sector of the school’s website, called “Humans of HDS,” a site dedicated to “sharing the unique and diverse stories of members of the Harvard Divinity School community.”


Jenna Alatriste (MDiv ’18) explains the purpose of the venture this way:

Before I began my first semester at Harvard Divinity School, I knew that the coursework would be important, but the relationships I would make here would be even more so. People, and their stories, matter–and so Laura and I decided to interview and photograph members of the HDS community in order to get to know each other. We hope that as you read these stories, you too will feel a connection to some of the diverse individuals who together make up the heart of HDS.

Her collaborator on the project, Laura Krueger (MTS ’17), adds:

Coming to Harvard Divinity School, I was slightly overwhelmed by all of the interesting people I met: they were all incredibly intelligent, passionate, and motivated. It was so easy to be dazzled by everything, but I wanted to go deeper, to seek out what really drives the community and find out what goes on behind the “mystique” that often defines a school like Harvard. I immediately wanted to meet and get to know everyone, but had no idea how to do go about doing so.

So together they created Humans of HDS.

As I said above, over the months to come, HDS will be marking its anniversary: 200 years of theological education in an inclusive “low church” and “undenominational” style, within the 500 years of Protestant Christianity—that has now opened up into the extraordinary venture of an interfaith divinity school unlike any other in the country.

While Humans of HDS is the initiative due to the energy and insight of Jenna and Laura and not, I think, a deliberate anniversary project, it is also a successful contribution to the bicentennial, a way of reflecting on that long history from the ground up, by glimpses of the people who make up the school now, their experiences, worldviews, hopes and energies, and the variety of religious experiences and faith commitments that guide their lives.  

When you look at the site's front page, which will grow over the next months, and you will already find a rich variety of students, staff and faculty, telling their stories in simple and straightforward terms. The archive includes the 21 posted thus far, in the order of posting.

I am one of the most recent additions to the site, and you can find my reflection here. Jenna and Laura interviewed me, wrote up my answers in a coherent narrative, and, after my editing, it was posted the other day (with two pictures, one from an interfaith wedding, and other as I gave a lecture at Harvard).

I am happy, to be sure, to be one of the HDS “humans,” and glad that this community has welcomed (going on 12 years) my interests and talents, this portion of my nearly 50 years as a Jesuit and 33 years as a scholar and professor. You might think that the Jesuit and Catholic priest doesn’t (or shouldn’t) really fit in at HDS; perhaps there are ways in which that is true. But a charm of the school is that most of us don’t fit in—but nevertheless find ways to build community, from the ground up, each of us contributing as we can.

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William Rydberg
2 years 7 months ago
A pleasant article. Would appreciate a scholarly definition of the term "low church" in this context. One wonders what the hallmarks are. For example, is there any minimum requirement to become a full HDS Community "low church" member. For example, when the United Church of Canada was created in the 1920s the aim was to establish a common creed. That never happened. Anecdotally, more than one of their National Chief Moderators declared that they personally do not believe in the existence of God. Let alone Trinity, or the divinity of Jesus Christ-God come in the flesh. They appear to also describe themselves to the best of my knowledge as low Church. Now, I know that it would be wrong to equate all members of the United Church of Canada as holding the same beliefs as a couple of their past National Moderators, surely many hold personal beliefs that are likely quite orthodox in their Christian beliefs, but the point remains. Also, just wondering if as a Catholic Jesuit teacher wether you feel personally/socially compelled in any way to describe what you have been taught outside of the classroom, as you are a very Senior Jesuit Father, or would doing so in a social situation be problematic, or perhaps threaten social cohesion within the HDS group? Would you describe yourself as a "low church" member of the HDS community in its fullest sense? Just wondering... in Christ,


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