The notion of ‘fit’ was central to both my excitement and trepidation before arriving at HDS this fall. I knew from perusing the course websites and extracurricular offerings that, formally at least, Harvard Divinity School would be the ‘right’ place for me. I was more than ready to dive into the enriching array of learning opportunities that stood before me, both within and outside of the classroom.
Major vocations, careers, and life callings are antecedents of a secondary or inconsequential, but illuminating moment in one’s existence. If I could express this concept more thoroughly, I would say it is similar to attending a well-organized Nutcracker performance, based on the 1891 production by Tchaikovsky, and imagining yourself as a ballerina/ballerino; and assessing the complexities (I have no plans in this vocation, by the way). For me, Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) served that, and more. At DivEx I envisioned my role at Harvard Divinity, made relationships, and critically observed Harvard Divinity. Along with all the free goodies that went with being a participant, DivEx served as an enlightening moment for my subsequent decision, and my life at HDS now.
My previous undergraduate experience was great, but uniformed; therefore I had an assumption of what I would be like there in undergraduate. HDS, however, was quite different. My DivEx experience exposed me to a diverse group of people, which made the experience lively. We had people from the Buddhist community, Gay community, Islamic community, Christian community, and many other faith traditions. They all had something to offer, but for me it gave me a depiction of what HDS had to offer. Honestly, that is what intrigued me the most. How can a school manage to house all these different groups of people and facilitate health-conducive faith? This question received its answer more and more through my DivEx experience and, now, through my attendance at HDS. My general answer, which might be different than most, is: students at HDS are rethinking what it means to be a neighbor, and how to serve the world through their faith perspectives.
Many of these faith perspectives I encountered while at DivEx. The different people that I have met helped me see the world in a different fashion than what I grew accustomed to, and this type of reshaping is valuable. It formulated for me an antagonistic approach to my own perspective and made me also more sensitive to mine and others’ perspective. Now, most of the DivExers that I met in November are helping me reconfigure my worldview.
Is Harvard a panacea, utopian, or perfect world?: no! If I attested to that ideology, I would be not better than a sloppy ad-commercial. HDS has problems as well; and if you are any type of skeptic as I, you will carry many preconceptions on your visit.
On my visit, I critiqued until I could not critique anymore. I wanted to figure out: could HDS fit for me? What are the problems? And, does the web portrayal of HDS match the existential reality? All these questions did not get answered at DivEx; in fact, I still ask that now. However, it started the process of wonder, and kept me curious enough to apply and carry my studies to a great school.
My DivEx experience foreshadowed half of what my experience is now at HDS. It was a teaser and a demystifying experience. It opened me up to what studying in a pluralistic environment would be like, but it also made me say, “Everyone at Harvard is not high and mightier than thou.” This place is filled with normal people who want to re-interpret their world and the divine.
When I showed up at my first Hear and Now meeting, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was the first one there, perpetually early because I never know if things will run on “Harvard time”—that is, starting 7-10 minutes past real time. Slowly, the rest of my group trickled in, some I had met before and some I had not. We started out hesitantly, not knowing exactly what to do, but eventually we got into the flow, talking about our days, our lives, and our experiences with religion and spirituality. Before we knew it, the hour had passed and it was time to part. Continue reading »
Graduate school is a number of things. It’s rewarding. It’s challenging. It’s where you meet some of the best people you’ll ever know. It’s where you’ll encounter ideas that invigorate, just as surely as ideas that make you cringe. It’s the culmination of what preceded it, and where you chart your course for what’s to come. It’s where you find mentors that double as colleagues, and colleagues that double as mentors, and some that triple as friends.
But graduate school, perhaps above all else, is not for the faint of heart. Because if there is one thing graduate education demands of a person, it’s passion.
Passion for study. Passion for outreach. Passion for one’s work and its components, for the future of one’s field, for innovation and ingenuity and the ineffable, immeasurable, “unknowable more.”
And that passion is sometimes thin on the ground. Continue reading »
Do you love window shopping and trying on clothes to see how they fit? Or do you get overwhelmed when there are too many choices? Well, at Harvard Divinity School, the first week of the semester is Shopping Period: where you get to go to all the classes that sound interesting and try them on to see which ones you like best—and, yeah, it can be overwhelming. Continue reading »
“You need to take a class with Wildman.” That was the prevailing theme.
See, HDS isn’t just a part of the larger, multifaceted Harvard University community. It’s also a member of the Boston Theological Institute, or the BTI, which is a wonderful consortium of theological schools and seminaries in the greater Boston area where HDS students are welcome to enroll as cross-registered course members. I knew this when I came to HDS, but the idea initially seemed like more hassle that I was interested in diving into. Paperwork? Approval? Term-length discrepancies between schools? Earlier semester start dates? Commute times? Yeah, I figured. I’d just stick with Harvard and call it a day. Continue reading »
Walking to the first day of Orientation at HDS last year, it was raining and I had missed the turn I was supposed to take to get to campus. On top of being mildly lost, I was mentally preparing myself for the possibility of awkward ice breakers (which are the worst) and a week of feeling overwhelmed by too many extroverts trying to make conversation at new student mixers when all I would want to do is hang out near a wall—preferably by the food. My rain boots padded along the sidewalk as I looked around the unfamiliar streets hoping to successfully retrace my steps back to where I was supposed to be. Fortunately, this isn’t a metaphor for life at HDS: I haven’t spent the last year lost and confused as I tried to navigate my way through academia and discerning my future vocation. Continue reading »
I sat across from him in the pub during orientation week. It was one of the pub-nights organized for us to make friends or something. Of the infinite threads of social conversation, of course I, being an overzealous new Divinity School student, wanted to talk about religion. “I think,” I explained, “that I see the Bible like a series of expanding concentric circles centered on Jesus.” He didn’t know what I meant. I didn’t know what I meant. What I was trying to say was that I seek to believe the Bible with the most ‘plain sense’ reading I could and follow it accordingly. I just wanted to say it in a way that didn’t make me sound stupid.
In their prefatory letter to The Wick, Harvard Divinity School’s literary journal, editors Liam McAuliffe and Meghan Guidry observe that literature has the unique capacity to unlock depth. Literature can “unlock the depths of ourselves, of all selves,” they write, “by leading us into the depths of another, and creating sympathetic resonance from the most unlikely fodder.” To me, this insight sensitively and beautifully captures the power of literature and the lure of writing, especially in the context of our divinity school. Continue reading »
“So, are you religious?” This question is a perpetual one for any person who decides to enroll in Divinity School. Unlike our peers in, say, English literature, who can pursue their field of study without question even when they are not novelists in their own right, people often wonder why a person who does not explicitly identify as religious or spiritual would choose to study religion. Or, if one does study religion as a faith practitioner, one’s ability to critically engage the study of religion without bias may be called into question. Thus, we find ourselves in something of an academic Catch-22: you can’t study religion if you aren’t religious, and you shouldn’t study religion if you are religious.
Fortunately, HDS has provided me with a fantastic community of peers, faculty, and staff who are committed to breaking down these assumptions. Continue reading »